Remarks by President Rumina Velshi at the Joint Canada–UK Workshop on Diversity and Inclusivity in the Nuclear Sector
June 2, 2021
Virtually from Toronto, Ontario
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I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to you today on some of the progress that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has been able to drive and accomplish on gender balance – and the work that we all still need to do.
Gatherings like this help to highlight issues that continue to confront women and other equity-seeking groups in the nuclear sector and beyond. And they provide an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to showing leadership and driving real change.
I’d like to start my remarks today by sharing a story.
Some of you may have heard about my own work experiences in the 1980s in the nuclear sector – no change rooms for women; clothing designed only for men; catcalls and whistles; pornography left lying about. I do not believe our nuclear facilities were designed with the thought that women would be working in them.
Now, fast forward 30 years. Last month I was presiding at a Commission hearing on the renewal of a licence for a uranium mine. One of the intervenors was an employee at the uranium mine – the first female jet boring systems operator in the world.
She spoke very positively about the support provided by her employer for her career development and I am sure she is a great role model for women, especially for Indigenous women.
At the Commission hearing, I asked her if there was one thing her senior management could do to improve her work environment. She said that her manager had asked her a similar question the week before. And she had replied to him: “I wish we had a women’s washroom underground!”
The Commission got an update from the licensee the very next day that work on the underground washroom is already underway.
So – on the one hand, some things, sadly, remain unchanged, even decades later. Women must sometimes still ask for very basic things.
On the other hand, managers are actually asking how to change and improve their workplaces – and they are addressing concerns and suggestions with priority.
For me, that’s a very good starting point. It’s a reason for optimism. And it equips us with a question that should be asked in every workplace: What can we do better?
To achieve gender parity in the near future, we must be proactive and create change immediately.
It won’t be easy. In Canada, women make up just a third of STEM degree holders. Only 20% of our engineering graduates are women. For women of colour, the numbers are even more distressing and concerning.
We need gender balance and diversity in the talent pipeline to ensure that we engage the best and the brightest. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.
As the President and CEO of the CNSC, I believe that gender balance and diversity in the nuclear sector are important and critical to ensuring the highest levels of safety.
As the Canadian regulator, we hope that we can influence our licensees in following our example.
Advocacy for gender balance makes up one of the key pillars of the CNSC Women in STEM initiative’s strategic plan – and its potential impacts reach much further than the CNSC.
It is important that leaders of the nuclear sector drive change within their organizations – as I continue to do at the CNSC but also within the broader nuclear sector.
I have the privilege of being involved in one national and two key international initiatives seeking to advance gender equality in nuclear.
The national initiative, which I lead – Driving the Advancement of Women in Nuclear (DAWN) – is already making a significant mark. I am sure my colleagues on the DAWN initiative will share further details with you later in the workshop.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of gathering with my colleagues and opening the 2nd Nuclear Energy Agency working meeting on improving gender balance – a group consisting of representatives from 12 NEA member countries as well as representatives from the IAEA and the European Commission to explore policy options including data collection practices.
In late 2020, the International Gender Champions Impact Group was formed, consisting of nuclear regulators across the globe. I’m the group’s chair. And I’m proud of the work we’re doing to promote equity across the nuclear regulatory community.
For example, members of this group have agreed to take part only in panels and conferences that have gender diversity – which is why I am a tad disappointed to find so little diversity among today’s speakers in the workshop on achieving gender parity. Gender equity is not only a women’s issue. We can and must do better.
Membership in the Impact Group is expected to expand significantly by the summer – and, consequently, it is on track for much greater global influence.
We are fortunate to find ourselves at a time when change seems possible – new voices and new movements are making progress in the name of equity.
We should continue to focus on international collaboration:
- to share best-practices and lessons learned
- to better understand how the pandemic has disproportionally affected women
- and to strengthen collective actions towards gender balance
And always to ask that essential question: What can we do better?
The pandemic has taught us many important lessons. In many instances, it has put a spotlight on the disparities that women and other equity-seeking groups experience daily.
It is important to address these issues head on – the time is now.
As we hopefully move closer to returning to our new normal, I encourage all of us to:
- be mindful of the impact that our policies, programs and initiatives can have on these groups
- apply a gender lens to our work – as the CNSC is currently doing to identify and remove unconscious barriers in our return-to-work plans
The return to the workplace will undoubtedly come with its challenges – old and new. But it will also provide many opportunities to help set a course for greater equity in the nuclear sector.
We know the challenges we face. But we also know that we are up to the task – and that, together, we can achieve real progress.
It is up to us to lead by example.
It is up to us to seize this opportunity
It is up to us not only to ask – but to help answer – the question: “What can we do better?”
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