Embracing equity for International Women’s Day

March 08, 2023
IMO Women in Maritime Crew working for Chelsea Logistics Philippines
Crew working for Chelsea Logistics, Philippines © IMO Women in Maritime

‘Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #EmbraceEquity.’

To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we reached out to women across our network to find out what has changed for women working in the maritime industry and ask what they think the industry can do to embrace gender equality and equity.

Junie Rose – Chief Officer, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM):

‘In recent times, the maritime industry is paying more attention to welcoming (embracing) women in the maritime industry. Working with BSM, I find that there is equality in terms of income and opportunities as well. I, being a female seafarer, have to work hard to climb up the ladder. There is no special preference given to women when working on board. We are at par with men in terms of working and showing an equitable development with shared decision-making and responsibility. That is where equality definitely exists. The era has changed as I can see the rise of women seafarers in the industry because more manning agencies are willing to embrace and accept us unlike when I was just starting my career, it is really hard to get accepted because of my gender and only a few are willing to open their doors for me.

‘Countries with better gender equality achieve more economic growth. Equality for women means progress for all. And I can see that as women currently working in this industry, we are getting more respect and encountering more willingness to cooperate with us.’

Melanie White – Author, former superyacht chef & Co-Founder of SEAS THE MIND:

‘I think there has been a shift in mentality about what women are capable of and I think it's fantastic that some companies have made an active decision to employ more women in leadership positions. My hope is that it isn't virtue signalling but the genuine belief that forging routes for women to lead benefits the working culture.

‘The maritime industry can embrace quality by actively equipping women with the tools they need, not just to do their job, but to thrive. If you are struggling to retain women, truly ask – does my company have engrained toxic masculinity? Can I do anything to help make the working environment legitimately equitable? I think having male allies pushing the female forward agenda is really important in this.’

Aizza E. Kesavmoorthy – Manager - Manning / Diversity & Inclusion Representative, Synergy Group:

‘Over the years there has been progressively much more conversation and, crucially, action in this direction and things have changed greatly for the better.

To give just a few examples, more recently shipping companies have been insisting that for each trip there are at least two female seafarers on board. Also, there used to be the same type of boiler suit for men and women, but now we have tailor-made Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) i.e. it has been made specifically for women, and Synergy Group has recently embarked on rolling out this new PPE to all its women seafarers, who are sailing on more than 60 vessels. This step alone is evidence that the industry is acknowledging, and also addressing, a relevant difference between men and women, which is vital when it comes to equity. There is still a lot left to be done, but there is a visible shift in attitudes towards gender equity.

‘The end goal is for everyone to be able to thrive in the marine space. It is plain that if we want to see further, and also lasting, progress in equity, and especially gender equity, we need to look beyond rules and legislation and evolve so things are simply actioned without any need for the compulsion of regulation.’

Emma Ross – Co-Founder & Director, SEAS THE MIND:

‘The world has changed a lot over the last 15 years and so has superyachting, and what’s been really great to see is that no longer are certain positions just kept for certain gender roles. We’re starting to see a lot more change – people are choosing their jobs on yachts based on their interests, their understanding, their education.

‘Obviously no sector is perfect and I include my own industry, superyachts, in that. We are making change and we are promoting equality in every single crew member position but there is still a lot of work to do, and I really believe that this can only be done through a combination of awareness, training, education, understanding and representation. Representation is so important because it’s hard enough to break any glass ceilings when you’re doing it by yourself. It takes a huge amount of dedication, determination and ambition, and a little bit of luck and timing, but seeing people doing the jobs you want to do and having the door broken open is really important. It gives people an understanding that it can be done; that there’s a pathway and there are potentially mentors within the industry who have already travelled that path and can give you a helping hand at navigating it.’

Joanna Drysdale – Manager, Underwriting Services, MHG Insurance & member of ISWAN’s Yacht Crew Help Steering Committee:

‘We provide crew benefits for yacht crew. We looked at our insured populations across the last 10 years and found that while women holding traditionally male-dominated leadership roles (captain, chief engineer, chief officer) has increased by 75%, there is still a long way to go to achieve equality for women in those positions. To put that into context, in our insured population, men still outnumber women in senior deck and engine leadership roles by 90:1 and women in those positions now are earning roughly the same as men did 10 years ago.

