In an exclusive interview with SAFETY4SEA, Mrs Theresa Crossley, Chief Executive Officer, International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) shares her perspectives on enhancing diversity and inclusion within the maritime industry, citing efforts done so far by her organization.
or example, back in 2019, IMRF launched its #WomenInSAR initiative to raise awareness of the benefits that gender diversity can bring. However, we can’t be complacent, Mrs Crossley stressed and suggested our industry to keep open hearts and minds in order to change culture. Above all, commitment from senior leaders, visibility to strong role models, challenge stereotypes and celebrate the many strong women that are already in senior positions in the industry are of paramount importance.
SAFETY4SEA: What does diversity and inclusion actually mean for the shipping industry and what are the goals & aspirations of your organization towards that end?
Theresa Crossley: For me, diversity and inclusion means everyone having an equal opportunity to contribute their unique talents in any given setting and feeling able to develop their full potential. That should be the same for the shipping industry as it is elsewhere. The position is no different for the maritime search and rescue (SAR) sector. Here, volunteers work alongside professional SAR operators on the frontline and that can present particular challenges. Just as happened in the wider shipping industry, traditional sources of new staff are drying up and it has become necessary to broaden the recruitment base. But that also means re-thinking how recruitment campaigns are run, reconfiguring working patterns, providing facilities, equipment and support appropriate for a new type of workforce. At IMRF, we are currently working to support our members in widening the available talent pool. In particular, we want to help open the eyes of women and girls to the opportunities that the maritime sector holds and to help them realise their own goals. In the end, whether you are running a shipping company or a maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) organisation, it just makes good business sense to use all the available talents!
S4S: What would be the key challenges for greater diversity, inclusion and equality onboard and ashore in the next 5-10 years?
Th.Cr.: Obviously, a pandemic presents a massive challenge to the global labour market as a whole and research shows that this pandemic has hit some groups of workers disproportionately more than others. We have to make sure that any progress that has already been made in the area of diversity is not lost, as a result.
S4S: In comparison to other industries, do you think that sufficient work is already underway in terms of diversity within the shipping industry? What can we learn from others to move forward?
Th.Cr.: Nothing is ever perfect and there are always things that could be done better. The important thing is to keep working at it. The IMRF launched its #WomenInSAR initiative in 2019, in support of the IMO’s own Empowering Women in the Maritime Community theme for World Maritime Day that year. That campaign, together with the work of WISTA and others in the industry, has done a lot to raise awareness of the benefits that gender diversity can bring. But we can’t be complacent. You need to change hearts and minds to change an organisation’s culture – and that takes time and continued commitment, particularly from senior leaders.
S4S: Which are the key barriers towards a more diverse and equal environment onboard and ashore and how your organization aims to assist the industry to overcome them? How these barriers can be turned into drivers/ opportunities?
Th.Cr.: Personally, I think that tokenism is the biggest barrier to creating a genuinely diverse and equal environment. It is not enough to pick someone for a job because they have a particular characteristic, just so that the organisation can tick a diversity box. The important thing is to create an environment where everyone feels equally valued and empowered to be the best they can be, so that they then feel able to aspire to any job they want. That is why promoting positive role models is so important.
S4S: Currently, we are witnessing many considerable efforts toward women empowerment in the maritime community. What needs to be done further to support gender diversity in shipping? What is your advice to industry stakeholders?
Th.Cr.: As I have said, we need to give visibility to strong role models, challenge stereotypes and celebrate the many strong women that are already in senior positions in the industry. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” as Marian Wright Edelman once said. It’s a cliché, but it’s true! Our recent #WomenInSAR Report (about the situation of women in maritime SAR) showed that having a role model was a big factor for many women in considering a career or volunteering opportunities in maritime SAR.
I also think that senior women should help other women to succeed, through mentoring programmes (like the one that IMRF is just launching), or by offering work shadowing opportunities – but most of all by championing diversity, inclusion and equality within their own organisation and by providing constructive challenge where things need to improve.
S4S: Do you have any new projects/plans/ initiatives to further support diversity within maritime that you would like to share?
Th.Cr.: IMRF has just launched a suite of resources to encourage more women to consider getting involved in the maritime SAR sector, either as a career or as a volunteer. This includes a series of interviews with inspiring women from across the sector, showing how they have used STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in a wide range of SAR-related posts. You would be surprised at the range of opportunities there are!
We are also launching the IMRF #WomenInSAR Mentoring Scheme, which aims to match women mentors and mentees from the maritime SAR sector. It is intended to give women who are already working or volunteering in the maritime SAR sector the opportunity to be mentored by other more experienced women. That sort of peer support was something that our recent #WomenInSAR report highlighted as important for many women.
For more information visit: #WomenInSAR Initiative | International Maritime Rescue Federation (international-maritime-rescue.org)
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.