Around the world, women are working in every aspect of the marine industry to assist the shift to a decarbonized, digitalized, and more sustainable future for the sector. There is still a gender gap in the marine industry, but things are changing as it becomes clear that diversity in the industry is good for everyone.
n that regard, on this year’s IMO International Day for Women in Maritime, observed on 18 May annually, we are excited to present feedback from female representatives who suggest ways to address the current gender imbalance in maritime. Celebrating this special day, we asked women in the maritime industry the following question:
“In your view, what needs to change to empower women in maritime?”
Claudia Paschkewitz, Managing Director Columbia Shipmanagement (Deutschland) GmbH, Managing Director Hanse Bereederung GmbH, Columbia Group Director Diversity and Inclusion
To empower women in the shipping industry, we need an inclusive work environment. It is the responsibility of companies to take measures to promote gender diversity. This of course includes education and training programmes. Mentoring programmes, such as the mentoring programme for female cadets offered by CSM, are very supportive. Prejudices, whether conscious or unconscious, need to be broken down. I am pleased that together with OneCare Solutions and OneLearn Global, we have developed a Diversity + Inclusion training that addresses this issue. Safety issues also need to be addressed. It must be a given that women have access to the appropriate equipment they need. What a welcoming environment for women looks like, only they can show. So, dialogue is very important and it must not be broken off.
Sandra Welch, CEO of the Seafarers Hospital Society
Empowering women in the shipping industry requires that we take action to support their careers. We need to address this throughout our organisations by implementing and enforcing robust policies that foster gender equality, inclusivity and sustainability, and allowing these to evolve our current outlooks on recruitment, support, promotion and leadership. We must also ensure that we assess our successes through this process by tracking and analysing year-on-year organisational data on women entering and exiting our sectors. By making this a key performance indicator of industry success, we can collaborate to create a stronger, more diverse and inclusive maritime sector for all.
Elpi Petraki, President, WISTA International
Companies need to make a concerted effort to improve diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their operations and ensure they have policies and training in place to enhance understanding of the benefits and importance of this cause. Not only will this help to remove biases, but it will help to demonstrate that mindsets are changing and empower women in the workplace. Collaboration is also essential, and WISTA is working very closely with the IMO and other organisations on several projects which we hope will start to bring about real and measurable change.
Sinikka Hartonen, Secretary General for the One Sea Association
Conditions onboard can be challenging for everyone, but women face additional challenges. We need to be doing everything we can to make sure that women, like everyone else, have a safe working environment onboard – in every sense of the word – so they can be their own unique selves and not feel like they need to pretend to be something they are not. Women have an incredible amount of knowledge and experience to give, but organisations miss out on this when they do not promote and ensure a diverse and inclusive company culture.
Natalie Shaw, MBE, Director Employment Affairs, ICS
A multifaceted approach is necessary to empower women in the Maritime industry that addresses both systemic and cultural issues.
Companies can empower women by addressing the following key areas:
- Address gender bias
- Establish Diversity targets
- Encourage mentorship and sponsorship programmes.
- Provide flexible working patterns
- Provide training and development opportunities
- Create employment resource groups to connect with others women in the sector
Other ideas are also suggested in the recently launched ICS Diversity and Inclusion toolkit.
Diane Gilpin, CEO, Smart Green Shipping
The biggest change MUST be one in attitude. Speaking frankly, shipping must recognise that it has a long and challenging journey to decarbonisation ahead, which will require the best and brightest of minds – many of which will be women. Unless the sector thoroughly examines its prejudices – which are often characterised as ‘tradition’ – shipping is not going to benefit from being a truly diverse, vibrant sector. And the real change in attitude will be seeing more women rising to the top through promotions. That is when we know that we have been truly empowered.
Lena Dyring, Director, Cruise and International Ferry Operations, Norwegian Seafarers’ Union
In order to empower women already working at sea and attract more to the seafaring profession, we need to address issues such as harassment and bullying and make the working atmosphere friendlier. My union recently surveyed all of our members about harassment and bullying and the results were disappointing. The survey showed that women, and especially young women are most at risk. We also need to make the seafaring profession more compatible with family life. This means shorter tours of duty and maybe a little more flexibility with working ashore for a while to then return to sea, for instance. Finally, we need to promote all of the amazing women graduating maritime schools and colleges and those already working at sea and help and mentor them in their careers so they can thrive in the industry for a long time.
