Maritime UK: Redressing the gender balance

Any industry that chooses to overlook over 50% of the population when seeking talent and expertise is making a huge mistake

Of the estimated 1.25 million seafarers in the world, fewer than 2% of them are thought to be women. This statistic reflects how, historically, maritime has been viewed as a male-dominated industry. However, with the need for sector diversity, the maritime industry is now recognising the benefits of a gender balanced workforce, with efforts being made within the sector to recruit and retain more women, including at the highest levels.

To address fairness, equality and inclusion within maritime, Maritime UK established a Women in Maritime Taskforce in 2017 to identify practical steps to increase the number of women in the industry. The taskforce will make a series of recommendations and utilise best practice from other work sectors that have taken similar action. Crucially, the taskforce also seeks to redress the balance in the number of women in senior roles across maritime’s shipping, ports, marine and business services industries.

Chaired by Sue Terpilowski OBE ─ who holds a number of roles in the industry, including that of president of the UK branch of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA)─ the taskforce is made up of leaders from across the maritime sector. Ms Terpilowski intends the taskforce to cover a number of key areas: The imbalance between female and males in the sector both land and sea, the career progression paths for women in the sector to address the lack of women in middle and senior positions, the gender pay gap, and recruitment of more females into the sectors.

Through her work with WISTA UK, Ms Terpilowski says she has become more acutely aware of the challenges of women in the sectors. “This has become something that I am really passionate about,” she says.

UK maritime minister Nusrat Ghani MP – who herself is only the second woman to hold the UK Department for Transport portfolio for the country’s maritime sector ─ commended the establishment of the taskforce.

“I am delighted to see Maritime UK taking action to attract more women into our maritime industries, and I welcome this Taskforce as an important first step,” she says. “In the autumn, the [UK] government challenged maritime leaders, businesses and colleges to find ways of increasing the number of women in the sector, and it is great to see them respond in this way. There is a fantastic wealth and breadth of career opportunities in maritime, and I am determined to see more women accessing these.”

Need for change

The experiences of some women in the industry testify to the need for the maritime industry to instigate change. Nicola d’Hubert, global head of brand and external relations at Lloyd’s Register Marine & Offshore, recalls a time in her maritime career when she felt that her gender made a difference. She was working in China on an expat posting as part of her nautical career.

“The entire system, at that time, was built around the expat employee being male,” she remembers. “Not only did that mean that you had to actively push for access to the same benefits, it was also a challenge socially as the only female expat in the management team. I am not saying that my colleagues weren’t fantastic… but you didn’t feel automatically accepted and part of that world as you were changing the status quo from a system and process perspective. It took a lot of extra effort although the overall experience was a positive one.”

Bridget Hogan, director of publishing and membership at The Nautical Institute, started her career in the industry more than four decades ago and has held a number of different roles in the industry. When she first started her career she recalls how “daunting” it felt to consistently ─ for decades ─ be the only woman in negotiations and at events. “I have come across far too many females, who are very talented and qualified, who have been passed over for a task in favour of men who have clearly been inadequate,” she adds.

Great benefits

The taskforce members are passionate about the benefits of raising the number of women in the industry. “Any industry that chooses to overlook, and fail to include, over 50% of the population when seeking talent and expertise is making a huge mistake,” says Sarah Dhanda, chief officer of Membership and Services at British Marine. “It makes perfect economic sense to proactively target women across all job types and levels.”

She adds that British Marine members are “always” discussing skills shortages and how hard it is for them to recruit good-quality personnel. Encouraging more women to join would help address that: “There are huge opportunities for women in the marine sector at the moment, given that almost every part of the sector is reporting skill shortages, so everybody is looking to recruit good quality candidates,” she says. “There is always a challenge in overcoming some of the more old-fashioned attitudes and bias that still prevail in some quarters, but times have changed and I am pleased to say that the range of opportunities available for women has never been greater.”

Shoreham Port’s director of corporate services, Nicky Goldsbrough agrees that the industry has historically been male-dominated, so it is all the more important to promote the achievements and opportunities for women in the sector as a catalyst for change.

“The shipping industry is missing out on the skills and value that women can bring to the sector,” she says. “Additionally, women will add a different perspective and significant expertise in a very-traditional industry which is crying out for change. Raising awareness is crucial for attracting more women into shipping and addressing the skills imbalance.”

Missed opportunities

There also needs to be better understanding of what effect the lack of women in senior maritime roles is having on the industry.

“For me, it is all about our industry having access to the complete pool of talent that is available,” says Ms d’Hubert. “If your industry isn’t attractive or accessible, how do you expect it to benefit from the best talent in the market? I think possibly we have underestimated the impact of the lack of women in leadership positions within the industry ─ on both the environment that is created and the signals it offers to those looking to enter the industry, or those considering their options within it. We need to do more in promoting what is possible and what is in need of change.”

“The UK, and indeed the whole of shipping, is ignoring a vital resource,” Ms Hogan agrees. “We should look at everyone, whatever their gender or ethnic background, to see if they are high calibre and can make a contribution to the enterprise they are joining. Don’t let’s have a stereotype of a certain gender or ethnic group or class or background in mind for the job. Let’s have the best person.”

For women to be able to reach their full potential in a career in maritime, the industry needs to work to ensure that the challenges that women currently face in the sector are overcome. Ms Hogan says the drive towards the use of more automation, plus the shrinking pool of people with seafaring experience to come ashore and take jobs in shipping companies, means that women can benefit. However, in Ms Goldsbrough’s opinion, women working in maritime face issues like developing leadership confidence and having to overcome unconscious bias, as well as having to contend with a lack of prominent role models within the field.

“However,” she notes, “the industry is beginning to change, and there are many opportunities to be capitalised on. The sector needs to adapt to the modern world, and business models need to be agile and progressive enough to attract and retain women.”

It can be difficult for younger women in the marine sector to be taken seriously – particularly when discussing technical subjects, says Mrs Dhanda. “My goal for the coming year is to make sure that British Marine, as well as providing networking opportunities for women, can also work with its members and those women in the sector who have been successful to mentor and provide support to those that need help and confidence-building.”

For Ms d’Hubert, one important universal challenge for women in the maritime industry is for them to be able to work to their full potential in the sector but without giving up the option of having a family.

“We have seen more women in leadership positions,” she says, “but there is also the associated message that often comes with this that you have to make a decision between career and family. This is a decision that I don’t believe men have to make in the same way.”

Maritime UK’s Women in Maritime Taskforce will look to address this and the other challenges facing women in the sector, while making the most of opportunities to increase the presence and importance of women throughout the industry. With the recruitment of taskforce members now complete, the taskforce has already started to form connections with similar groups and has set its first official meeting next week.

Source: Maritime UK, 13 February 2018

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