What it's like to be a working mom in the nuclear industry

Meet Tara Matheny, Meredith Werley and Stacey Hamm, three women who support our Duke Energy nuclear fleet. They are also moms. We asked what it’s like as a working parent in the nuclear energy industry and how moms can support each other. Here’s what they said.  

How do you talk with your children about what you do?

Tara: My daughter is only two so most of the communication we have about work is at a high level. She has a children’s book about nuclear energy, and she knows I help “keep the lights on.” While she enjoys the book on nuclear energy, she often asks me if I will stay home so she does not have to go to school.

Meredith Werley with her family at the Biltmore in Asheville, N.C.
Meredith Werley with her family at the Biltmore in Asheville, N.C.

Meredith: My daughter is 6 years old, and at first, I told her I work for the electric company and “keep the lights on.” As she gets older, I talk with her about being an engineer and how I create new things that are useful for others or make things better. She understands I used to work at a power plant and got to see big equipment, like a “car engine the size of our dining room,” that makes lots and lots of electricity so everyone has some.

Considering the first words she could read after her name were “Duke Energy,” I think she thinks my job and workplace are pretty cool.  

Stacey: My children are still pretty young. My daughter knows I work at Duke Energy and make energy that powers our home and everything we do. They think I work a lot!   

Did having a child change your perspective of nuclear energy?

Tara: I have always been a supporter of nuclear energy, but it has given me a greater appreciation for the importance of clean energy and leaving a healthy planet for my daughter and her children.

Meredith: Becoming a mom changed my perspective on a lot of other things, like what is important in life, or safety hazards when driving, cooking, or using household cleaning chemicals, but not nuclear energy. I had been working in the nuclear industry for 10 years by the time she was born, so I had a very good understanding of nuclear energy and the safety protocols, high reliability, and operational excellence Duke Energy and all other U.S. nuclear utilities have in place.

Stacey: I always have always had an appreciation for nuclear as a clean, safe, reliable source of energy. If anything, becoming a mom made me realize the importance of maintaining our current nuclear fleet, as well as pursing new construction and technology to make sure we continue to have this power for my children, and their children in the years to come.

Describe a challenge you’ve had as a working parent.

Tara: Balancing my personal and professional calendar is always a challenge. My husband also works in a production environment, and we are always trying to balance illnesses, school closings, and activities with duty rotations, outages, and important meetings. My husband is very supportive, and we do a lot of planning and sharing responsibilities. My leadership team is also very supportive and works with me.

Meredith: I discovered there is no such thing as a work-life balance; it’s really about work-life choices. Those choices are difficult to make because, once you become a mom, you feel pulled in a million different directions. Sometimes the solution that works now doesn’t work in six months. What has worked for me is being transparent with my needs at work and at home and realizing there are restrictions at both locations that can’t be changed. That has meant asking my manager for a different work schedule, or allowance to get work done at home. It also means being transparent with my husband about my work commitments. It’s not perfect, but openness and flexibility go a long way to keeping everyone as happy as possible and meeting job expectations. Being flexible and open to change both inside and outside the workplace are crucial to success as a working parent.

Stacey Hamm enjoying a night of bowling with her family
Stacey Hamm enjoying a night of bowling with her family

Stacey: Finding a childcare solution that fits my work hours and enables me to be available to support the plant in the event of an emergent issue, all while allowing me to spend time with my children, has been a challenge. The best thing we did was to find a nanny that comes to our home to take care of the children. She comes very early in the morning so I can go to work while the children are still sleeping, and then get home early enough to spend time with them each evening.

In your experience, are other parents supportive of nuclear energy?

Tara: The response I get is mixed. Most people that are knowledgeable about nuclear energy are supportive, but there are some that are skeptical about it being a safe place to work. I am pregnant with my second child, and I have commonly gotten the “Are you sure working there is safe for the baby?” question from friends and family.

Meredith: Most of the parents I meet at my daughter’s school are supportive of nuclear energy, or at least don’t have anything against it, so I consider myself lucky in that regard. The parents I do meet at her school or at the neighborhood playground who aren’t supportive of nuclear are usually unsure about nuclear or have some beliefs without facts to back them up – it’s just something they’ve “heard.”

I typically get a shocked reaction when I tell people what I do, which I think comes from multiple places: being a female engineer in a male-dominated work environment and that I actually work for the utility they recognize by name.

Stacey: The other parents I know are supportive of nuclear energy. When I tell people what I do, their first reaction is typically surprise, especially that I used to be a licensed nuclear plant operator. Most people do not understand the rigorous training operators must go through, not only to get their license to operate the plant, but also to maintain it. When you tell them that you have to attend continuing training for 40 hours in a week, six times a year, they start to understand the value we put on safety and reliable plant operations. 

How can moms in nuclear support each other?   

Tara Matheny and her growing family
Tara Matheny and her growing family

Tara: For those who have the opportunity to manage another working parent, continuing to be understanding and supportive of the unique challenges of being a parent is really important.

Meredith: Women can sometimes be jealous of one another, especially if one feels they are not receiving a benefit another woman is receiving. We’re all striving for the same goals – to raise our children to be the best people they can be, show our children what they can achieve through our example, and perform the best we can at our jobs. We can support each other by lifting each other up instead of dragging each other down through negative comments. When you hear someone got a good benefit consider responding “good for them!” or “I’m glad that’s working in her favor” instead of “when will that happen for me?” I have found helping someone else or lifting someone up always boomerangs back to me – even if it takes some time.

Stacey: Sharing experiences and successes through mentoring other women is important. I have learned so much on this journey of becoming a mom while working in nuclear from the strong, successful, and inspirational leaders – who are also moms –working in Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet.

Tara Matheny is a first-line supervisor in the Radiation Protection group at McGuire Nuclear Station. Meredith Werley works in Fleet Digital Engineering in the Corporate Office supporting remote equipment monitoring and fleet Innovation projects. Stacey Hamm also works at McGuire as a supervisor of Operations initial license training.

Comments (1)

Posted March 18, 2019 by Melissa Yeoh
Thank you for this excellent article on these three powerful, energetic, and electrifying Nuclear Moms!

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