‘I would be speculating here, but it seems that if you value what women bring to the table at all levels of the industry, we have to be awake to the inbuilt and often subconscious biases that exist in every one of us. It's no accident that women's careers in yachting end much sooner than men's do and it's not because "women can't have families and go to sea". The world has moved on! Men have families and go to sea all the time! And families come in all shapes and sizes – some have two mums or two dads for example. In yachting in particular, we have to face the reality of the fact that women have a "sell-by date" that men just don't have. I'd be really interested to hear perspectives on that from women who have felt the impact of that and what they think we need to do to fix it.’

Paromita Mukherjee – Second Officer, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM):

‘In recent years, there have been some positive changes for women working in the maritime industry, but there is still much work to be done to achieve full equality. More women are entering the maritime industry and taking on roles traditionally held by men, including captains, engineers, and port officials. This is partly due to increased awareness of the issue and efforts to recruit more women into the industry. Many shipping companies have implemented policies to promote gender equality, including equal pay, flexible work arrangements, and anti-harassment measures. There has been increased advocacy and awareness-raising on the issue of gender equality in the maritime industry, with organizations such as Women's International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA).

‘Recognising and valuing the differences among people and ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities to succeed is important. Embracing equality is a critical step toward creating a more just and inclusive maritime society. I also believe safety is a major concern in the maritime industry, and ensuring that women have equal access to safety measures is crucial. Rather than providing suits and equipment of general size, it is better if these are made keeping women's body stature in mind.’

Dr. Kate Pike – Director of Projects, Field-Research Ltd & Co-Author, ’Enhanced participation of women in European shipping – The opportunity to increase gender balance in the EU maritime sector’:

‘There has been a global increase of awareness around women’s equality which has also been felt in maritime. This has led to greater discourse and understanding of these areas and has emphasised the many challenges and barriers still faced by women in achieving equality. More positively, research shows us that the next generation of seafarers are much more accepting of diversity on board and are more comfortable treating women as equals across the ranks.

‘Sustained action is required and must be supported by all sectors of the maritime industry. At a company level, policies should include: anti-harassment and bullying, flexible working, corporate diversity and inclusion policies, appropriate on-board accommodation and requirements for women seafarers catered for. At a regulatory level, these should include: STCW basic training to have a greater emphasis on diversity, culture and gender training; Human Element, Leadership and Management (HELM) training to increase and enhance diversity, culture and gender training; and gender-neutral complaints procedures.’

Atty. Iris Baguilat – President, Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila), Inc.:

‘Women and men are not too far apart in senior, professional, and technical roles in the Philippine maritime industry. The gender gap is more imminent when it comes to the sea-going workforce. Reiterating my call in the previous years, it should be a priority for the seafaring sector to create a working environment that extends an equal opportunity to men and women to sail onboard according to the person’s choice or preference. The lack or absence of opportunity for a particular gender should NEVER be the deterrent to gaining onboard employment. I strongly believe that gender should never be the basis of any career or profession, and the choice to work at sea should be purely out of preference.’

Sanjam Sahi Gupta – Founder, Maritime SheEO & Director, Sitara Shipping:

‘When it comes to equality and equal opportunity, a lot has changed for women in the maritime. Since 2019 when the IMO declared it the year to Empowering Women in Maritime, the spotlight has been on women who move the world by working in this glorious industry. By highlighting role models and celebrating the achievements of women, there is a greater awareness of gender equality and the fact that apart from a moral case for diversity, there's also a business case for equality.

‘The maritime industry can embrace equality by offering equal pay and equal opportunities to all based on competence, not gender. The maritime industry needs the best talent to prosper and together we can make a change.’

In November 2022, as part of a project commissioned by the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), a new report was published which identified best practices to encourage women into a rewarding and safe career in shipping and combat the 'outdated' image of the industry. Read the report here: Enhanced participation of women in European shipping – The opportunity to increase gender balance in the EU maritime sector

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