In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Professor Helen Sampson talks about a new research that works on together with Dr. Iris Acejo, as the Cardiff University’s Seafarers International Research Centre has undertaken a study on the port-welfare needs of women seafarers. The research is funded by the Seafarers’ Charity and results will be published by the end of 2022.
Prof. Sampson also highlights the many benefits that a more diverse working environment will bring onboard and refers to other key issues of attention to improve life and work onboard for both male and female seafarers. For example, considering that we live in times of increased stress, it is vital to provide proper recreational facilities on board as well as decent shipboard living conditions, she stressed.
SAFETY4SEA: Tell us a few words about Seafarers’ International Research Centre’s new research, funded by Seafarers’ Charity. What is the main scope of your project? When should we expect outcome?
Prof. Helen Sampson: The Seafarers’ Charity have provided Professor Helen Sampson and Dr Iris Acejo from Cardiff University’s Seafarers International Research Centre with the funding to undertake a qualitative study of the port-welfare needs of women seafarers working on cargo ships. A recent study of port-based welfare more generally emphasized its importance for all seafarers. However given that existing provision has developed in the context of a highly male-dominated sector, it is timely to consider whether women seafarers have specific needs in relation to welfare services and whether these are currently being met. To address these questions, we are currently recruiting participants to the study and a report should be published by the end of 2022. We would welcome participation from any women seafarers working in the cargo sector and would invite them to contact us if they are at all interested in getting involved in the research.
S4S: Which are the key barriers towards a more diverse and equal environment onboard and how these barriers can be turned into drivers/ opportunities?
Prof H.S.: In general, the shipboard environment has not been adapted to the needs of women seafarers even to the extent of providing ships with standard medical supplies and waste disposal facilities which may be required by women whilst at sea. This is indicative of the strong assumption across the sector that the presence of women seafarers on board remains the exception and that cargo vessels are an essentially male workspace. Making simple adjustments to the contents of the medical chest, the slop chest, the sizing of available PPE and waste disposal facilities would begin to serve as a powerful indicator that women are expected to work on board and are catered for just as their male colleagues are. Where such steps are supported by inclusive training and employment strategies, as well as appropriate HR policies that emphasise a zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment on board, a greater number of women are likely to feel that they can develop a successful career at sea. Once more women are able to participate in the seafaring workforce it is likely that they will gain greater acceptance by both employers and other male colleagues who remain resistant to offering women jobs at sea at the current time.
S4S: What are the benefits of creating an inclusive and diverse maritime sector? What are your suggestions in order to create an attractive industry for the future workforce of shipping?
Prof H.S.: Excluding women from seafaring inevitably reduces the size of the pool of talent available to the shipping industry when it comes to the workforce. There is a great deal of evidence in the public domain that suggests that businesses that are successful employ workers with diverse characteristics across the hierarchy. There is no reason for shipping to prove to be different in this regard and it is highly likely that a diverse workforce would enhance the sector.
S4S: If you could change one thing one thing across the industry from your perspective, what this one thing would it be and why?
Prof H.S.: In the context of increased stress and reduced opportunities for shore-leave, I feel it is imperative for more attention to be given to providing all seafarers with proper recreational facilities on board as well as decent shipboard living conditions. The small size of a crew is not a justification for neglect in this area as it simply increases the likelihood of loneliness and isolation on board. My priorities would be the provision of facilities to enhance communication with communities ashore such as free internet access for all seafarers; facilities to increase a sense of connection with shore-based communities whilst at sea, such as satellite television (on which sports events and contemporary programming can be viewed); and facilities to increase bonding through ‘fun and relaxation’ on board, such as indoor swimming pools and communal bars and cafes.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
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