One of the key challenges for greater gender diversity in shipping is all about perception, says Mrs Alison Taylor, Europe Crew Training Manager at Svitzer, in an exclusive interview with SAFETY4SEA. Mrs Taylor explains how her organization supports diversity and inclusion which are currently key areas of development for the whole maritime industry and equally for the towage sector, which has started to look closer at diversity and how it can positively impact the lives of female seafarers both onboard and ashore.
S4S: What does diversity and inclusion actually mean for the shipping industry and what are the goals & aspirations of your organization towards that end?
Alison Taylor: The global maritime industry is advancing and innovating at a tremendous speed, with great focus on modernising a sector that for so long has been behind the curve in many areas, including technology, communications, and environmental awareness. Diversity, inclusion, and the wider role that women can play within shipping is another key area of development for the industry and one which now is really attracting the attention it deserves.
This is equally true for the towage sector, which has started to look closer at diversity and how it can positively impact the lives of female seafarers both onboard and ashore. For other maritime sectors, seafarers may be requested to stay onboard for extremely long periods of time, which makes it very hard for women to have an optimal work-life balance and consider having families. Towage is unique in that we typically have one or two week rotations, so it’s a lot easier for women to try to strike this balance. The towage sector therefore has a unique opportunity to promote having women onboard and we need to ensure we do all we can to support females into the industry – from the cadet/apprentice level, all the way up to Master or Chief Engineer, or alternatively in a role onshore.
At Svitzer, the human element behind towage is our core business differentiator and we fully recognise that women – and the skills and ideas they can bring – will be instrumental in solving the challenges of the next decade. As the market leader for towage, we are focused on encouraging the hiring, development and promotion of women throughout the company from board level executives to the first all-female tug vessel crew.
S4S: What would be the key challenges for greater diversity, inclusion and equality onboard and ashore in the next 5-10 years?
A.T.: One of the key challenges for greater gender diversity in shipping is all about perception. The ultimate achievement would be for the maritime community to tackle the barrier – the myth – that shipping is a working place that’s only open to men who have a familial link to the industry. At Svitzer, we want to be trailblazers in busting the myth that it’s insurmountable for women to work at sea. In particular we want to promote the idea that women with a family can work in the towage sector and maintain a positive work life balance.
Many things that are presumed to be done through physical force, in reality, only require technical intelligence and the right tools. Many may think that women do not have the ability to work on a powerful tug boat, but our crew has shown that this type of work is not exclusive to a specific gender.
S4S: Currently we are witnessing 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?
A.T.: We have come a long way, but there is still a lot to be done. Diversity and inclusion are key levers to strengthen business performance, responsiveness, flexibility and resilience where we operate, and a necessary action for access to future and wider talent pools.
We need to allow women to contribute more to what would need to be in place to make a life afloat more attractive. There are a lot of preconceptions about what women would expect from working afloat. In fact, the majority of female crew are adaptable to working in a male-dominated industry.
Having a diverse team is essential to breaking cultural biases between sea and shore, and to providing international, combined experience. Supporting equality in the workplace and investing in local talent are just some of the ways in which we are working towards achieving a skilled workforce. Ultimately, it’s simply about talent, and about connecting sea and shore with the right capabilities the market can offer us.
S4S: If you could change one thing that would have an either profound or immediate impact on making a career in shipping more attractive to young men and women (outside the industry), what this one thing would it be and why?
A.T.: It would be to get the message out there that a career at sea is an amazing opportunity, full of rich life experiences and the possibility to branch off into so many diverse roles.
S4S: Do you have any new projects/plans/ initiatives to further support diversity within maritime that you would like to share?
A.T.: In 2019, Svitzer hired the first 100% female towage crew for our 70-ton bollard pull tug Svitzer Monte Cristi – which provides harbour towage services for ships in the port of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This all-female crew in an industry typically dominated by men is part of an important gender inclusion initiative that Svitzer pioneered, and it marked a milestone for gender diversity in the Latin American maritime industry.
These women have become local icons for others, proving to be an efficient and hardworking team. At Svitzer, we want to work actively to improve the opportunities and careers of our female colleagues and for those who work in the sector, and we continue to work on gender-inclusive initiatives that will help buck the historical predominantly male trend in the maritime industry.
We feel positive about our efforts in this space, having attracted a number of women to the industry over the last few years. We all have a shared responsibility, no matter what our role is in the industry, to promote diversity and find practical ways to enable women to work across our diverse operations.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders with respect to a future of more sustainable shipping?
A.T.: At Svitzer, the environmental profile of our operations and our impact on our port communities is among our top business priorities, and that’s why we keep our keen eye set on innovation and data optimisation to continue to drive improved sustainability across the business. My key message to industry stakeholders with respect to a future of a more sustainable shipping would be to continue to seek opportunities, to instil environmentally friendly and sustainable practices across the maritime community – utilising data and crew-led innovation to optimise our processes for the benefit of our customers, crews, and communities.
As an example, at Svitzer we recently launched a fuel savings campaign – a data-led initiative to map out and schedule incoming jobs, reducing idle time for tugs and customer vessels and ultimately curbing unnecessary emissions from day-to-day operations.
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.
Mrs Alison Taylor is Europe Crew Training Manager at Svitzer Europe