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Remarks by President Rumina Velshi at the inaugural meeting of the International Gender Champions Impact Group on Gender Equality in Nuclear Regulatory Agencies

September 29, 2020
Virtually from Toronto, Ontario

– Check against delivery –

I want to begin today with these two words: thank you.

Thank you for agreeing to be a part of this impact group.

But more than that, thank you for your commitment to the pursuit of gender equality in our industry.

It is heartening to know that so many of us share the same important goal – and are willing to devote our time and efforts to making real progress.

I look forward to what we will achieve together.

On a personal note, I want to say what a pleasure it is to be working in partnership with our Ambassador Heidi Hulan – and with such a distinguished group of people from across our industry and around the world.

One of the many benefits of this group is that we are all at different stages of the campaign to welcome more women into our industry – and ultimately to achieve true equality.

That allows us to learn from one other. To share ideas and best practices. And to be inspired and motivated by the successes of others.

In some nations, we are seeing meaningful growth in the presence and prominence of women. In others, challenges and obstacles remain in place, and the work continues.

I can tell you that here in Canada, the picture is far from perfect.

On one hand, we do have a Prime Minister who has put a priority on gender equity – and who has achieved equality in his cabinet.

That has sent – and continues to send – a strong and progressive message.

At the same time, a recent survey found that women are still very much a minority across Canada’s nuclear labour force.

And the numbers are even more concerning when you look at the STEM workforce as a whole.

Fewer than 20 per cent of these jobs in Canada are held by women.

Unfortunately, that seems unlikely to change in the near future.

If you look at those graduating with engineering degrees here in Canada, only 22 per cent are female.

That’s exactly the same percentage as back in 2000, when many of us thought we were beginning to generate real momentum towards equality.

So, on one hand, I am frustrated.

I have been in this industry for a long time – and I thought we’d be much further along by now.

But I am also motivated and energized by this group… by the remarkable people who have agreed to be part of this undertaking… and by the prospect of what we can achieve together.

We will not be the solution. But with our experience and our determination, we can be a starting point.

I still think about a tweet I saw last year – a mother writing about her daughter’s experience at a college apprenticeship fair in Europe.

The daughter had put her name down for an engineering talk only to be told that she had been moved to a childcare talk instead because the engineering talk was for boys only.

What message does this send? It says that even today, STEM jobs are not for women.

Groups like ours are designed to help deliver change – and change is what we need.

Change for the better.

Change initiated by a community of like-minded people who understand not only the economic and social benefits of gender equality – but the moral imperative to move towards a more equitable, diverse and representative workforce.

I can tell you that we have begun making practical changes to the way we do things at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

We are focused on increasing the number of women in our talent pipeline.

We are finding and engaging supportive mentors.

We are reconfiguring certain roles so that working mothers can raise their children while maintaining important jobs with complex responsibilities.

And I want to be clear: this is about something more than equality for equality’s sake.

It’s about achieving our potential.

If we are to take full advantage of the benefits of innovation, we need to attract the best and brightest to our industry.

The best men and the best women. Impressive people with good ideas.

When we exclude – or fail to open ourselves up to – part of the population, we fall short of our potential.

As a world, we need to persuade more young women to pursue education and careers in the STEM disciplines. Otherwise, we are leaving so much potential untapped.

What better way to adapt to a changing world than to infuse our industry with new energy and new perspectives – and ensure it is attracting the best and brightest of all genders?

When we empower women, everyone benefits.

Before I turn things over to Ambassador Hulan, I would just like to say: I remember what it was like 30 years ago.

As many of you may know, I was one of the first female nuclear energy workers in Canada.

I remember the nature of the nuclear workplace… the Playboy centerfolds taped to the wall in plain view… the safety equipment that fit only the men, not the women, no change rooms for women.

I remember that it was not exactly a welcoming environment for a woman. We were very much in the minority – and we were reminded of that fact every single day.

Over the past three decades, there has been some progress toward gender awareness and equality. We should take some pride and satisfaction in that.

But good is not good enough. If it were, we wouldn’t be here together.

The fact of the matter is that we have heard a lot of noise in recent years. Sadly, the expected concomitant results have been lacking.

But we have now arrived at a time where perhaps the stars are coming into alignment.

There is an intense focus right now on issues of equality.

We have more leaders in our industry who are not only willing but eager to put gender equality high on their agenda.

In this environment, there is much that we can do – and so much that we can do better.

We need to encourage more girls to pursue a STEM education.

We need to create a more supportive and welcoming environment for women in our organizations.

We need to nurture talent and mentor those with potential.

We need to engage decision-makers across our industry – licensees and others – and emphasize to them that they are the gate keepers. They can make a difference. They can shape a more inclusive future.

So as we begin our work, let’s be honest about where we stand today.

Let’s be realistic about the challenge ahead.

And let’s be bold in moving forward and getting the job done.

Thank you.

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