Since Deep Isolation was founded more than five years ago we’ve sought to assemble an advisory board that includes preeminent experts, Nobel laureates, leaders in nuclear energy science, technology, and policy, and entrepreneurs who value innovation.
In addition to those leadership qualities, inclusion and diversity is also important to us as a company. We were co-founded by and are led by a woman — historically not the norm in nuclear — and last year we launched an internal Inclusion and Diversity Committee to help support and educate our employees. So we were pleased to recently welcome an expert in this field, Monica Mwanje, to our advisory board.
Mwanje entered the nuclear sector in 2003 and in 2015 founded a consultancy company, Liverpool, England-based MM Creative Services, to provide strategic consultancy services for organizations seeking growth and transformation in nuclear and other regulated sectors. Specializing in inclusion and diversity, she works with multi-disciplined technical teams, boards, and leadership teams, advising them on how to develop, implement and maintain inclusive working cultures.
We posed a few questions to her to learn more about her experiences and what advice she shares with companies as well as those beginning their careers in nuclear.
Q. You started out as a chemical engineer, doing graduate work at Sellafield, the former nuclear energy plant in England. What was it like working at a decommissioning plant, and how did your experience influence the development of your career in nuclear?
It was very interesting and informative. I had the opportunity to work on facilities projects and go to view them too. This gave me a better appreciation of the realities and challenges associated with implementing and deploying designed solutions into those sorts of environments. I was able to draw on this experience as my career advanced and keep it in mind when I was working on design projects or facilitating technical workshops.
Q. As of 2019, women only comprised 22.4 percent of the nuclear workforce, according to the IAEA, so you were clearly a trailblazer when you got your start 18 years ago. What challenges did you personally face when it came to feeling included in the workplace? How did those experiences inspire you to teach employers to provide a more welcoming work environment for people who may be in the minority due to their race, gender or sexual orientation?
I have a lot of admiration and respect for those from minoritized groups who entered the nuclear sector before me and who broke down some barriers. They were the trailblazers. Being honest, my experiences are very mixed when it comes to feeling and being included in the workplace. Early in my career I faced challenges around my race, gender and age. Knowing what it’s like to feel and be excluded, seeing peers experiencing exclusion at times, too, and being frustrated by limited (sometimes non-existent) progress on the matters, inspired me to see what I can do to help improve experiences for others.
Q. Last summer your consultancy service MM Creative Services co-organized the third annual Inclusion & Diversity in Nuclear conference, which Deep Isolation attended for the first time. What were your goals in founding this event and perhaps share some highlights and what you’ve learned from it so far.
When I first proposed we hold a conference, my goals were simple. I wanted to bring people together so we could talk, understand issues, share and learn from one another. Without this feedback, how would we know what people are experiencing, or what they need, or what organizations are doing well that should be amplified? Personally, I also wanted to learn from the experts we engaged to speak and lead workshops, and further broaden and deepen my knowledge so I can be a more inclusive colleague when working in and with different teams. Highlights were all the different keynote speakers we have had, the different panelists we’ve engaged, and the speakers who shared their lived experiences. The workshops I attended were also really informative and prompted me to reflect and think about what I will do differently. Different parts of each conference stick out for me. I go back and rewatch recordings from the conferences (https://vimeo.com/idnuclear ) as I pick up on different things each time. A conversation I remember from the first conference in 2019, was during some networking, two individuals formed a connection and agreed to share best practices and exchange information around inclusion policies. It was really good to see people talking and helping each other out.
Q. As a consultant to nuclear companies, what does it take to succeed in this industry? Can you share some wisdom that you try to impart upon your clients?
I recommend patience and being prepared that it may take a while before things come to fruition. Like any industry, it’s important to understand the market and any requirements or qualifications needed that will enable a client to place a contract with your organization. I like to conduct reviews with my clients so we can understand their current status and identify and implement an action plan to close any gaps and put them in an improved position to win those contracts.
Q. Knowing what you know now, what career advice would you give your younger self?
Seek mentors and a career sponsor sooner.
Q. Following up on that, what advice do you give nuclear industry employers seeking to diversify their workforce?
Check how inclusive your organization currently is and be honest about retention issues and any feedback you’ve received from marginalized or minoritized employees. Work on improving that element of performance and improving the work environment so that everyone feels included and able to do their best work. Hiring people into an environment that isn’t welcoming, will likely result in any hiring gains being undone, due to people leaving and going to work elsewhere.
Q. And finally, what advice can you give to those starting out in their careers, when it comes to navigating an industry that lacks diversity.
Develop your network and don’t be afraid to ask for help. For me, having some peers in my network who understood some of the challenges I faced, because they faced some of them, too, helped me work out ways around or through some of the barriers. Seek mentors and sponsors who are supportive of you, your development and your career goals. If your organization has an inclusion and diversity plan and you’ve not heard about nor seen any progress reported, if you have the confidence to — ask for an update.