Ayse Asli BASAK, Port Captain, Innovator & Maritime Strategist
Mentalities and closed-minded attitudes must change. We are talking about equal pay and opportunities in the maritime workplace, but we miss the most critical aspect of the maritime work culture; breaking the glass-ceiling biases for women and behaving equally in the workplace. We need equal promotion processes and standards for women. Mobbing is one of the primary challenges of women in the maritime industry after getting involved in higher management positions ashore. In some companies and positions, which were mostly known as male-dominated in sub-fields, especially in the technical and operational management positions of the shipping companies, women’s talents, skills, and opinions are unfortunately underestimated compared to male colleagues. We are in a digitalization age and discussing AI systems in the maritime industry. We need more women’s operational and human-oriented management skills in higher management positions. Still, it is always applicable with equal standards and attitudes but without mobbing, bullying, harassment, and frontier infringement. We have to bring absolute ‘respect’ to the maritime workplace.
Jeanine Drummond, MD & Principal Maritime Advisor, Integral Maritime
In my view we need to emphasise further the education, programs and initiatives needed for all people already working in the maritime sectors, especially the workplaces where female participation is significantly low, or non-existent. We need this to explain why this work for gender diversity is so important, and detail what the large percentage of men in this industry can do every day to contribute and accelerate the advancement of women’s participation in all sectors of maritime and the ocean economy.
Mia Elg, R&D Manager, Deltamarin Ltd
To me this is most of all a question about encouraging women to work in technical branch, overall. I recently read a new doctoral thesis about women in technology in my country (Finland) exploring the root causes why women are, in general, underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education and careers. One of the key conclusion there was that the main problem is (direct quote;) “the intertwining of masculinity and STEM, masculine cultures underpinned by male privilege, and stereotypes affirming male superiority in mathematics”. We need to actively work for a culture in our industry where, in general, all kinds of people are safe and welcome. As a women I at least try to show an example how a maritime technical expert works and looks like and I am increasingly paying attention to any kind of underlying discrimination and “toxic patterns” in order to work against them. My regards to all colleagues in the industry is that women in maritime and technology are like machine learning and neural networks: you don’t necessarily need to understand in detail how they work but you will need them for solving the most complex issues of our times, such as the decarbonization.
Francesca Pradelli, Development Manager, at International Foundation for Aids to Navigation
Every solution proposed to this question would be equally helpful to empower women in shipping, whether it is on shore, at sea, in the public or private sector. Numbers are clear in showing that the road to achieve gender equality and implement UN SDG 5 in our field of work is still long, though promising steps have been taken. The IMO’s International Day for Women in Maritime is one good latest example and especially 2023’s theme for the Day, “Mobilizing networks for gender equality”. Media can also play a pivotal role by increasing the visibility of women leaders, thus shading light on a traditionally male-dominated industry, normalizing women’s participation in it, as well as inspiring young women to choose the marine industry as a career path. Finally, creating more mentoring opportunities for young female professionals could be a very effective way to empower women in shipping, both for the mentee to become more competent in her roles and preparing for growth opportunities in the future, and for the mentor’s organization to attract, retain and engage talents.
Lotte G. Lundberg, Managing Director, The Danish Maritime Fund & Neele Pawlowski, Chartering Manager Clipper Group and Co-Founder/previous board member WIS-Denmark
Empowering women in the industry is not only the right thing to do but is also essential for the industry’s growth and competitiveness. By taking a proactive approach to empower women, the industry can tap into a vast pool of talent, drive innovation, and create a more sustainable and resilient future and increase the retention rate for women in the industry. These are the formal messages from the industry and all renown market players are buying into this and are working actively with diversity & inclusion. We are representing two generations, and yet we find despite all the strategies and action plans in place – it simply progresses too slow! Therefore, it seems relevant again to remind the maritime community of simple methods and tools to enhance gender diversity. Read more here
Namrata Nadkarni, Founder and CEO, Intent Communications
As an industry, we need to normalise passing the microphone and platforming women for their wide ranges of expertise — beyond discussions on diversity. Given that public speaking can be intimidating, particularly for newcomers, it’s vital that we help speakers prepare, offer constructive feedback on presentations, and skill-build on how to deal with unexpected or difficult questions. Investing in women this way builds a foundation for new ideas and voices, and strengthens our industry. The IMO-WISTA speaker bank is an amazing way to identify women with technical expertise and I hope that everyone reading this comment thinks about a female colleague who has real value to add to discussions and encourages them to register if they haven’t already.
Caroline Jupe, Chief Executive Officer, International Maritime Rescue Federation
Although great steps have been made towards inclusion, gender bias and stereotypes still exist in the wider maritime sector. Any form of culture change must come from the top. Managers set the tone of the culture in any organisation so they must set goals and develop appropriate policies to support a more inclusive and gender-balanced environment. Maritime SAR continues to be a male-dominated sector but effective and appropriate recruitment and training policies are making the industry more attractive for women to pursue a long-term career in.
