International Day of Women and Girls in Science & International Women's Day

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As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and International Women’s Day, the NIA is highlighting the careers of some of the leading figures in the nuclear industry.

In their own words, five women who have dedicated their careers to nuclear explain the reasons why they chose this exciting industry, revealing some of their achievements and career highlights, and sharing their views on how to ensure gender diversity continues to be championed in our sector.

These are the stories of the women who have not only been shaped by the nuclear industry, but who have left their mark on it.


Saralyn Thomas

Chair, YGN & Nuclear Safety Consultant

I am a Senior Nuclear Safety Consultant working at Abbott Risk Consulting Ltd. I have over 6 years’ experience in the nuclear industry and have worked for a variety of clients on safety case development.

I have been an active volunteer of the Nuclear Institute and Young Generation Network (YGN) since 2016, having taken on a variety of roles on committees, and I am delighted to be the YGN Chair for 2022.

It is an incredibly exciting time to join the nuclear industry and we need to attract more women to nuclear to provide that diversity of thought we need so that we can become a stronger industry, solving today’s challenges in order for us to meet net zero by 2050.

I truly believe that improving gender diversity at its core must be done at a young age in schools which is why I am so passionate about STEAM and outreach activities. It is incredibly important to provide role models to young girls and share stories of our own careers so we can break down any barriers they might face in pursuing a career in nuclear, making it clear that the industry is a fantastic option for all, no matter your gender.

Helen Shirley-Quirk CB

Director of Nuclear Protection in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy since 2017, where the Director General, the Permanent Secretary and two thirds of my direct reports are all women.  Previously Director for Health Protection and Emergency Preparedness in the Department of Health where I worked, among others, for the country’s first female Chief Medical Officer. 

As Director for Nuclear Protection in BEIS, I am privileged to lead the teams responsible for the policy framework for nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation in the UK.  This is the bedrock that underpins the role that nuclear has to play in delivering the country’s net zero goals, and assures the continuing stewardship of our nuclear legacy.

Ensuring diversity of thought, background and life experience is a vital to the delivery of a strong nuclear safety and security culture.  That is why I am a wholehearted supporter of action to encourage girls and women into science, into nuclear and into the highest levels of leadership across the sector, especially the work that the Young Generation Network and Women in Nuclear are doing.

Throughout my career, in both the Department of Health and BEIS, I have been fortunate to have the support, encouragement and example of many female scientists, clinicians and civil servants.  I know that having their example has helped me believe in myself and in the contribution that women make to all sectors.  And it wasn’t just at the most senior levels: it was also important to me, at the start of my career, to see women – and men – just a step or two ahead of me, who created a positive, supportive environment that enabled me to be myself and to fulfil my potential.

But not enough people have this opportunity in the nuclear sector.  The number of women in the industry, and particularly in mid-level management roles, remains stubbornly low. We need to continue to raise awareness in schools and colleges of the fantastic careers that women can have in nuclear, to mentor and support the growing number of female apprentices, to challenge any unsupportive or off-putting organisational cultures that we find and to seek out and create opportunities for women to take on the most senior roles.  Only that way will the nuclear industry flourish as we know it can and must.

(Image: Helen Shirley-Quirk visiting the Civil Nuclear Constabulary in Dounreay. Second on from the right.)

Monica Mwanje

Managing Director, MM Creative Solutions and Co-Founder, Inclusion and Diversity in Nuclear

My career in the nuclear sector started in 2003, when I joined as a graduate Chemical Engineer. I was based at the Sellafield site where I undertook the BNFL ‘Elements’ Graduate training programme. This provided a foundation upon which to build my career.

From Sellafield, I moved to work in engineering consultancy, where I gained further engineering and technical experience. Working in consultancy provided me with the opportunity to experience working on different projects across the UK and international nuclear sector. In the last consultancy I worked for, which was a growing small business, I had the opportunity to support the business development and strategic function. I realised I enjoyed this work, and I made the transition from technical work into business management / business strategy growth.

In 2015 I founded my consultancy, MM Creative Solutions. My business delivers strategic consultancy services for organisations seeking growth and transformation in nuclear and other regulated sectors. I’ve had the opportunity to work for clients based in Europe, Asia, and North America.

In 2019 I co-founded Inclusion and Diversity in Nuclear; a non-profit industry led organisation. To me, inclusion is the bedrock of a working culture that encourages and enables all individuals to thrive. Organisations that want to increase gender diversity first of all need to look inwards to understand what’s happening within. They need to identify and remove any barriers and where needed change systems and structures to create a work environment that will attract, retain, and nurture talent.

(Monica hosting the ‘Future Proofing The Industry Through Inclusive Leadership’ panel at the Nuclear 2021 conference.)

Vanessa Jakovich

Environment Partner, Freshfields

I am an energy and environment partner at Freshfields, and have been working as a lawyer advising the nuclear sector for around 15 years. I was privileged to be introduced to the nuclear industry early in my career by some brilliant mentors at the firm, including Paul Bowden, Sally Roe and Jonathan Isted. Over that time, I have had the opportunity to work on the regulatory and contracting aspects of a broad range of nuclear projects, including the “Regulatory Justification” approvals of all of the Gen III reactors for the NIA; new build work on Wylfa, Moorside and Sizewell C; fuel cycle projects at Capenhurst and Springfields; and decommissioning-related arrangements related to Sellafield and the Magnox fleet. My work has also extended to projects abroad, and to the defence sector.

I have a passion for sustainability and innovation alongside law, so had an immediate affinity for clients in the nuclear sector, which is engaging the very extremes of scientific endeavour to help solve the climate crisis. The regulation and governance of the nuclear sector rests heavily on scientific know-how, making it a rich and interesting area of legal practice that is complex yet tangible. I have worked alongside experts on everything from radiological dose epidemiology and geological assessment, to project engineering, to the interaction of climate science with electricity system economics. It is also a sector that has always promoted international collaboration in the pursuit of safer and more efficient technology, and that extends to nuclear law, where the global community is one of the most well-connected in the profession.

Whilst I know that the data indicates that nuclear expertise across the UK and the world is male-dominated, I’ve had the privilege to be surrounded by brilliant women throughout my career, and in fact the vast majority of nuclear general counsel with whom I have worked have been women, as well as a number of commercial and technical leaders. In an industry where diversity of approach is recognised as an integral part of safety culture, it’s heartening to see increasing diversity in positions of leadership.

Liz Gregory

Director, PMO Nuclear Sector Deal 

I am passionate about the nuclear industry and its success having spent over 25 years working across the sector, spanning both the Defence and Civil programmes.  As an individual I thrive on challenges and opportunities for process and business/industry improvement.  My experience to date comes from working in several functions within the sector, with UK and International customers, including a secondment into UK Government.  Previous roles have spanned Business Development, Account Management, Project Management, Supply Chain and Equipment Quality.

In January 2022 I started a full time secondment into the NIA in the role of Director PMO Nuclear Sector Deal (NSD).  My aim is to drive momentum in the delivery of the NSD commitments across the programme through a collaborative approach with UK Government and industry in order to maximise benefits for the sector as a whole.

The UK nuclear sector will be a major contributor to Net Zero and national security by delivering economic recovery and sustainable growth through innovative approaches. In my experience innovative approaches are only achieved through diversity of thought, I am therefore pleased to see that gender diversity is one of the key themes within the NSD with a target to reach 40% of women in the nuclear industry by 2030.

Whether reflecting on Civil or Defence programmes there are currently significant opportunities out there, so seize the chance to put yourself forward, make a name for yourself in nuclear and help deliver that diversity of thought that will shift the gender balance!