Supporting Women in STEM: CTBTO Mentoring Programme

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and the CTBTO Youth Group (CYG) launched a mentoring programme, the first of its kind for the Organization, for early-career women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from under-represented geographical regions.

The hybrid initiative was organized in collaboration with the International Gender Champions (IGC), a leadership network of decision-makers from international organizations, Permanent Missions to the United Nations (UN) and Vienna-based international organizations, civil society groups and the private sector to promote gender equality.

The two-month long programme supported a cohort of 12 mentees - aged 22 to 33 - hailing from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, South and South-East Asia, and the Pacific. They were paired with mentors from various scientific and technical fields from CTBTO’s three technical Divisions: The International Monitoring System (IMS), the International Data Centre (IDC), and On-Site Inspection (OSI).

The initiative kicked off on 29 September. CTBTO’s Executive Secretary Robert Floyd welcomed the programme, saying: “I am proud to support the next generation of women contributing to STEM fields” - in line with his personal commitments as an International Gender Champion.

This was followed by one-on-one sessions, during which mentors and mentees set goals, addressed topics such as unconscious biases, bridging the confidence gap for women in STEM, and the importance of relationship-building in the field.

They also participated in a Monte Carlo simulation, which is a powerful quantitative tool used in risk analysis. Furthermore, they engaged in peer review sessions, which encouraged mentees to receive feedback from others who work closely with them.

One of the mentees, 26-year-old Afra Abdelrahman Mohammed Bakhit from Sudan, who is also a CTBTO Research Fellow, praised the initiative: “The Mentoring Programme has accelerated my development. My mentor was always there to answer my questions and offer valuable advice… empowering me to apply for a job in my field.”

Another participant, geneticist and secondary school biology teacher Hala Alises of Jordan, urged others to take part in future editions of the programme: “We still have barriers that need to be broken in this field… These initiatives raise awareness and understanding among the global community to take action.”

The mentors found the experience equally rewarding.

“It is inspiring and motivating to get to know these talented women at the start of their professional careers. Being a mentor is a great way to help strengthen the CTBTO community,” said Megan Slinkard, Chief of Software Applications in the IDC.

As part of the initiative, CTBTO staff also facilitated a series of workshops and seminars on navigating the recruitment process, led by Deepti Choubey, Director of Knowledge Management and Human Resources Services, as well as a communication session hosted by Public Information Officers La Neice Collins and Sanam Shantyaei.

Speaking about capacity building, Shantyaei said: “This was a fantastic opportunity to work with young women and discuss ways to make nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament priorities more accessible - using social media. We also worked on communication skills to better connect with diverse audiences to advocate for the Treaty’s entry into force.”

As a capstone to the Mentoring Programme, the CTBTO facilitated the participation of mentees in its third Science Diplomacy Symposium, also known as SDS. Their travel and attendance were funded by a generous contribution from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, a philanthropic organization in Washington, D.C. This enabled the mentees to meet with their mentors in person for the first time. At the closing session of SDS, Executive Secretary Floyd held a certificate ceremony for the inaugural class of the Mentoring Programme and encouraged them to continue to contribute to the CTBTO’s mission.

Based on the success of the first instalment of the CTBTO Mentoring Programme, the Organization is planning to host another edition in 2023.


CTBTO Mentoring Programme mentees at Science Diplomacy Symposium (SDS)

Certificate ceremony during closing session of SDS

CTBTO Executive Secretary Robert Floyd with Data Analyst and Statistics Student Amina Belkhojayeva of Kazakhstan and Deniz Iskendarova, CTBTO Associate Diversity Officer and Gender Focal Point

CTBTO mentor Jasmina Lazovska, CTBTO Associate Administrative Officer in the International Monitoring System (IMS) Division, on a virtual call with mentee, Afra Abdelrahman Mohammed Bakhit of Sudan

IAEA intern Shanhong Li of China (left) with Carla Pires, CTBTO Radionuclide Lead Analyst with the International Data Centre (IDC) at CTBTO headquarters in Vienna

Public Information officers La Neice Collins and Sanam Shantyaei delivering communication workshop

Bi-weekly brainstorming session held by the mentors of the CTBTO Mentoring Programme from the three technical Divisions: IMS, IDC and OSI