Award for EDI rep ‘living the values’

Richard Cooke, the National Nuclear Laboratory branch rep for equality, diversity and inclusion, was presented with the Women in Nuclear “Ally of the year 2019 Award” for his commitment to gender parity. He talked to Boc Ly.

Richard Cooke receiving his WIN awardRichard Cooke is an electron microscopist, which means he prepares nuclear materials then performs analysis in electron microscopes to understand any degradation in the materials’ properties. This ensures that reactors can be operated safely, and that various waste types can be safely stored away.

Safety, as you can imagine, is a priority for someone who works with nuclear materials on a daily basis, and Richard had been a long-standing a branch safety rep.

This was probably before he was even aware that equality, diversity and inclusion was an issue with its own acronym. However, Richard was already noticing small things that didn’t fit quite right with him.

For example, even though most of his colleagues were male, changing room spaces, lockers and showers were in short supply for his female colleagues.

Small things can cause big problems for the people adversely affected.

“Some of my safety rep stuff seemed to stray into harassment and bullying, and I wanted to understand it better. And, I dealt with things that led me to thinking along Dignity at Work lines of what’s right and wrong,” recalls Richard who was keen to step up his rep work.

This was 10 years ago when the NNL branch president was seeking lead reps in different areas, and the Equalities Act was about to come into force.

The timing would prove to be fortuitous.

“I told the branch president that I’d like to be the lead safety rep but he already had someone who was keen for that role. Instead, he asked: ‘Would you like to cover equality for me? That’s an area that we’re going to need more expertise in.’

“That was, more or less, how I came to be the equality rep just six months before the Equalities Act came into force in October 2010. It was partly a request of the president at the time, and partly because it fitted in with where I was thinking.”

EDI wins

It is fitting, and entirely deserved, that Richard can mark his 10 years as an equalities rep with his ‘Ally of the Year’ award from Women in Nuclear.

Two landmark achievements stand out for him during that time.

The first was a company commitment for an across the board, equal pay review, which also gave every individual at NNL the right, if they believed they were being unfairly rewarded for doing the same work as their colleagues, to an individual pay review.

It’s an approach that has already borne some fruit, says Richard. Reps have helped individuals  through these reviews and the company process seems to be working.

The second big win that Richard instigated was the introduction of a company-wide policy on EDI.

This was sparked by a personal case that he was assisting with, and he pointed out to senior managers that all such future grievances would be better handled if such a policy was in place.

In particular, after the wording of the policy was agreed, Richard made sure that it was rolled out and implemented in a meaningful way, rather than just being a bunch of words ‘sat on the intranet that’s never looked at.’

“NNL sent everybody on a mandatory one day course that was run by two ex-Birmingham police officers who were there in the 1980s when it was called institutionally racist. So they did a really good job of helping us understand how to improve dignity at work.

“The course demonstrated our policy, how it applies to people and took everyone through the process of understanding that while everyone has biases, it’s whether you act on them or not is the important thing. To be fair, the company did a cracking job on the rollout.”

Next on his radar is to help ensure the proper provision of personal protective equipment for women but says, overall, the NNL has made great strides across EDI in the last decade, including the establishment of a very active EDI working group, on which he also sits.

Richard’s advice to other EDI reps would be to wait until it’s the right time to be heard, and to wait for your opportunities.

“It can be a long wait for the right time, or for the company culture to evolve to the right place to seriously grasp the issues,” he says.


Richard is well aware that ensuring that everyone feels safe, valued and fulfilled in the workplace is a daily challenge, and not just about the big wins in isolation.

He is minded to correct people’s assumptions around gender and actively encourages his male colleagues to recognise the importance of gender balance. If an email contact is for a generic address, he’ll make sure that he starts it with: “Dear Madam or Sir.” His approach is ‘little, often and walking the talk.’

It’s a mantra that is clearly paying dividends – not least when he picked up his ‘Ally of the Year’ award at the Women in Nuclear conference in London this January, and the judges praised him for ‘living the values.’

Of the award and the WIN event, Richard says:

“It was a special day for me and being one of only a handful of men in a room full of women really brought home to me how it must feel on a day-to-day basis for all the women working in the sector dominated by men!”

Dignity at work in the energy sector

The Energy Sector is facing some major challenges as a result of the drive to decarbonise our economy, the introduction of new technology and new business models, and also as the sector strives to address the challenge of an ageing workforce.
Read our Dignity at Work charter for the energy sector