WiN Global Strategic Partnership: An Interview with CEO Callum Thomas

January 5, 2021

On 1 June 2020, Women in Nuclear (WiN) Global signed a Strategic Partnership agreement with Thomas Thor Associates (TTA), the executive search, recruitment and consulting business and KeySource Global's parent company, to collaborate at a global level in the coming years. Amelia Lee Zhi Yi, WiN Member and former UN-NYG Mentoring Coordinator, sat with the founder and CEO of TTA, Mr Callum Thomas, to discuss his long term vision for the partnership, recruitment trends in the nuclear industry, and concrete efforts to promote gender parity in the nuclear field.

-Please tell us more about TTA and its origins. What is your driving force for this niche recruitment business? For the last 21 years now, I have been working in recruiting and executive search. 11 years ago I started my own company and I wanted to do something that was good for the world, truly global, highly professional and that has long-term perspectives. I thought of clean energy, and quickly found nuclear, which is a source of low-carbon electricity and a big part of the solution for net zero by 2050. Our mission at TTA is “Building and Sustaining the Global Nuclear Workforce”. We have been on this mission for 11 years now, in line with our values of Diversity, Inclusion, Collaboration, Excellence and Results. The nuclear industry has a huge need for highly qualified professionals all over the world. We exist because there is a need to identify, qualify, mobilise and localise these professionals globally. We also act as an ambassador for career opportunities in nuclear and spend a lot of time and effort attracting talented people from other industries to join the nuclear industry.

- Diversity and Inclusion of women are key in  talks of increasing gender parity in the nuclear industry nowadays. Can you share some trends and insights that you see in the support of women to enter this workforce? There are more women working in the nuclear field now than ever before. Progress has been quite slow but it is happening. We are not ready yet to celebrate, but we are on the right track. Women are rising through the levels of promotion and are starting to be more represented in senior roles. Other trends that we see: There are some examples of strong female leaders that are making change happen quickly. Within WiN Global, many people know the story of Adrienne Kelbie at the UK regulator: She has achieved 40% female representation in the workforce at the Office for Nuclear Regulation; this was done through sheer determination and making it a priority. There are also more men in senior roles for whom diversity (gender and other forms for diversity) is a priority. In addition, we have observed targets and diversity recruitment objectives, which are focusing the mind and setting people on the right track. As another general trend, we have seen more flexibility in working conditions, for instance, working hours, career breaks and, especially now, more remote working.

-Can you share some initiatives by TTA in supporting the increase of women for Gender Parity? The first thing we do is ensure that shortlists of candidates interviewed by our clients are gender balanced. As mentioned prior, we are actively headhunting women not just from nuclear, but also other relevant industries which are regulated, complex, and technical industries. In addition to working with organisations to gain more flexibility and make roles more attractive to a wider diversity of people, we are also shining a spotlight on case studies and role models of women working in the industry through interviews and social media content. Finally, we provide career advice to women to support them in finding the right roles and opportunities for career development.

-One of the difficulties of entering this workforce is a lack of knowledge of the field in terms of being exposed from an academic level, especially coming from a country with a less mature nuclear industry. What advice do you have for people to build their knowledge base and find their way into the industry? Unfortunately, nuclear is not something that is talked about in schools in many countries, even in the ones with developed nuclear industries. There are a few things which are happening which I think are important: Now that nuclear is framed as part of the clean energy future, I believe that more people will find it naturally in their research. Apart from that, I have always thought that the World Nuclear Association (WNA) is a great source of information; then you also have the IAEA which has really great content online. Many countries have industry associations which run regular (online) events and share news stories. Besides this, reaching out to people in the industry through LinkedIn is an effective way to explore. People are very friendly in the nuclear industry and will often be available for a chat about what they do and how they entered the industry. Mentoring programmes are also very important.

-What advice do you have for employers to ensure they have a constant pool of talent resources to hire from? There is no short cut or quick solution. Like anything meaningful, it takes time and effort. Having a constant pool of talented applicants is only possible by understanding exactly who and where the target applicants are, what they are interested in and motivated by and what it would take for them to move to another role. Then it comes down to effectively communicating with target candidates to let them know the opportunities on offer and having an effective recruitment process with a great candidate experience for those applying. The reason we exist is because all of that is quite difficult. Having a good recruitment team and ensuring that the hiring managers are fully engaged in the process is crucial. Bringing the workforce is not something that HR should do alone, it’s the responsibility of the whole organisation. Imagine the workforce was a key component like a nuclear reactor, it would be the most important, the most expensive component in the whole organisation. And if you look at how much attention goes to some of the machines that the nuclear industry buys, it’s much more attention to a machine than is to the workforce. There is just a lot of work and time needed to really get it right.

- Please tell us more about the WiN-TTA partnership: how did it begin and your long-term vision for this collaboration. Thomas Thor has been supporting WiN Global and WiN chapters in multiple countries for over a decade now. For us, it was obvious from the beginning - the industry is looking to diversify, we need good people, it matches perfectly to our objectives. It started by just going to WiN events, meeting people from WiN. We did a couple of research projects, we did voluntary work for WiN: We looked at what we can learn from other organisations like Women in Mining, Women in Construction. We have been active contributors, and I actually have always been a member of WiN. After a while we felt like it was worth formalizing the partnership agreement. For me, the key criteria of a partnership is one based on actions, in which positive contributions are made over the long term. We have different areas of collaboration spanning communication, nuclear industry initiatives, and young professional career development. In Communication, we are sharing information on WiN events and case studies to TTA’s huge follower community. Additionally we support   the development of WiN content to ensure effective communication with the target market. We are also partnering in nuclear industry initiatives, such as organisations or countries that have objectives around gender parity, we are looking how we might help. Hopefully we will team for the IAEA as an example, they have just announced that they want gender parity by 2025.There is an obvious connection in supporting WiN members to develop their professional careers. The agreement also involves both WiN Young Generation, and mentoring programme, as well as other special projects. We look forward to a really active partnership in the coming decade.

-To close this interview on an inspirational note, can you share with us your favourite success recruitment story? It’s difficult because there are a lot of them. We have recently run the research for the Director General of the WNA, Sama Bilbao y León. I think she is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. She has been so proactive, has done so much for the industry: she has done academia, worked in a nuclear power plant, set up a university programme for nuclear and worked for the IAEA. That recruitment process was such a pleasure because it was truly global, we were around the world looking for who’s the best ambassador for the nuclear industry for the next 5 or 10 years to lead the WNA; that was a really memorable one.

This interview was excerpted from the latest WiN Global newsletter. You can read the full newsletter here:

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