OPG’s female divers take the plunge to break barriers
Four women in OPG’s Advanced Inspection and Maintenance division broke new ground as they set out on one of the company’s first-ever all-female dives this summer.
On Aug. 23, the crew geared up to conduct maintenance work on Pickering Nuclear’s Fish Diversion System – a 2,000-foot net that prevents fish from entering the plant’s cooling systems. Regular maintenance and cleaning helps remove algae growth to allow adequate flow of cooling water from Lake Ontario while protecting the fish.
Dive Supervisor Jaimie Dack led fellow divers Drew Burstahler, Elizabeth Cole, and Samantha Hood as the team set out by boat on a sweltering morning to take the plunge into the cold waters. Donning thermal layers, waterproof suits and helmets, two divers took turns going underwater to safely pressure-wash the net, clear out zebra mussels and algae, and repair a water pump.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like that before, so it’s pretty awesome and I was really proud,” said Dack. “There are four women who work in our team, and this is the first time we’ve all been together and we’ve been working together for three months. So this is a pretty rare opportunity.”
From concrete restoration to dam repairs to welding, OPG’s team of skilled divers support the company’s hydroelectric, nuclear and thermal operations across the province. And that’s important, as safe and efficient operations will play a key role in helping OPG reach its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, outlined in the company’s Climate Change Plan.
With more than 470 dives completed this year, this one was a milestone for the books and reflects OPG’s ongoing commitment to fostering a workforce centred on equity, diversity, and inclusion.
While scheduling makes it a challenge to conduct all-female dives, the team hopes there will be more opportunities like this in the future.
“It’s cool for other girls and women to see that it can be done,” said Samantha Hood, a diver of three years who took up her career after she began scuba diving as a hobby. “It’s cool for someone else who hears about it, and thinks, ‘Yeah, it’s a possibility.’ And not even just for our industry. If they hear of an all-female trades crew, then that might be the inspiration they need to pursue a job.”
Diver Drew Burstahler, who was the first to take the plunge that morning, says she has noticed a huge culture difference between her eight years of diving experience in the private sector and her time at OPG.
“I think everyone is just more understanding and more open,” she said.
“This shows we’re making good progress,” added Elizabeth Cole, who just started her career and has been diving for less than a year. “There have been a lot of dive crews with one woman on them, but now we have a whole crew of just women. We still have a long way to go to having 50 per cent female divers on the broader team, but this is the next step towards that.”
The four women had one overriding message for young women looking to pursue careers in typically male-dominated fields, particularly in the trades: Just do it.
“Something I get all the time is when I show up to dams or different sites and people say, ‘Oh, you’re diving too?’ They mean it sweetly, but it should be just the same as anyone else showing up to the job,” said Dack. “I think the best advice is to just show up and be the best you can be. Unfortunately, women kind of have to prove themselves and not necessarily get the benefit of the doubt. But just go in and do your best, and you will succeed.”