Entering a unique era, Sellafield needs a diverse, entrepreneurial workforce and supply chain

Posted On: 
8th March 2018

 "Women are still a minority on the Sellafield management team, but I hope to make positive moves to encourage diversity", says Rebecca Weston, Technical and Strategy Director. 

Rebecca Weston sits on the Sellafield Ltd Executive team overseeing one of the most complex environmental restoration projects in the world.

The Sellafield nuclear site, on the west coast of Cumbria, is entering a unique era, as it ends reprocessing and becomes a fully-fledged decommissioning site.

This brings its challenges, and requires a new way of thinking by a diverse, entrepreneurial workforce and supply chain.

As the UK’s largest industrial facility, Sellafield is becoming known not for its controversial past, but for its contribution to skills and its potential as the UK’s gateway into the £250bn global nuclear decommissioning market.

“We need to do things differently to deliver our clean-up mission,” said Rebecca. “This means we need access to all the talent available. We have developed and delivered 21 new trainee schemes to attract innovators and future leaders, we have 550 apprentices on our books, 35% of which are female; we are making positive steps.”

Around one third of the current workforce is female, a figure that declines significantly in leadership positions within the company.

“Women are still a minority on the Sellafield management team, but I hope to make positive moves to encourage diversity.”

Part of Rebecca’s role involves thinking about how to diversify the economy around Sellafield’s Cumbria site, in anticipation of job losses that will otherwise accompany an end to the plant’s reprocessing work.

“The leadership training I’ve had throughout my career has proved helpful in sparking my thoughts about how to create an entrepreneurial environment within my organisation and the local area,” she says.

Another challenge she faces is proving that good leadership comes in more than one guise.

“Historically, the industry has had a fairly traditional manufacturing culture, with a ‘follow me’ mentality,” she says.

“My natural style is more inclusive and collaborative. I try to develop the ability for the workforce to question and seek to understand, rather than just follow.”

As well as her role on the executive, she is also a board director of the Nuclear Institute and a Fellow of Physics.

This has helped bring Women in Nuclear (WiN) UK into the fold, an organisation which is set to launch a dedicated WiN Cumbria branch on 8th March, International Women’s Day.

With an undergraduate degree in physics and a PhD in mechanical and electrical engineering, Rebecca joined as a technical specialist and progressed as she stepped into different roles around the business.

“In 2007, I went through a senior management selection board, where potential career paths were discussed. I pushed to move into a production leadership role where it is still rare to find female leaders today. In 2011, I decided the time was right to build on this leadership experience via an MBA.”

On Rebecca’s current position, she said: “My role is about stepping back and trying to join the dots. What’s really helpful for me is having a deeper understanding of how work gets done on the site and therefore the difference between something theoretically looking like a good idea, and practically how you go about implementing it.

“If I was to offer advice to new entrants or those interested in nuclear, I’d say don’t be put off by our processes, this industry has a strong and vibrant future and we need new people to unlock its potential.”

Commenting on the need for more diversity and inclusivity in the nuclear sector, Carole Jones, an Executive Member of WiN and Head of Modelling and Analysis at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said: “Rebecca is a perfect example of women forging successful leadership roles for themselves in the nuclear industry and playing a crucial part in our decommissioning journey."

“She is one of only a few women in high level roles in the sector and, in-turn she is setting an example to others on the opportunities the industry holds for women. That is why the work of Women in Nuclear is so crucial when it comes to fostering a sustainable and diverse workforce for the future.”