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Changing perceptions: How Amec Foster Wheeler is engineering the path to female success

Ana Dennier, Director – Owner Support Services, Nuclear Canada, Amec Foster Wheeler

Today (8 March) marks International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and to bring awareness to the ongoing need for gender equality. It’s also the perfect time to discuss the issues that women still face in the engineering profession, and what we are doing to overcome them.

It’s no secret that there’s a discrepancy with the amount of women involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) compared to men. In fact, only 23% of Canadian engineering graduates are women. Moreover, female engineers are under-represented in leadership roles. In 2015, Amec Foster Wheeler decided to investigate how our women in our nuclear business in Canada felt and the challenges they come up against. Through an internal survey and focus groups, we obtained eye-opening insights into our company.

On the positive front, we found a growing number of women in our ranks (26%), were happy and one-third indicated they had not experienced gender inequality. However, 36% of women felt they had experienced gender discrimination in their career and stated that career growth through promotions and further education was not considered obtainable or a priority. Many women felt less confident than their male counterparts and were worried about balancing work-life responsibilities. From 2009-2014, only 6% of women had applied for managerial roles, despite the fact that over 70% of those who did apply, gained the position.

It became evident that we need to improve and provide better career toolsets for women, so that they have the ability (and confidence) to reach their full leadership and career potential. Thus we launched our action plan which included:

  • Peer mentoring
  • Understanding the unconscious bias
  • Career development
  • Meet-ups
  • Sponsorships/mentorships

Through the mentoring program, which currently meets on a monthly basis in Ontario, women have the opportunity to meet with those in more advanced roles to better understand what it takes to get there. Through awareness of the unconscious biases, we’re actively getting directly involved with the community and our staff to change perceptions. Furthermore, we’re also getting directly involved with the community by partnering with organizations that help promote women in engineering and technical related fields.

Amec Foster Wheeler is committed to increasing diversity and inclusion throughout our business. This is reflected in the emphasis we have given diversity and inclusion in both our new company values and expected behaviours. Although we can’t expect to change the industry overnight, the steps we take today will help to transform tomorrow. Amec Foster Wheeler can proudly say that this International Women’s Day, we are building the foundation that will allow women to receive the guidance they need to become strong leaders.


Meet the blogger

Ana has twenty-three years of experience in the nuclear industry which includes leadership positions in Canada and the US. As Vice-President of Engineering at Amec Foster Wheeler Nuclear US on a temporary assignment, she was responsible for the strategic direction, client interaction and development of the engineering line of business, execution of engineering work for clients, and development of engineering staff and capability within Engineering. Ana was a change agent at the Nuclear US engineering organization, where she identified gaps in work processes and culture, and implemented measures that improved quality culture and results, regaining client confidence in our products. In her career, Ana has managed several multi-million dollar logistically and technically complex projects for Amec Foster Wheeler Nuclear Canada drawing upon staff and resources across organizations and countries, in the areas of safety, licensing, operational support, emergency response, nuclear security, severe accidents and Fukushima response, equipment survivability and reactor design evaluation. Ana is currently a member of the Amec Foster Wheeler Nuclear Canada Lead team, and Director of Owner Support Services (OSS) providing leadership to approximately 100 engineering staff with a revenue of approximately $40M annually. The OSS directorate provides oversight of engineering and project management activities related to refurbishment of the 4 Ontario Power Generation CANDU Units at Darlington.