Olivia Thompson on her career in STEM

As Head of Technical Skills and Capability, Olivia Thompson is part of the National Nuclear Laboratory’s Strategy, Science and Innovation (SSI) team.

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the work you do

NNL is owned by Government, we carry out research and development to convert basic science into industrial scale technology. In my role I ensure NNL has the right level of capability and our technical community is developed along a pathway that is tailored to individual strengths and aspirations. I lead our early careers, technical training, knowledge management and equality, diversity and inclusion programmes. No two days are the same and I get enormous satisfaction from working with the next generation of scientists and engineers.

How has the industry/ sector changed during your career?

It’s changed enormously since I began in 2006. Back then, female science and engineering graduates were few and far between. That’s started to change and over 28% of the sector is now female. Government strategy is calling for 40% by 2030. I’m hopeful we can get to 50% in all job roles in the next decade! There are lots of female role models emerging who are paving the way for the next generation- its really exciting times for the nuclear sector!

What’s the biggest myth about your industry / sector?

I guess the main myth is around safety. We take health and safety and the wellbeing of our employees and the general public very seriously and our track record in the UK is exceptional. We continuously strive to put every possible measure in place to reduce risk and we’re working to innovate and develop novel methods to keep ahead of other industry sectors. I believe our messages are starting to hit home and we’re seeing more public support for nuclear as part of a low carbon energy mix than ever before.

What is your ideal day away from the day job?

My ideal day away consists of combining my three favourite things- my family, sport and travel. I recently cycled around Majorca with my two year old son in tow- it was fantastic experience and one I hope to replicate every year.

Which woman/ man in history inspires you

Katherine Johnson – an African-American mathematician, Katherine worked for NASA in its early pioneering days. She provided the calculations for the US manned space programme and her story was featured in a recent Hollywood movie ‘Hidden Figures’. Her calculations were critical to the first manned mission to orbit the earth and helped to bring the crisis laden Apollo 13 back to Earth. She overcame many challenges throughout her life and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2015.

What’s your motto/ favourite quote in life?

There are lots of great quotes but perhaps my favorite is from Benjamin Franklin – “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”

What advice do you have for managing work and life?

Recognise that sacrifices are inevitable but so long as you enjoy what you do then the work/life integration will balance itself out. I think organisation is the key to coping with a hectic schedule around family and work and travel but I personally really wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever been given?

Everyone needs a network, a mentor and a sponsor – it has been really helpful to find a group of individuals to advise me, guide me and listen to my woes! Network and support organisation like FL are immensely helpful and provide a great forum to share ideas, build support and provide professional guidance. I’ve now got a fantastic group of people who can offer advice and help me find opportunities that I didn’t think were available or even existed.

What has driven your passion for diversity in your industry/sector?

I’m very driven to achieve a better gender balance in nuclear. The industry has been traditionally male but the good news is that we have started to shift. I’ve seen positive trends with increasing numbers of women joining. There are numerous initiatives underway to support better gender balance but we must work together to make it happen.

Does the general pace of gender parity equality worry you at all?

I’m not worried but I am determined to make change happen quicker. I was delighted to join in with the 100 year celebrations of the Suffrage movement this year. While there have been huge advances in those 100 years, I worry that the pace of change is still slow and sluggish. For instance, it’s nearly 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed and yet “equal pay day” in 2018 was only one day later than in 2017! This date is calculated based on the difference between men and women’s average pay.  If we maintain current pace, it’ll take 99 years from the 1970 Equal Pay Act to see full equality; clear evidence that progress is slower than ideal.

Get involved in this year’s STEM Report: Bridging the Gender Gap in STEM 2018 Survey 

The mother of all awards #FLNationalAwards & Summit 2018 is coming to your region with events in Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Leeds! It’s an inspirational programme showcasing diversity in business, recognising the doers, trailblazers & inclusive leaders across the UK. Join the conversation and don’t miss out – HERE