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Fili: ‘Everyone has obstacles to overcome’

Editor’s note: For Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting Karen Fili, site vice president of Vogtle 3&4. She’s one of SNC’s female leaders who is paving the way for other women.

When and why did you become interested in nuclear energy?

My father, Cecil Davis, was an engineer and a chief test engineer for the nuclear submarine program. It was his work that first led me to respect and appreciate engineering and nuclear power. As long as I can remember, I wanted to be an engineer like my father.


Did anyone mentor or encourage you along the way? What did that person do for you or what advice did he or she give you?

After graduating from Mississippi State University in mechanical engineering, my first job was at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station. The plant manager was a great mentor, and his best advice was to build a strong team. He said that diversity was a key strategy in building the strongest teams.


What’s it like to be a woman in a predominantly male field?

In the earlier years, I can recall many times being the only female in the room or “at the table.” Having to constantly prove yourself was a norm. I believe that a diverse and inclusive team leads to better solutions and overall performance. It’s an important part of our strategy at Southern Nuclear and Vogtle 3&4.


What does it take to succeed?

Success is based on determination and commitment.  My motivation to do this job comes from the energy and strong commitment of this team to have success in new nuclear.


Have you encountered any obstacles?

Everyone has obstacles to overcome. My impatience is always an obstacle and something I always have to keep in check. I overcome that by having trusted co-workers give me candid feedback. I am sometimes frustrated when others are not inclusive or open to feedback, and this is an obstacle that I think many other females can relate to.


Do you have a funny anecdote about being a woman in a predominantly male field?

In the earlier days of nuclear, wearing required personnel protective clothing while in certain areas of the plant was challenging – I wore men’s boxer briefs and a t-shirt. One had to be strategic with coed dress-out areas!


What advice do you have for other women who want to follow in your footsteps?

Build a strong foundation and focus on the job you have. Find a trusted coach and mentor that is not someone you work with every day and also be a mentor to others. Lastly, recognize the importance of giving back to the community through time and giving.