Nuclear AMRC leading the way in a renaissance of workforce culture

Our Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) has been awarded its first Athena SWAN award for its commitment to empowering a diverse workforce.

We spoke to technical researcher Dr Kathryn Jackson about why culture change in the workforce should occur alongside technical development.

Kathryn"The Nuclear AMRC first engaged in the Athena SWAN process in summer 2015. Athena SWAN offered a recognised framework against which the Nuclear AMRC could assess its current position with regard to gender equality, and put an action plan in place to address areas for improvement. The application process was initiated with a high-profile visit from Professor Dame Athene Donald in July 2015, and aptly concluded with a presentation by Dame Sue Ion in July 2016.

"The Nuclear AMRC chose to engage in this process for two main reasons: in order to develop its own diverse workforce, and to set an example to the wider nuclear manufacturing industry. The Nuclear AMRC delivers its remit of helping UK companies to win work in civil nuclear by leading advanced manufacturing research and supply chain development, but both of these are sustained by the people who deliver them.

The Nuclear AMRC is part of a renaissance of manufacturing in UK civil nuclear engineering, and recognises culture change in the workforce should occur alongside technical development.

Kathryn Jackson

"The Nuclear AMRC is part of a renaissance of manufacturing in UK civil nuclear engineering, and recognises culture change in the workforce should occur alongside technical development. The UK’s nuclear industry has a more imbalanced demographic than the renewable power generation largely because the workforce is older and has retained its historic disparities. Hence the Nuclear AMRC is being proactive in leading the way in a renewal of workforce culture as an integral part of delivering its remit.

"The Nuclear AMRC’s achievement of the Athena SWAN bronze departmental award in October 2016 acknowledges that the Nuclear AMRC has made a thorough assessment of all aspects of the organisation with regards to gender balance, and has put in place a comprehensive action plan to address issues and continue with existing areas of good practice, in addition to establishing a team to deliver this plan. The self-assessment process was cathartic for all involved: our ability to set a positive example to the wider nuclear industry and leadership in this area comes from our willingness to be honest about our current position, as well as what we have already achieved in terms of gender equality.

"The Athena SWAN self-assessment process presented specific challenges to the Nuclear AMRC because the structure and organisation are not typical of a university department. A notable feature of the Nuclear AMRC is that a large proportion of its technical staff have progressed through the vocational route for STEM subjects rather than the academic route. As a result, the Nuclear AMRC requested permission for a word count extension and carried out an extra level of categorisation of staff beyond that requested in the application form in order to review gender disparities in its vocational STEM pipeline in addition to the academic pipeline. This was carried out in an unusually short timescale (the self-assessment process took only eight months), with the additional challenge of working towards the new post-May 2015 entry criteria, for which there were no direct precedents for us to follow at the time of writing our application. This was enabled by a dedicated and motivated self-assessment team; a reflection of the supportive and cooperative atmosphere at the Nuclear AMRC.

"The application process exposed that the challenges that women face in a male-dominated environment are similar for all minority groups. The Nuclear AMRC has a culturally diverse workforce, and many of the challenges that women face resonated with other minority groups. It is our intention that addressing the factors underpinning gender disparity will benefit all.

"The next steps for the team are to develop best practice in a variety of areas including recruitment, promotion, career breaks, flexible working, culture and outreach. Progress will be monitored regularly, with a view to applying to the silver award by April 2020. The Nuclear AMRC will be co-operating with the wider University, other relevant external organisations and the UK’s nuclear supply chain to implement its action plan.”