by Francesca Trevisan, Administrative Officer, TC Department & Aline des Cloizeaux, Director, Nuclear Power Division, NE Department and Vice President of WiN IAEA

On February 24, 120 students in their junior year (11th grade) of the Lycée Français de Vienne (LFV) gathered at the Studio Molière to meet five women, all with high level positions in various STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and/or with international diplomatic careers.

Centered around the theme “High-level job positions – what do you need? An Ambassador and 4 IAEA Directors answer your questions”, students discovered educational options and career experiences in sectors where men usually outnumber women, as well as the missions of the IAEA and French diplomacy.

Highlighting the opportunity of this event at a key moment in students’ orientation, Ms. Magali Durand-Assouly, Principal of the LFV as well as gender equality referent of the AEFE (Agency for French Education Abroad) for the Central and Eastern Europe zone, emphasized the importance in pursuing STEM careers in particular for young girls. “The interest in these career paths was reflected in the various questions prepared by the students with the support of the teaching staff,” she indicated.

Whether it was support from family or a spouse, passion, or resilience, each of the speakers shared what determined their paths.

“Nothing had prepared me to work in a war zone, except the resilience and flexibility that I have developed all along my career,” shared Lydie Evrard, Deputy Director General (DDG) and Head of the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, referring to the six missions to Ukraine she has participated in over the last year. “After deciding to join the civil service, I occupied several high-level positions within the ASN (French Nuclear Safety Authority) in France, and what has always mattered most to me was what makes our mission meaningful, the human dimension and teamwork,” she added.

“In my youth in Morocco it was not easy for a young girl to pursue studies, especially abroad,” indicated Najat Mokhtar, Deputy Director General (DDG) of the IAEA’s Nuclear Applications Department. “I had to show steadfast determination to convince my family to study science in France and Canada, and then to work as a pioneer in Moroccan education and key research positions, notably by coordinating the national nutrition plan,” she enthusiastically pointed out. At the IAEA since 2012, she was also the first woman DDG of a technical department. She described with passion the often-unknown applications of nuclear energy for health and environmental issues, e.g., in cancer radiotherapy, food sterilization, and environmental protection against ocean pollution.

“What makes the difference in education and career decisions are the internships,” added Aline des Cloizeaux, Director of the Nuclear Power Division within the Nuclear Energy Department. She went on to add that “after completing my masters in engineering, this made me want to be project manager of nuclear installations, and to strengthen my sense of responsibility and managerial capacities that I developed very young with first experiences, such as supervising children.” Convinced that “it is through incentive measures that organisations and public authorities can help women and men to manage several parallel ‘lives’, but also thanks to role models and mentoring that women will be inspired to take on more managerial functions,” Aline is also very much involved in the WiN (Women in Nuclear) IAEA organisation and in various gender equality and diversity initiatives.

“Studying in a field does not condition your future,” challenged Mrs. Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, Director of the IAEA’s Office of Communication. “I have had an atypical career, starting with a specialization in environmental law after a Master’s degree in public law and then gradually moving towards communication in the private sector before enlisting myself as an officer in the national navy and as a spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.” “Making contacts and the support of my husband and family were decisive. One often says that you have to seize the opportunities. But you can also create the opportunities,” she concluded, mentioning her commitment to the Junior Chamber International (JCI) of Haiti, which she co-founded to “give back what I had received within the Junior Chamber Economic (JCE) of Martinique.”

“To have a career in diplomacy, there are two paths: the general examination or the oriental languages,” said Delphine Hournau, Ambassador at the Permanent Representation of France to the United Nations Office and International Organizations in Vienna. Underlining France’s commitment to achieving parity in diplomatic positions, and that a diplomatic career involves a large international mobility, Delphine Hournau emphasized the importance of having a specialisation. “After completing my education in political science in Paris, I alternated positions as a legal and political adviser at the Quai d’Orsay, particularly on non-proliferation and disarmament topics, and served similar functions in in the French embassy in London and Hong Kong, which led me quite naturally to my current position.”

Very aware of current challenges, students had rich discussions with the panellists, particularly on nuclear energy and its benefits as carbon-free energy to counter climate change and strengthen security of supply, bringing a factor of stability to the energy mix with renewable energies. R&D efforts with the emergence of new types of reactors, which offer so many career opportunities in science and technology for young people, women and men, also raised the interest of students.

Closing the exchanges with a last message, panellists all agreed that there is no limit to dreams and ambitions in professional life when you are passionate about your job. Among the recommendations: know your own aspirations and strengths, take various advice from trusted mentors, find summer jobs, and finally, make choices without the fear of making mistakes because changes are always possible, whether they are wanted or not.

Here is some of the feedback offered by students following the event:

“We have understood that scientific careers can take different forms, which opens up new horizons for our studies.”

“These narratives were invigorating and allow us to think about on our future and our orientation.”

“Nuclear is entering a new era: there are more diverse uses than before which both show and nurture our modernity.”