In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Mrs. Krishna Ruparelia, Head of Operations at SGMF, talks about WiGS initiative which was launched to support the 2019 IMO theme of Empowering Women in Maritime and it aims to empower gender diversity within the sector.
iscussing about the diversity challenges ahead, Mrs. Ruparelia notes that, despite the significant progress, we still have a lot of work to do towards, highlighting that only if we celebrate diversity, inclusion and equality, we will manage to retain a more collaborative, engaged and motivated workforce.
SAFETY4SEA: What are the key challenges for greater diversity, inclusion and equality in gas-fuelled shipping?
Krishna Ruparelia: I think the biggest challenge shipping / gas-fuelled shipping faces in terms of diversity and inclusion of the workforce is visibility among the public. From my own experience of having joined the sector (by chance, eight years ago), is that unless you live by the sea, or know someone that is already in the industry, you don’t hear about the maritime sector or the fantastic roles and opportunities available and certainly not in our niche sector of gas-fuelled shipping! So, making the industry more visible to the public and especially to children as young as primary school through to high school is the first step. Before I joined the Society, I knew nothing about the maritime sector and never once gave a thought to how the goods I have arrived on these shores and in my life. I was surprised to learn that over 90% of the goods we have are transported by sea and that it’s the most sustainable mode of transport. Whether they are growing up in an inner-city estate or a remote countryside village every child, male or female, should know about the excellent career prospects they could have in the maritime sector.
S4S: Tell us a few words about WiGS. What are the goals and aspirations of this initiative? How does your organisation support diversity and inclusion within the industry?
Kr. R: WiGS was launched to support the 2019 IMO theme of Empowering Women in Maritime. This powerful theme resonated through the industry where the topics of diversity and inclusion in the maritime sector dominated many conference programmes that year for the first time. The WiGS initiative recognises and showcases the women within our membership that are making great contributions to, and driving change in, gas-fuelled shipping. The backgrounds of these women vary from mathematics to marketing, and from chemistry to ex-Commander of the US Coast Guard. These women, spread across the globe, are helping their organisations, SGMF and ultimately the industry to make the massive transition away from heavy fuel oils to cleaner gaseous fuels.
Much of the work the WiGS are doing is away from the spotlight of public presentations, so to ensure success in diversity and inclusion in the sector it’s critical that we encourage women to be more visible: to their colleagues, business partners, and the next generation of women entering maritime. We have profiled almost 50 women across various technical and business support roles around the world. The next generation needs to see examples of women’s success in our industry and that is why the WiGS initiative is still ongoing today.
At our first gathering earlier this year the WiGS community identified the following goals:
- Unite and grow as a community
- Meet and share experiences with others
- Share personal stories to inspire young girls to join our industry
- Raise awareness about the issues the industry is facing
- Raise awareness about sustainability
- Promote careers in the maritime industry
S4S: Currently, we are witnessing many considerable efforts toward women’s empowerment in the maritime community. What needs to be done further to support gender diversity in shipping? What is your advice to industry stakeholders?
Kr. R: Whilst maritime is still male dominated with a lack of female representation in senior management, it really is heartening to see more and more programmes and initiatives from employers and the industry, to support gender diversity in the sector. Collaboration and support by these initiatives is very important. It’s not a competition of we want more likes and followers’ than the other initiative. Each initiative is a win for the industry and women in the sector because it gives exposure to the work they are doing. Every employer has a role to play to break down stereotypes. But equally every employee, male and female, has to do the same. We need the support of and sponsorship from men within the industry, but women have a duty to lift each other up too. The support needs to be both internal as well as external. It takes time to change long established cultures and mindsets but looking ahead to 2022 I feel optimistic for women’s role in the industry.
S4S: In comparison to other industries, do you think that sufficient work is already under way in terms of diversity within the shipping industry? What can we learn from others to move forward?
Kr. R: While some progress has been made in the maritime sector in the past 10-15 years, significant challenges remain. Although we are now seeing more female and ethnic minority representation in the sector, the percentage holding senior, higher paying roles is still low when you compare it to other sectors such as finance. Leveraging technology to empower women can certainly help, as can flexibility on hours and work location. The pandemic has shown we can work from home, and this has helped many parents achieve a better work life balance without the grind of the daily commute to the office and for a while the school run. But of course, with that came the burden of home-schooling younger children for long periods of time and in many cases the responsibility of this fell on women.
Employers also need to embrace a culture of trust and empower women by promoting them within their organisation. Endeavours such as one-to-one mentoring for the professional development of employees from marginalised communities can increase retention. This, with support from employers to show the industry that these employees are subject matter experts, will encourage conference organisers to invite them to speak at industry conferences thereby helping to address the gender imbalance at these events.
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 would this one thing be and why?
Kr. R: To advertise globally what a rewarding career young people can have in shipping, whether on board or ashore, will help to attract a more diverse workforce. It should be emphasised that working in our sector provides exciting opportunities to travel the world if that is what you want, but it’s important to communicate the opportunities available on shore too, whether your interest is in numbers, technology, marketing, law, journalism, engineering or a wide range of other specialisms that can be applied to a career in shipping. This public awareness campaign should feature real life stories of people with diverse backgrounds working in a range of roles in the sector, and a variety of social media platforms should be used to broaden its reach. A successful campaign will also enable the public to fully appreciate the importance of shipping in supporting and sustaining today’s global society. If maritime is to compete with other sectors to attract, recruit, and retain the best talent it must demonstrate and celebrate diversity, inclusion and equality, not least in pay and conditions. The benefits of this are clear: a more collaborative, engaged and motivated workforce.
S4S: Do you have any new projects/plans/initiatives to further support diversity within maritime that you would like to share?
Kr. R: Our plans are to continue growing the WiGS community. This year we have held two virtual gatherings of the community and we hope next year to meet in person. We’re listening to the community to see what they want from the WiGS platform and what it means to them. At our first gathering in July, we asked what WiGS represent to them and the community chose words including visibility, diversity and support. Last month’s meeting featured discussions around the lack of female representation at industry conferences. Taking that challenge on we have decided to create a small working group from the WiGS community to discuss what more we can do to support each other. This includes the creation of a Speaker Bank of women from the WiGS community which we can make available on a complimentary basis to conference organisers.
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.