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An interview with BP Shipping: Promoting gender equality at sea

September 26, 2019
BP British Sponsor new LNG vessel
BP Shipping's new LNG vessel, British Sponsor

It’s World Maritime Day, and we spoke to BP Shipping’s Vetting and Clearance Manager, Susie Thomson, and Ethics and Compliance Lead, Jeannette Hempstead, to find out what the company does to promote women in shipping.

3% of BP employees working at sea are women

Globally, women are estimated to make up just 2% of the world’s maritime workforce, so BP is slightly ahead of the curve.

BP Shipping uses gender neutraliser software to remove any unconscious bias in its job adverts – certain wording might promote the position as a more masculine role, which could be off-putting to women.

The biggest obstacle to recruiting women seafarers is ‘getting them in the door’

Susie says: ‘The numbers are definitely going up, but it’s like nurses – there are still more women applying than men, so as an industry there are still more men applying than women.’ She has also observed that although women can be recruited more easily as third and second mates, they seem to ‘dip out’ before reaching more senior ranks like master and chief engineer, although it’s unclear why. The company works to ensure that there is a diverse pool of candidates to interview to avoid discrimination at this recruitment stage.

From a practical point of view, women are catered for on board and made to feel safe

BP Shipping vessels have single-berth cabins with en suites and locks on the doors. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for women is provided, and vessels stock medical equipment specifically for women, which is not a legal requirement. Susie talks about shipping being a ‘compliant industry’ – if something like provision of sanitary bins is not a requirement, many companies will tend not to do it. In a 2015 research study by ISWAN and partners, nearly 40% of respondents said they not have access to a sanitary bin on board. On tankers specifically, only 27% of women had access to a sanitary bin on board. BP Shipping goes further than what is required to ensure women are well provided for on its vessels.

Women can take advantage of broad and long-term career opportunities at the company

BP Shipping is flexible with its employees. Being such a large company, BP Shipping offers employees the opportunity to work in many different areas of the business so they can have a long-term career without being tied to a particular field. There is a drive to retain talent within the company and there is the hope that, as a result, the visibility of more women progressing in the industry will encourage others to follow suit and challenge the bias of it being male-dominated.

There is a culture of equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion at BP Shipping

A former seafarer herself, Susie says: ‘If my daughter wanted to go to sea, there are only a few companies that I would allow her to go to sea with, and BP is one of them. The safety and the emotional culture of BP is very similar to us as a society [in Britain].’ It is also clear what to do if you have a problem while working for the company – employees know how to raise a complaint and can be sure that they will be listened to.

The industry needs to advertise and show young women what working in shipping is like

When asked what the shipping industry can do to promote gender equality in seafaring, Susie and Jeannette speak about the need to make shipping a career of choice. Children are unaware of where things come from, and even those who attend maritime colleges are likely to have no idea what life as a seafarer entails until they are in the job.

Susie suggests remodelling the training package for those interested in a career in shipping. Jeannette highlights that it is difficult for an 18-year-old to decide exactly what role in which part of the industry they want to pursue, so a shipping industry degree in which students specialise after two years of more general study, for example, would take some of the pressure off. Likewise, an industry initiative allowing women interested in becoming a seafarer to do sea time and gain experience in a number of different industries could help promote seafaring as a career.

For more information about World Maritime Day this year, visit the International Maritime Organization's website here.

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