A report by ETF and ECSA named “Enhanced participation of women in European shipping – The opportunity to increase gender balance in the EU maritime sector,” aims to address the issue of women seafarers being underrepresented in the industry.
he report is part of the joint WESS project (2020-2022), and is centred on Pillar 2. The WESS project supports the work towards jobs, growth and competitiveness of the European shipping industry and involves the implementation of several activities centred around two Pillars:
- Pillar 1: Supporting the work of the joint ECSA-ETF working group on Health and Safety on board;
- Pillar 2: Implementing the priority actions in the ECSA and ETF joint declaration of intention on enhanced participation of women in European shipping.
Whilst many of the issues discussed in this research existed prior to the pandemic, they have been exacerbated by current circumstances and pressures experienced during this time.
The pandemic will have implications for the maritime jobs market, particularly around attracting new seafarers, which needs to be considered and accommodated in any promotional strategy, particularly aimed at women or other minorities.
Further emphasis is therefore placed on ensuring that promotion of maritime jobs for women is actively supported by ensuring that their well-being is catered for within the workplace.
The report’s recommendation is to agree to set a target of a minimum percentage of women in maritime management positions within 20 years. Once the baseline data is gathered, shipping will need to set percentages for interval years starting from 2026.
From the research analysis, the research found that the lack of career visibility forms only part of the barrier. For young people, especially young women, they are unable to visualise themselves within the maritime world, and by extension, the shipping industry within Europe.
Therefore, a better approach may be to thoughtfully design the context in which young people seek career information and make decisions. This research suggests that supporting informed decisions depends more on the how and when of data provision than the ‘what’ of the information provided.
One of the quickest ways to implement change is to directly influence companies’ diversity and inclusion behaviours, to move from words to action. What is clear from our research is that both the industry and the companies must shift the focus from presenting niceties to creating meaningful actions
As the research further shows, the maritime sector must align all the efforts being made in this area. A key recommendation is that all should work towards achieving The International Chamber of Shipping Diversity Index objective (published November 2020) to significantly increase the number of women on board from 7.5% to 12% in the next three years, and to 25% in 20 years.
Headline survey findings:
- Many people starting careers at sea do not spend their whole careers as a seafarer. 48 % of respondents who had worked at sea were not doing so anymore.
- People leaving a career at sea primarily did so for family reasons followed by wanting a change or new opportunity.
- Travel, closely preceded by financial, were the main reasons given for people choosing a career at sea; whilst challenge, interest and an exciting career were the main reasons for people choosing a shore-based maritime career.
- The primary area identified for improving or furthering a career at sea was welfare-based followed by further education and skills. Onshore, education and skills were identified as making the most difference, with welfare areas coming second.
- Best practice to increase gender diversity at sea and onshore were associated with equality-related areas such as equal treatment, gender blindness, job and pay equality. There was comparability evident between the sea and shore working environments, as well as the extent to which improvements in equality are required.
- Evidence shows that some women feel best practice includes not wanting their achievements to be over-embellished because they are women, or having to be exceptional; they want equal opportunities and treatment, with the focus being on their working performance, rather than their gender.
Industry awareness and presenting a modern image
The public’s lack of industry awareness is still an issue, with maritime and shipping often associated with negative events such as oil spills and ship sinkings.
Promotion of the maritime industry should start early and target primary school children so that they can consider it as a career option when selecting their subjects.
This is particularly relevant to encourage more girls into taking STEM subjects. Maritime careers need to be presented and positioned to fit in with the expectations of a modern lifestyle.
This would encourage young people to consider the range of exciting career options that the industry can offer. Promotion of the industry must highlight the vital, dynamic and far-reaching opportunities that careers in maritime can offer and build tools aimed at young people that advocate these advantages.
Key focus areas for the industry in addressing gender in the future maritime jobs market
The research identified best practices which should be applied more generally, in order to enhance recruitment and retention of women in the industry:
- Developing an awareness-raising campaign that increases knowledge of and dispels outdated and inaccurate perceptions of the industry.
- Highlighting the attractive career opportunities in shipping both at sea and ashore, where many openings exist for persons with seagoing qualifications and experience.
- Producing guidance to assist shipping companies and seafarers’ organisations in promoting change and a corporate culture and behaviour that is conducive to the recruitment and retention of women.
- Promoting shipboard cultures that recognise the dignity of all crew members.
- Adopting specific measures to enhance recruitment and retention of women in the industry, such as ensuring the provision of female-friendly facilities on board ships and communicating about long-term career opportunities at sea and ashore.
- Emphasising and communicating to all how policies in the workplace, such as policies on work-life balance, as well as measures to prevent and eradicate bullying and harassment based on the joint industry guidelines and training apply to women.