Women in Nuclear: Employee Stories

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OPG makes history at Pickering Nuclear with first all-women led crew

History was made at OPG’s Pickering Nuclear Generating Station on the March 17th night shift with the first-ever, all-women led crew ensuring the effective and safe operation of Pickering’s six units.

At the helm that milestone night were Shift Managers Julie Thrasher and Krista Huszarik, who oversaw the entire station’s operations, and Control Room Shift Supervisors Sara Rasouli and Kasia Carisse, who were responsible for managing the authorized nuclear operators in the plant’s two control rooms.

While staffing conditions lined up just right for this particular shift to take place, the achievement was a proud moment for all involved and reflects the strong progress made by OPG to address systemic barriers to becoming more equitable and inclusive, progress the company is building on with its new 10-year Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) Strategy.

“It just shows that we are getting more women involved in not just leadership roles in nuclear, but also in leadership roles across OPG,” said Julie Thrasher, who oversaw operations that night for Pickering Units 5 to 8. “For this shift to happen as it did and to be a part of it, it felt very humbling and very surreal.”

Shift Manager and Shift Supervisor roles are licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and have been traditionally male-dominated. In OPG’s history, there have been only a total of 14 women in these licensed roles.

But the tide is slowly shifting with these four nuclear leaders, as well as two additional licensed women at Pickering. That’s a good sign for more female and gender diverse representation in higher leadership positions, which require previous experience as a Shift Manager.

Kasia Carisse, who manages the control room for Pickering Units 1 and 4, attributes the change she is seeing to a culture shift across OPG and the industry.

“With our recent efforts to improve ED&I, the work culture has improved significantly,” said Carisse, who has been with OPG for 15 years. “This includes revising gender-specific terminology, establishing facilities that may be required for women, and making key changes to remove obstacles during training.”

On this last point, OPG has worked with the CNSC to remove unreasonable and unnecessary barriers in the intense four-year training required for licensed nuclear roles. These include eliminating time-outs on certain courses, which forced trainees to restart progress after a certain amount of time had passed and acted as a barrier for individuals raising or starting a family.

“Our goal needs to be to make the commitment more manageable for all,” said Krista Huszarik, Shift Manager for the operation of Units 1 and 4. “We also need to consider other shift schedules that are more accommodating for family life, and succession planning that would allow individuals to commit a finite number of years to the shift lifestyle. I’m hopeful that in time we can make this learning and leadership experience more accessible to all.”

For Sara Rasouli, her biggest challenge when taking the leap into the Shift Supervisor Training program in 2016 was overcoming the internal struggle of second-guessing oneself. Today, she is a Control Room Shift Supervisor for Pickering Units 5 to 8.

“Initially, I didn’t feel qualified or ready to take on the program,” the electrical engineer said. “As women, one of our biggest internal barriers can be fear. Fear of being judged and fear of failing despite knowing you are capable. It’s beneficial to talk with someone who’s gone through it, to shed some light on how overcoming barriers is possible.”

With each Pickering unit consisting of more than 150,000 components and many other support systems, taking responsibility for the operation of these units can indeed be a daunting prospect for anyone.

But the job is never boring, Thrasher said, and women looking for an exciting challenge should take that into account.

“Every day you come across something new to deal with, whether it’s a managerial challenge or technical challenge. There’s something new every day,” she said.

As organizations address systemic barriers to ensure more women and gender-diverse individuals are able to join the ranks, Huszarik sees a snowball effect taking place: more diverse representation and more diverse mentors attracting greater diversity in gender representation.

She hopes in the future an all-female leadership team, whether at Pickering or any other workplace, becomes something that isn’t so unusual.

“Our moment was made possible by the women before us who inspired us by showing everyone it was possible, so that we could be the next generation that shows everyone it can be commonplace.”