We continue our series to celebrate the accomplished and visionary women working at UNVIE with Nuclear Safety Attaché Mugeh Afshar-Tous. Mugeh answers questions about her work, what inspired her to take up this career path, and why it’s important to promote gender equality in government and in STEAM.
Describe your job / what you do?
As the Nuclear Safety Attaché, I provide programmatic and policy oversight of IAEA activities with Member States related to nuclear, radioactive sources, waste, transport and emergency preparedness to strengthen global nuclear safety. I ensure that the Ambassador (CDA for now), DCM and other senior management at UNVIE are kept informed on pertinent nuclear safety matters. When applicable, I work closely with the other staff and Attachés at UNVIE’s IAEA Affairs section in complementary areas – energy, security, and safeguards, in support of the safe civilian use of nuclear technology in countries that are IAEA Member States. Also, I am dual hatted as I keep my parent organization, USNRC, apprised of safety issues at the IAEA.
How did you decide on this career path?
Working in international programs provided better career opportunities and prospects for me at a federal agency where most staff are engineers and scientists. I have a strong project management/business re-engineering background and have successfully applied these skills to improve processes. This expertise has allowed me to work on transformation projects, while managing changes systematically and making my sections noticeably more effective and efficient. I also enjoy working in cross-cultural environments and assisting countries in establishing their regulatory infrastructure to support electricity grids that contribute to developing countries’ economic growth.
What is it like being a woman working in a STEAM field?
I have extensive work experience at the US Navy and then at USNRC, both male-dominated workplaces. There have been challenges along the way, working in different STEAM fields, when contributions of women are not always acknowledged equally with those of male colleagues and there is always some form of bias, albeit unconscious. As a woman, and sometimes as the only woman on the team, I had to work harder, longer hours, and to try to advocate for myself much more than my male colleagues.
Why is it important that women work in STEAM fields?
Women are generally underrepresented in STEAM fields. Gender diversity broadens viewpoints and brings alternate perspectives to the table, allowing greater potential for new ideas/approaches. Seeing more women as role models in STEAM fields will inspire future female generations to focus on careers in STEAM fields. Since many women who enter STEAM fields tend to leave due the challenges they face, they need good mentors in their respective workplaces to help them grow, become aware of opportunities, and develop to be effective leaders. During my career, I have always acted as a mentor to junior professionals, either formally, or informally, to help other women, and I do get a sense of satisfaction observing their achievements.
How does the work you do help UN member states and improve the lives of people around the world?
The United States has considerable operations and personnel expertise in management of nuclear power plants, radiological and fuel cycle facilities. I help coordinate US participation in various IAEA activities with member states in support of safety goals in the many uses of radiation (for example for treatment of cancer) as well as safe use of nuclear power in generating electricity to remote areas that will help developing countries with their goals (for example, expanding manufacturing). The regulatory aspect of nuclear safety protects people and the environment.
What is the United States doing to promote gender equality in government and in STEAM?
The U.S. federal government has made improving STEAM education a priority. There are policies and budget focused on maximizing investment to increase access and engagement as well as public-private collaboration. One positive aspect of working for US federal agencies is that the pay system for men and women is the same, so as more women are hired into STEAM fields at federal agencies, their pay will be the same as their male colleagues who are at the same organizational level.
How does your work further U.S. interests?
My work supports peaceful nuclear cooperation, nuclear safety, United States’ nuclear nonproliferation goals and U.S. obligations on conventions and treaties such as the Convention on Nuclear Safety. As the Nuclear Safety Attaché at UNVIE, I have the unique opportunity to further relationships with both diplomatic and regulatory colleagues from other UN Member States. These relationships help promote the high standards of safety, security, and nonproliferation that the United States believes are essential for any country using civilian nuclear technology to advance their economic, energy, health, and industrial objectives. This, in turn, can help countries meet clean energy and climate goals while ensuring that no material or technology falls into the wrong hands.