Panel shares tips to empower women to succeed in the nuclear field

September 27, 2021, 3:00PMANS News
The panelists at the September 22 Empowering Women to Succeed webinar. Clockwise from top left: Yeremian, Edwards, Rekola, Kandasamy, Camba Lynn, and Von Ruden.

Six women who shared personal stories and tactics to help others succeed in their careers in the nuclear field hope they have ignited a conversation that will continue far beyond a single webinar.

“Empowering Women to Succeed” was hosted by the American Nuclear Society on September 22, presented by a group of four nuclear organizations—ANS, North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN), U.S. Women in Nuclear (U.S. WIN), and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)—which have pledged to work together as #AtomicAllies.

Moderated by Rosemary Yeremian, vice president of corporate strategy for X-energy Canada, who recently published a book titled Step Up: The Key to Succeeding in Male-Dominated Businesses, the panel included five other established and emerging nuclear leaders who spoke about their own experiences in the nuclear workforce and the importance of reflection and self-determination.

Yeremian was introduced by Timothy Crook, incoming chair of the ANS Operations and Power Division, who also coordinated the Q&A session that wrapped up the webinar. If you missed it you can watch the recording now, and be sure to check out this Young Members Group Twitter thread.

Yeremian: When 75 percent or more of the people in a professional workforce have the same gender, workplace interactions will have a different “flavor,” Yeremian said. A pattern of competition in any field can result in a zero-sum game of one-upmanship, and those looking for success must “step up to the plate and play the game.”

“We have to recognize that if anyone, male or female, wants to get ahead in nuclear, we have to carve a path for ourselves where none existed before,” Yeremian said. “We have to volunteer for new projects. We need to take credit for our accomplishments. We need to be confident. We need to not back down. And we have to do all this elegantly and while keeping our cool. It's not an easy task, but it can be done.”

Von Ruden: Amber Von Ruden, of Exelon, is a past president of NAYGN. She talked about the perception of assertive personality traits in females as intimidating or aggressive when “in reality we are assertive, directive, confident, and ambitious leaders.”

Von Ruden described being told in a performance review that she was sometimes perceived as intimidating, only to have her plant manager later intercede and praise her leadership style. “What I realized from that experience was I really did not need to fundamentally change,” Von Ruden said. “Having that plant manager be a champion and an ally for me and tell me, ‘you go, girl, you can have this assertive personality and we’ll respect it at a leadership team level,’ really went a long way for me and rebuilding my leadership confidence.”

Rekola: Kaitlin Rekola, senior staff council at NEI, spoke about work-life balance, which she said could be framed as “creating an environment for yourself that sets boundaries and allows you to be present where you are needed.”

Rekola posed five questions that anyone assessing their work-life balance can ask themselves: “Am I spending time the way I want to? Have I set boundaries to protect the most important parts of my life? Are my habits and routines in line with my priorities? Have I communicated my priorities to those people closest to me? Do I have a system to identify and prevent burnout?”

Camba Lynn: Sarah Camba Lynn, of Luminant, is treasurer on the YMG Executive Committee. Camba Lynn spoke about taking credit for accomplishments and described the potential pitfalls that await a young engineer in workplace meetings if that engineer lacks confidence or has already experienced the frustration of suggesting an idea that is quickly dismissed, only to be suggested later by someone else who then gets credit for the idea.

“One way that I found to combat this is actually seeking out allies before you go into meetings,” Camba Lynn said. After discussing her ideas with a colleague before a meeting, she knows, “If I bring something up, within a couple minutes, he will echo that and say, ‘Hey, I really like Sarah's idea because of these three reasons.’”

Camba Lynn explained, “Now, that does two things. If you're lacking confidence like I was, you know you have someone in the room to continue that discussion. And if you find yourself in this situation where your idea has been dismissed . . . it's a lot harder for it to be repackaged and credited to someone else.”

Edwards: Juliann Edwards, of Energy Solutions, has worked in sales and business development for 15 years. She spoke about how she addresses workplace harassment—which affects 85 percent of women—using her training and experience in negotiation.

“In my opinion, harassment, sexual harassment, bullying is all a form of negotiation,” Edwards said. “Person A is trying to get person B to say yes to something or they're trying to indirectly get you to accept or be more tolerant of that type of behavior that's inappropriate.”

Edwards offered specific tools from the art of negotiating to prevent and address harassment and swiftly return the focus of conversation to business goals while building experience, self-confidence, and community with other women and supportive colleagues.

Kandasamy: Jhansi Kandasamy, of GE Hitachi, is a past chair of U.S. WIN. Kandasamy spoke about natural leadership qualities, prefacing her comments by explaining she was not born a leader. Instead, she said, as a young electrical engineer at a nuclear plant, “I had to work extra hard. I had to know from a technical perspective exactly what I was talking about. Why are we building it there? What is that wiring going to do? Is it going to hurt the outcome that's needed? I had to know the ins and outs of everything and be better than my male counterpart,” she said. “I hate to say that, but that's how it was back then.”

Kandasamy learned to be more vocal and earn the respect of her colleagues by asking questions in the field. She shared a motto that she uses today as a leader in her company: “Motivate. Innovate. Execute/Create. Celebrate. . . . Repeat.”

And don’t miss these YMG events: The ANS YMG has many more events coming up soon.

Attend an ANS social: On Tuesday, October 5, get to know the ANS Student Sections Committee, YMG, and Diversity and Inclusion in ANS Committee and learn about opportunities for getting involved with ANS. Then stick around for an evening of Among Us, the popular online social deduction and manipulation game. Register now[DS1] .

YMG Rad Talks: The next edition of YMG Rad Talks will feature ANS President Steven Nesbit on Wednesday, October 13. Register now.

Pitch Your Research webinar: Sign up to hear the 2021 ANS Student Conference Pitch Your Research winner, Haozheng Qu, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Materials Engineering at Purdue University, on Wednesday, October 20.

Sign up to pitch your thesis: The YMG is organizing a Pitch Your Thesis competition during the 2021 ANS Winter Meeting. Sign up for a chance to win prizes and earn extra recognition for your research. To compete, please complete this brief participation form.

#AtomicAllies: ANS, NAYGN, U.S. WIN, and NEI signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2020 to strengthen their collaboration in advancing nuclear energy and science, professional development, and member networking to support industry priorities and benefit their individual members.

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