The case for more women seafarers

Technology, regulations and market cycles are not the only forces bringing about change in shipping. Societal developments are also making waves in our (and other) industries.

September 26 2019

The World Maritime Day is an excellent opportunity to shine a light on one of the key parts that keep the world economy turning. Ships’ crews keep the vessels going, and the vessels carry the goods that keep the world economy turning. No crews, no trade.

While such a sentiment may be somewhat simplified, it does raise the pertinent point about the roles we all play in keeping a global sustainable economy going. The World Maritime Day is an opportunity to evaluate where we are as an industry and where we are going.

The theme for 2019 is significant; “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community”. It is a call for those in the industry to consider their own commitment to building a workforce that is diverse and equal. For all of us, this theme should raise the question about what you, as an individual, do or can do to raise the levels of gender equality.

The theme for this year’s World Maritime Day reflects the strong emphasis in shipping and the maritime world on the importance and value of women in the professional ranks. It provides an opportunity to highlight opportunities for women as well as the contributions they are already making in a wide range of maritime careers and professions.

The role of the seafarer is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago, but it certainly has changed. Our industry, or to be more precise the range of industries that make up the maritime and shipping sectors, are evolving more rapidly than perhaps they have ever done.  Vessels are getting more sophisticated, connected and subject to an ever-increasing array of regulations and other requirements. The number of ships is increasing too.

This is important for two key reasons. Firstly the more ships we have the more demands for seafarers, and the more sophisticated the vessels, the more demand for a review of the skills needed to manage or operate them effectively.

Countries that supply the majority of seafarers have traditionally sought young men to go to training colleges. This is changing. We see maritime academies now making more effort to  persuade young women to pursue a seaborne career, to gain certification as an officer. At the grass roots level, these academies have the challenge of persuading young women, or their parents, that a career is a valuable one for them.

Once a young school leaver has opted to go to maritime college they should then be encouraged to stay in the industry. Young women need the support to retain their levels of interest in our industry.

Attracting young women (and men) into the industry to stay

Young women and men in modern society have the same demands. They want connectivity, they want to have access to their friends and family. If we are adamant about recruiting only the best into the industry we certainly need to do more to secure their interest in the industry.

Women are part of this solution, especially as we also need to meet the challenge of finding enough seafarers to meet demand.

But once we have encouraged young men and in particular women to start a career in this industry, we need to ensure they continue to find this industry one they can have a career in, prosper, grow and become the young leaders of tomorrow.

What does it take to find the best in our industry, to keep them and ensure they are the shipping leaders of tomorrow?

The digitalisation of shipping and the increased focus on digital technology and cleantech solutions could be a help in achieving this goal. Shipping has an ambition to cut its CO2 emissions by half in the next 30 years. Suddenly the industry has a huge demand for change.

This surely is an opportunity to make our industry attractive. The digitalisation of shipping and the increased focus on digital technology and cleantech solutions could be a help in achieving the goal of recruiting and retaining talented young leaders.

The structure of the shipping industry, particularly seagoing careers needs to evolve with the times. Is there any need for an officer or crew member to work onboard for four months at a stretch? Do officers need to only be employed in seagoing roles, can they be employed in other parts of the business, mixing sea-time with shore-based functions, something that will go a long way to securing those with families retain their career intentions?

These are some of the grass roots moves that will not only attract youngsters into the industry, but attract more women to stay.

Diversity in real life

Different studies have highlighted how gender diversity can have a positive impact on any company’s revenues. Companies that have engaged in gender diversity programmes and initiated policies have seen diversity lead to more creativity and more innovation, resulting in better corporate performance.

However a new report highlights a significant gap between the expectations of managers and of women and minorities in the workplace.  Companies need to ensure that their diversity programmes are fit for purpose and meet the needs of those that they are aimed at supporting.

At WISTA we encourage all men and women in the industry to support diversity, asking them to sign our inclusion pledge. It is a challenge to the maritime community to support diversity and inclusion. We encourage individuals and companies to support women in their organisation, to encourage their growth and development.

We seek role models and success stories to share, to empower other women to continue with their career intentions in the industry, and show other companies what they too can do to use diversity as a leadership tool and for profit.

The views expressed in this Insight are those of the author alone and not necessarily those of the Global Maritime Forum. Excerpts may be published with reference to the Global Maritime Forum.

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