In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Mrs Zoe Upson, Founder of Women Together initiative, urges for more action towards gender diversity. Women Together was developed with the aim to bring change in the industry; through this initiative and her talent solution business FACT, Mrs Upson empowers all industry stakeholders, both women and men, to be open to new ideas of how to achieve equality, bridge the pay gap and reinforce decent parental level.
Overall, there is need to promote the several maritime careers prospects and encourage the idea of long term career development within the industry, Mrs Upson highlights while she notes that the pandemic taught us to show empathy and be supportive to others. ‘’Continuing this culture shift will help to make sectors like shipping more appealing to a more diverse range of talent in the future, creating innovative, flexible and resilient teams’’ she concludes.
SAFETY4SEA: What are the key challenges for greater diversity, inclusion, and equality onboard and ashore from your perspective?
Zoe Upson: The key barriers are lack of action; we need to continue talking but also putting those words into action. Everyone is talking about ESG and creating a more diverse industry, but what are important stakeholders doing? Addressing their carbon footprint, yes, hiring more women, not so much. Some will say ‘we aim to improve by a certain future date, and will try to do X,Y or Z, or we would be open to hiring more women’ etc, but I personally don’t see much action out there. I used my talent solutions business, Freight and Commodity Talent Ltd (FACT), to give companies guidance into be more diverse and inclusive and that’s fantastic, however, there is so much more to be done. I hear complaints from women in the sector that they are not paid as well, they get poor parental leave, and are being held back from being promoted into senior roles. This all needs to change and again, but so far it’s a case of all talk, no action. We only need to look at the gender gap pay reports of large firms in our industry to see how evident the issue is. On a personal level, we can do things to encourage any business to be more diverse and inclusive. But we are waiting for the leaders in our business for more meaningful results.
S4S: Tell us a few words about WOMEN TOGETHER. What are the goals & aspirations of this initiative? How does your organization support diversity and inclusion within the shipping industry?
Z.U.: Women Together is a vibrant hub where likeminded women come together to share insights, offer mutual support, and network. We empower one another to elevate our careers, support mindfulness and wellbeing. We support diversity, recognising, respecting, and celebrating each other’s differences and we have created an environment where everyone feels welcome and valued. Our goal is very simple. To support one another and to see more women in our industry and in senior roles.
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?
Z.U: I mainly speak from ashore, the commercial side of shipping which is predominantly composed of white men. There are not enough women in roles senior enough to be positions of power. As much as men are happy for the industry to change, they are not driving and pushing for change. Ironically, men are our greatest asset in making change happen, and this initial barrier is in fact, our great power. We can work with these incredible men as allies to facilitate change. It’s something we focus on at FACT, using talent solutions to facilitate change. Shipping is not an industry that little girls typically dream of working in, we need to do a lot more promotion. I am currently working with two companies on their internship programmes in which we are using to appeal to and recruit more women from diverse backgrounds. These internships are fully paid to make sure they are inclusive to all backgrounds and financial situations. There is a shortage of qualified senior women, so we need to be open to new ideas of how to entice them from other sectors and professions in order to achieve equality within the higher ranks of the shipping industry.
S4S: Currently, we are witnessing many considerable efforts toward empowering women in the maritime community. What needs to be done further to support gender diversity in shipping? What is your advice to industry stakeholders?
Z.U.: Organizations need to work together, and we need to be proactive. Individually we are a drop but together we are an ocean. It’s all well and good making noise but if the results don’t translate into action, it’s just noise. This is why I set up a women’s group and a talent solutions business. We currently have our first role that is female applicants only and I believe it’s the first of its kind. This may be judged as discrimination but to make changes, to be inclusive, to be diverse and fair we need to be bold in order to achieve the results that are so demanded by the market. We also need to make the industry more fun and more appealing, hence why I run glamorous events that are very different to the usual shipping industry drinks.
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?
Z.U.: I think shipping is still very far behind compared to other industries. We need to encourage the idea of long term career development in shipping, not just a job. There needs to be culture that time off for parental leave is a pause, not the end and that high skilled women should be encouraged and mentored back into the industry. This already happens in some areas of finance, banking and law but we need to encourage this kind of practice in shipping.
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?
Z.U.: Decent parental leave!
S4S: Do you have any new projects/plans/ initiatives to further support diversity within maritime that you would like to share?
Z.U.: There are a lot of plans for 2022 including some more glamorous events as soon as we can get people together safely in numbers. On the business side, FACT is looking at developing apprenticeships alongside internships to expand the range of opportunities to attract a more diverse range people to shipping. This is important because not everyone who wants to get into the industry has a college education. If we can attract and encourage more school leavers and vocational students into shipping we can increase social mobility too.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders with respect to a future of a more sustainable shipping amid these challenging times due to the pandemic?
Z.U.: If the challenges of the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that extending understanding and empathy towards our fellow humans can help see us through even the most difficult of times. This is just as important in the world of work as it is in our daily lives. Although it’s been a while since many of us have met up with our colleagues face to face, the pandemic has encouraged us to consider each other as individuals – with our own unique set of circumstances and pressures – rather than just workmates and provide support where needed. Continuing this culture shift will help to make sectors like shipping more appealing to a more diverse range of talent in the future, creating innovative, flexible and resilient teams and companies that can make shipping a better place to work.
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.
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