Last year, IMO’s World Maritime Day was dedicated to ‘Empowering women in the maritime community’, and while this theme is a reflection of the many steps forward women’s representation has seen in the past few decades, as of 2019 only 2% of women make up an estimated 1.2 million seafarers.
Maintaining gender diversity as a topic of conversation is a significant part of the challenge and vital for change. Despina Theodosiou, President of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) International and Co-CEO at Tototheo Maritime, commented that: “In light of the huge restrictions we are faced with this year, we are pushing to see continued effort to ensure that diversity and gender awareness remain a discussion point wherever and whenever it needs to be.”
Continuing the equality conversation is reflected in WISTA’s work, and Theodosiou highlighted that for the larger part of 2019 it was focused on supporting IMO’s theme of empowering women, ultimately signing an MOU with IMO in January 2020 to jointly ensure that progress made to promote diversity in 2019 is sustained into 2020 and subsequent years.
Alongside the association’s other work, including establishing a women’s speakers bureau, this Autumn WISTA plans to publish its IMO-WISTA study on the number of women employed in the maritime sector. The association also recently co-launched an online survey among women seafarers, in conjunction with Anglo-Eastern, ISWAN and ICS.
The data collected will be used to update the onboard 2018 Anglo Eastern Gender Diversity Booklet, which addresses critical social, cultural and interpersonal issues that can obstruct the productivity of a shipboard team. Both are examples of published representative data, an area that is still significantly lacking that would improve transparency and create accountability within the industry.
“We’re missing a meaningful way of trying to find and collect data,” said Dora Mace-Kokota, partner at law firm Stephenson Harwood, specialising in ship and offshore finance: “and until we have some kind of accountability in terms of publishing data, going back to it, analysing and understanding what it means, I don’t think we can get anywhere meaningfully.”
Aside from statistics that give a clear picture of women currently employed in the maritime industry, issues of diversity remain in both recruitment and retention. Women are seen less frequently in more senior roles and it was suggested that companies should seek to improve mentoring approaches and recruitment-level diversity training on unconscious bias.
From the perspective of the legal community, Mace-Kokota commented that there is a shift happening in the mentoring approach that could be adopted for maritime; companies are attempting to connect employees with those who have progressed higher than them in the work hierarchy, but who they still feel they are within touching distance of and can become. In other words, showcasing role models at every level of employment to create obtainable aspirations.
Mace-Kokota pointed out that many law firms are entering into so called ‘active monitoring’ and discovering that the relationship works both ways:
“There are more senior staff and partners included in being mentored by more junior staff, in order to understand what the real challenges are and how they can help them [...] It’s a good way of bringing people up, but also educating people around us who might be a bit more resistant to change and to discuss change as well.”
Further to this, Theodosiou added that: “If we want to produce diversity then this needs to be included in mentoring too. It should not be that men mentor men and women mentor women, that way we’re only helping an unwanted situation perpetuate.”
To generate interest and diversify the entry-level workforce, Caroline Yang, CEO of Hong Lam Marine and President of the Singapore Shipping Association, called for active promotion of the maritime industry at education level, starting from an early stage with visits to schools.
“We need to create that awareness and it has to be a sustained awareness, especially in the minds of young people, that maritime, akin to aviation, is an attractive sector to be in, and there is career progression and different areas in maritime. In short, we need to increase the visibility of maritime and no better time than now, with all the social media tools at our disposal,” she concluded.