With women working in the maritime industry facing a number of issues, a recent all-female panel explored important topics for women with jobs in the sector.
The shipping industry suffers from a lack of gender diversity: women make up just 2% the world’s shipping workforce, with less than 1% of those women serving in executive roles. On top of this, within the shore-based maritime field, there is a gender pay gap of more than 45%, with female staff bonuses more than 60% less on average, according to data from the Maritime HR Association.
On the back of this data, late March saw women across a diverse range of shipping roles come together in a webinar to discuss the theme of equal shipping for men and women, as well as the most pressing issues for women in the maritime industry. The online event was organised by Lloyd’s Maritime Academy and moderated by Dr Katerina Konsta, chief executive of shipping services firm SeaWorks Training & Consulting. The panel discussed the themes of whether maritime companies are doing enough to attract women, sexual assault at sea, whether areas in the maritime realm exist that are better for women and the future for women in the sector.
Financial pros to diversity
Panel member Birgit Liodden, Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) Norway board member and former director of Nor-Shipping, talked about the financial benefits that having a more diverse organisation can bring.
“I don’t really think that the industry as a whole realises the enormous potentials, financially, companies can gain from ensuring diversity in their groups and companies,” she said. “If you only think about diversity and equal opportunities for women as an ethical thing, you will never get there. Once you start understanding that this actually has financial and operational impact, then I think we are getting somewhere a lot quicker.”
How can these experiences ever foster an environment where a woman feels confident to report any unfair treatment, if she constantly feels her career’s under threat?
Caitlin Vaughan, project manager at the International Seafarers’ Welfare & Assistance Network, agreed. “I think there’s quite a lot of evidence out there that the more diverse an organisation is, the more profitable they are, the more positive an experience that all employees have working there, because you have just such a rich variety of different backgrounds and different opinions and different experiences to bring.”
A Spinnaker Global study, which used a sample of 231 companies between 2007 and 2009, indicated that earnings before interest and taxes for mixed company boards is some 56% up on those with no women at board-level. Additionally, studies from both the Peterson Institute for International Economics and professional service firm KPMG suggest that profitability is impacted by having less women on company boards. Mixed boards reported 6%–19% higher profits. Ms Liodden later added that she believed companies would start viewing diversity “as a competitive edge”.
The webinar also discussed sexual assault and harassment against women working in the maritime industry. Ms Vaughan felt that the attitude surrounding women who work at sea made it hard for women to feel that they could report these forms of abuse.
“Women are far less likely to report harassment or assault and I think, even if they don’t want to report it, they’re less likely to seek the support that they need and to be able to continue with a happy career if it does happen,” she said. “We know that women can find it challenging to even find employment at sea simply because of their sex and we often hear anecdotally that many women working at sea feel they’re constantly under scrutiny and that their ability to work to the same standard as men is called into question. So how can these experiences ever foster an environment where a woman feels confident to report any unfair treatment, if she constantly feels her career’s under threat?”
Ms Vaughan added that a woman who has been harassed or assaulted could benefit from or may want to seek immediate support from someone of her own gender, but this might not be possible if she is the only woman aboard a vessel. When it’s extremely rare to find women working in senior roles at sea, this is an issue. The project manager also said that her company’s seafarers’ helpline, SeafarerHelp, had really witnessed a trend in the cases reported to it: aside from the women affected nearly always holding a junior role, they were also normally not aware of their company processes, or their organisation’s process had really not worked for them at all.
Dr Cecilia Österman, senior lecturer in maritime science at Linnaeus University in Sweden, said that she felt the recent Me Too movement — which developed through the use of the hashtag #MeToo on social media to help show the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment (especially at work) — had focused too much on the idea of reporting incidents rather than the idea of tackling the problem at an organisational level.
“We’re actually pushing the responsibility to the individual woman to report, and it’s not fair because it’s not an individual issue, it’s an organisational issue,” she said. “We have to start recognising sexual harassment, bullying as a safety issue, not an individual issue only … We don’t sit and wait for someone to report if the fire pump is broken … We investigate, we take actions, we learn, and this is exactly how we have to work with sexual harassment as well.”
Inspiring new talent
The webinar drew substantially on the concept of female role models for women working in maritime.
“My knowledge of the maritime world was so limited before I entered it that I wouldn’t have known of any role models before I got here,” Ms Vaughan said. “I feel that hopefully that’s changing though and I think organisations like WISTA … create opportunities to meet a lot of very inspirational women. I think naturally, when you’re in an industry like this where there are so few women, there are a lot of women that are very willing to support and encourage younger women in the industry.”
Ms Liodden added that, especially within the last five years, a lot of new female role models had emerged in the industry across different segments.
“I think that companies are starting to see, at a bigger degree than before, that they have to find new ways of attracting and retaining new talents,” she commented.
The industry has improved in comparison with previous years when it comes to working to be a place where women are wholeheartedly welcomed and supported, no matter the issues they might face. However, with some problems still widespread, efforts clearly have to be redoubled if the industry wants to ensure that it truly meets the needs of a diverse workforce.