Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive; empowering women spurs growth and development, and benefits everyone working in the global maritime community and beyond. On the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day, our special column is dedicated to women in the maritime industry, asking them to provide feedback on the following question:
“ If you could change one thing that would have an either profound or immediate impact on making a career in shipping more attractive to women, what this one thing would it be and why?”
Alexandra Anagnostis-Irons, Total Marine Solutions
A heightened global awareness of the maritime industry, and related careers would certainly attract more women. The maritime industry is one of the oldest industries in the world, and also one of the most innovative, but we are invisible to most of the world. We are at the front lines of the world’s most pressing challenges, and a truly global industry with incredible opportunity. I think if more women knew about the variety of careers in maritime, we would have more women amongst our ranks.
Maria Archimandriti, Regional Solutions and Communications Manager WESCA, Jotun Performance Coatings
If I could change something, it would be the way shipping industry and maritime-related companies are proposing or mapping a career path for women and framing it. Proposing a career to young women, in a male-dominated sector, should be a conscious action that outlines all benefits and offers a long-term vision. This action requires stronger determination from the side of the companies, larger confidence, and of course a clear perspective about the future. We need to align ourselves towards this direction, helping professional women and especially young women, realize that working in shipping is not an insecure choice, but a workplace that offers job security, career prospects and choices.
Ms. Akanksha Batura Pai, Head of Strategy & Growth, Sinoda Shipping Agency Pte Ltd, Singapore
There is ample evidence to suggest that communities, companies, parliaments and even peace agreements perform better as the contribution of female leaders increases.
It is undisputed: equal representation of women means equitable progress for all.
A definitive solution to making the maritime industry more attractive to women is for institutes of learning – elementary schools and universities alike – to ensure enough qualified female leaders in shipping are participating in ground-up youth events and career fairs to educate young women about lucrative careers in the industry. This can be supported by shipping companies conducting “Open Houses” in their offices by inviting youngsters to learn more, while simultaneously providing mentorship, coaching and internship opportunities by women to women.
All of this is of course contingent on the fact that maritime corporates invest in women, and ensure equal representation of women at their workplaces and in the boardrooms. We are undoubtedly making progress on this front; nonetheless much more can be done to ensure equal female representation at shipping companies.
Heidi Heseltine, CEO, Halcyon Recruitment & Co-Founder, Diversity Study Group
The question you have posed is certainly a challenging one when trying to apply it across the entire shipping industry from a talent attraction perspective. The focus for me would be on promoting the shipping industry as a whole and engaging in a global campaign to have shipping in the public eye from school ages upwards. This would include providing detailed information, on one platform, regarding the extremely varied careers available globally across the shipping spectrum (sea and shore based) given there is no one place that provides this currently. This would incorporate career pathways available, including the required qualifications, and both hard and soft skills that are needed. It would also detail which organisations have which type of jobs and would showcase how they have developed their talent internally, undertaking case studies and interviews with their existing employees to provide tangible real life examples and success stories.
Cynthia Hudson, CEO, HudsonAnalytix
The one thing I think will make a profound and immediate impact on making a career in shipping more attractive to women I would introduce the world of possibilities that shipping has to offer to young girls very early on, and repeatedly, in their educational process. Women cannot easily consider the global shipping industry as a vocation without an understanding of the enormous number and types of career opportunities that exist for them, and clear examples that demonstrate that women can pursue these opportunities with a chance of success. Once exposed to this exciting industry, they will need encouragement, support, mentoring and industry acceptance—but that is secondary.
Ioanna Kafka, Surveyor, Naval Architect & Marine Engineer (MEng, MSc, CEng, MRINA), Associate Member of the Association of Average Adjusters, Margetis Maritime Consulting
I would certainly choose the prevailing perceptions. Perceptions which have their roots decades ago, in an old-fashioned shipping business model. Perceptions which suggest that shipping is too technical for a woman, that a woman will not manage to succeed in such a male dominated field, which requires skills that women are not capable to offer. Being in the position of a marine surveyor myself, I find these ideas to be far from reality. And yet, there are women today wasting so much energy in trying to prove that they are as good as a male colleague which is like confirming and adopting, and in that way also perpetuating, a belief that the race for them begins “few meters before the starting line”. We should all consider why this is happening and try to prevent the transmission of such discouraging perceptions to the next generations. If a young woman today is freed from these invisible, yet very impacting barriers, I believe that shipping will become a very attractive career option.