Alexia Hatzimichalis, Partner, Athens Office Head, Watson Farley & Williams
It is positive that we can point towards a number of women in Greece in top positions in shipping companies, but there is always more that can be done to support the careers of women. I believe that diversity is a key pillar that should be in the front row when putting together a successful and creative team. People from different backgrounds bring differing perspectives to the table and boost innovation by thinking outside of the box. When women are subjected to “role-incredulity”, they are less likely to get promoted to higher-ranking positions, especially to those that have traditionally been occupied by men. Companies must challenge such biases and ensure fairness and transparency across key processes such as promotion procedures and maternity policies. Being flexible around working hours not only supports young mothers, but also helps achieve a better work-life balance for everyone. At WFW, we have been implementing such actions and supporting women in developing their careers through our global women’s initiative ‘We Further Women’.
Krishna Ruparelia, Head of Operations at the Society for Gas as a Marine Fuel (SGMF)
There are several changes we can make to empower women in shipping. First, we must break down the barriers to entry for women, primarily by improving the visibility of the wide range of roles available in the industry. SGMF’s Women in Green Shipping (WiGS) initiative was set up to do that, at the same time as celebrating the talents and achievements of women in our sector. The quote “You can’t be what you can’t see” is very relevant, I feel. Next, senior leaders should address barriers to women’s progression and retention. Creating an inclusive and flexible workplace that demonstrates support for women by giving them access to development opportunities is crucial. Finally, although the statistics confirm that the industry is male dominated, we need to ensure that we keep collecting data from across the sector, on a regular basis, to assess the progress achieved through any changes that industry and corporate initiatives are making.
Sophia Bullard, Director, Crew Health Programme, Thomas Miller P&I Ltd
I think we have to change the culture, and entrenched attitudes in maritime, to influence the behavior long term. Top priority has to be to address discrimination and/or harassment issues. We must create an environment where all genders feel safe to work, live and speak up without judgement. I support charities such as The Seafarers Charity and SaferWaves, have excellent research and plans in this area. (see The Seafarers’ Charity calls for increased support for the safety and welfare of women seafarers | The Seafarers’ Charity (theseafarerscharity.org), Supporting Women Seafarers to Overcome Sexual Violence at Sea | The Seafarers’ Charity (theseafarerscharity.org) and Home – SAFER WAVES) )
Early awareness of Maritime as a potential career option at schools and colleges. Create understanding around the opportunities and encourage new talent to the industry will ensure a diverse workforce for the future. More representation by both genders at career events can show a positive example. There are many wonderful, empowered, and powerful, women in executive and management positions in Maritime. Whilst we might say there is some progress rarely do we find female representation on the Boards.
Women have so much to offer and bring many different elements to the industry e.g. honesty, innovative thinking, originality, resourcefulness, compassion and excellent people skills. Maritime needs a diverse workforce, including a fair balance of genders, to safeguard the future. We have to start changing what we do today. Men and women need to cultivate, promote and publicly champion the diverse workforce.
Cathrin Prikker, Director Business Development and Sales, Top Glory Marine
From my perspective, it would be of great importance to promote the multifaceted professional world within the maritime industry much more to the young women who are about to choose a career. Shipping is no longer a classic “male preserve” and there are already many role models in various positions and areas of the industry, as well as great networks, mentoring programs and much more, where women empower each other. Based on these facts, campaigns to attract young talents can be designed more effectively. The traditional and sometimes perceived dusty image of the maritime industry needs to be polished up to attract the next generation of female captains, nautical and technical officers, brokers, managers and many other professions. Diversity is not only nice to have but also essential in order to achieve sustainability and progress in shipping – What we need are great empowerment campaigns and communication so that we can also strengthen networking.
Vicky Stamati, Business Development Director, Greece, MCTC
The maritime sector, which has until recently been a man-driven world, is and should be a non-gender world. The mentality around this issue has not gained complete acceptance of women yet and this needs to change. The industry must understand women are educated, highly-skilled individuals who perform multiple tasks that require hard work, commitment, strength of character and devotion, such as bringing up children and caring for their families. Girls should be informed about the various career opportunities at sea, they should receive mentoring and support through forums membership in peer support networks, social medias’ positive influence and exposure and participation in the shipping network environment. This way women will be able to gain understanding of the psychological and physical barriers that may restrain them from pursuing a maritime career and realize their capability to overcome them.
The views presented are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.