Elina Kassotaki, Business Development Manager at Holland Hellenic Shipping Agencies Ltd & WISTA Hellas General Secretary
Over the last years, more female professionals are pursuing a career in the shipping industry, mainly in “shore-based” positions. However, there is still a large gender gap, especially in leadership roles and in certain professions. On board the ships, the recruitment and the retention of female seafarers is also an area which needs much improvement. There is a lot of value to be gained in involving more women in the industry, across all sectors. A career in shipping would be more appealing to women, if the industry upheld a stronger diversity culture and if it addressed the concerns for career development and “glass ceilings”, across the board. Establishing corporate policies on diversity is an effective way to impact this imbalance.
Maria Kyratsoudi, ABS Manager, Greece Business Development
The perception that working in the shipping environment requires masculine skills and strength is the most common reason why women are not inclined to enter the shipping industry. In order to make it more attractive to women, a series of actions to address this misconception should be taken by key shipping industry bodies immediately.
The employment of women seafarers should always be supported by shipping companies by providing an equal opportunities environment to work in and develop their capabilities. We are in the beginning of the digitalization era for ships and their systems, where the role of the personnel on board and ashore will be redefined. It is an opportunity to create new and different jobs that will increase the appeal of the industry to women and further drive their representation in the maritime business.
Suzanna Laskaridis, Founder, Real Time Graduates
The answer is not straightforward unfortunately. I would say that the number one thing is to simply recruit more capable women in any position. Listen to what they have to offer, support them and allow them to grow in the corporation in the same way as you would with a male employee. Respect the fact that everyone brings something different to the table. Don’t second guess them, don’t question their experience and knowledge on technical matters, don’t be surprised if they love shipping, don’t be taken aback if they are ruthless at what they do. So basically, treat them like you would treat anyone in shipping. Knowing that someone will be respected in the same way as ones male counterparts, will make the industry more attractive to women.
Kathryn Neilson, Director, Merchant Navy Training Board, UK Chamber of Shipping
With women making up an estimated 2% of the world’s maritime workforce, there is much to be done to change the gender balance in the maritime industry. It is still a man’s world and whether we like it or not, culture is the biggest issue and it cannot be changed overnight. When encouraging young girls to sign up to a maritime career, we need to consider that many do not know that careers in maritime exist. If I could change one thing, it would be to ensure every primary school in the UK has the resources and the knowledge to raise awareness of careers in maritime, therefore highlighting Maritime as a viable option for girls when choosing their career path. By reaching out to primary school children before they start to form gender stereotypes, we are opening up a whole new opportunity for a whole new generation.
Paillette Palaiologou, Vice President Hellenic, Black Sea and Adriatic Zone head at Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore
The Shipping Industry covers a wide range of professions, providing various pathways for career development. From naval architects, marine engineers to captains and from maritime law to communications and human resources, the opportunities to develop a career in Shipping are numerous and significantly diverse.
In my opinion the key words in order to make a career in the Maritime Sector more attractive to women are “Career Awareness”. Providing information about the several opportunities to develop a career in Shipping from an early stage – during High School – enables the combating of the stereotypes that Shipping is a male-dominated industry. Furthermore, adequate guidance by shipping professionals – preferably female – could also result in attracting more women in the Industry.
Elina Papageorgiou, LR’s Marine and Offshore President for UK and Ireland
We are seeing more women in maritime – but there is still more work to be done. I believe mentorship is a powerful way of attracting more women to our sector, whereby mentees receive advice and guidance from women who have pursued a career in maritime. A good way to achieve this can be individuals from different levels coming together to share their experiences and inspiring others to take their next career step. Mentors, particularly those speaking to college students, have the unique opportunity to raise awareness about what shipping has to offer, it’s not just about seafarers or surveyors. There is so much more especially when it comes to the big challenges facing shipping, like being part of the pathway to decarbonise shipping or the evolution of digital solutions.
Karen Passman, Founder, Impact Crew
If we can change the ‘culture’ within the industry and on board, not only will it improve the work environment for women, but for many men too. We know that culture is driven from the top down, when a leader observes inappropriate behaviour and chooses to turn a blind eye, they are not just ignoring it, they are actually condoning it. Through obtaining feedback it will be possible to identify shipping organisations and vessels with a ‘good’ culture, and through sharing of best practices, support those companies and vessels where the culture would benefit from changing.
Dr Claire Pekcan, Director, Safe Marine
In considering this question, my first thoughts returned to a project that I was involved in back in the late 90s, looking at how passenger ships and ferries could be designed to be more accessible for disabled people. The conclusion from the project was that if we make these ships better for people with disabilities, we make them better for everybody. So, with this thought in mind, I return to your question and my simple answer, is if we make shipping better for everyone, we will make it more attractive to women. If I were to put my money on one thing, it would be to improve psychological safety for everyone, which is to foster an environment where an individual believes that he/she will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes (Professor Amy Edmondson). If shipping institutions and organisations encouraged a psychologically safe working environment, they would attract more women, and more men too.
Elpi Petraki, Chartering / Operations /Business Development Manager at ENEA MANAGEMENT INC
Lead by example. It is essential to make women in shipping understand why it is important for them to share their career stories, we need, not only, more examples of success stories, but even experiences of difficulties faced. Women have the tendency to stay “behind the curtains”; however difficult it can be they have to understand the need of gaining visibility. We are already present at all sectors of the industry and work as equal professionals together with men, but not everyone is aware. It is crucial for all to understand that we need all talents and skills to support each other despite gender. Only then can we achieve sustainable growth and a happier society.
Dr. Maria Progoulaki, Green-Jakobsen A/S, Regional Representative – Senior Consultant
I never felt I should speak on behalf of women or from the view of being one; probably because I was raised with the principle that having a voice is about having a notion, not just an opinion. Notion, that requires sense, is found in people irrespective of gender, age, status or other. Making the shipping industry attractive to women is not an issue. Making the industry more open to different solutions for the same problems is what needs a long wishlist. I strongly believe that breaking our own stereotypes will free us and allow us to outperform based on our knowledge and skills. How we see ourselves is one thing to change, as it would have an impact on how others see us. This is a way to life, not just career making.
Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary General, European Sea Ports Organisation – ESPO
I believe it is important to clarify that a career in shipping can mean a career at sea for certain years and can then be followed by a career at shore. The difficult combination with a family life scares maybe lots of young women to go for such a career, but they should realise that people with a real sea experience are very much needed at shore, in particular in ports. This allows young women to have this extraordinary experience of life and work at sea and know that whenever needed they can return to shore having a high demanded profile there.
Sanjam Sahi Gupta, Director for Sitara Shipping Ltd. and Astral Freight Forwarders Pvt Ltd.
Visible role models and a strong social media presence or campaign.Today’s youth are very engaged on social media and we unfortunately as an industry are not seen as the “most happening” industry. We add so much value to the global economy but still are “invisible”. Mainstream media doesn’t cover the stories and little is known about the work thats done.
Natalie Shaw, Chartered FCIPD, FRSA, Director Employment Affairs, ICS
The thing I believe that could make the biggest change would be to ensure that women lecturers in Maritime Schools are actively involved in recruitment department decisions . They should also visit Senior Schools including girls schools to promote career opportunities for seafarers and to challenge any existing negative stereotypes and perceptions and to encourage their take up of STEM subjects. These role models should also be involved in cadetship selection boards to ensure potential applicants can recognize that it is a role suitable for women as much as for men.
Katerina Skourtanioti, Managing Director, VENLYS Maritime Specialisation Service
I strongly believe that even though the general mentality that currently exists in the shipping industry is gradually changing with respect to the further integration of women in the sector, I would personally focus on the term accessibility and its application for women. I believe that consolidating the accessibility in various aspects of the maritime domain will pave the way for so many changes. New practices and a different way of thinking will be the result; women will be significantly benefited as well as the whole industry. Moreover, such an intervention will contribute centrally to the strengthening of the sustainability of shipping.
Elina Souli, Regional Business Development Director, V.P- FD&D Manager, The American P&I Club
In order to attract more women in shipping, which is indeed a challenging environment that requires hard work and dedication, it is essential for women to feel that they will work in an industry that is genuinely committed into providing equal opportunity to both genders for career development . It is, thus, crucial to foster the creation of an inclusive environment that will support an equitable balance throughout the corporate structure. Women have been traditionally facing constraints in advancing their careers in a male dominated sector, especially in the seafarer’s profession where they represent only two percent of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers. Women should feel comfortable to address these issues and one thing that shipping companies can do is to advance accommodations to assist them in balancing their work and family obligations, which, especially in the world of COVID, can be extraordinarily difficult to be achieved . Such an initiative would ensure that women are evaluated in a transparent manner based on their skills, qualifications, and true performance. These sort of practices would enable advancement of women and create real role models which would indeed have a profound long term impact on attracting women to the industry.