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DE&I Backlash: Now what?

Maintaining a diverse workforce is essential to the maritime industry’s ability to operate on a global scale. A diverse workforce can help provide a deeper understanding of different cultures, markets, and customer needs, ultimately enhancing our industry’s ability to navigate the complexities of international trade and commerce.

Of course, being an effective business partner in our interconnected world doesn’t stop with diversity. Customers and stakeholders increasingly expect industry leaders to actively demonstrate a commitment to equity and inclusion.

Where equity ensures fairness and impartiality in policies and practices, inclusion focuses on creating an environment where all individuals feel valued and respected. If diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.

We have all seen the studies and the numbers, and they repeatedly reinforce that fostering an inclusive and equitable work environment promotes employee well-being and satisfaction. This, in turn, can lead to higher productivity, lower turnover rates, greater innovation, and improved overall performance within the industry.

While the maritime industry has made strides in addressing these issues, there are still challenges that need to be overcome. However, the industry is committed to driving positive change and improvement. Some of these challenges include entrenched cultural norms, recruitment biases, and the need for greater representation in leadership roles. However, the industry also presents numerous opportunities to drive positive change, such as implementing inclusive hiring practices, providing diversity training, and fostering a culture of respect and openness.

Consider this example of our industry’s changing world. According to the BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report, only 1.2% of the global seafarer workforce were women. However, the industry is moving in a positive direction thanks to the efforts of support organizations like the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) and Women Offshore. The number of women serving as seafarers in 2021 was 45.8% higher compared with the 2015 report.

This is all against the backdrop of an unprecedented worker shortage in our industry. My colleague Chuck Kemper, ABS Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, recently appeared on Setting Course, an ABS Podcast, and highlighted another BIMCO report that predicted we would need another 90,000 ship officers by 2026 to keep up with the industry’s current trends.

Of course, this is no small feat. These potential officers require substantial training, and, as Chuck said on the podcast, they need to be suited to the mariner lifestyle. In filling this need, the maritime industry can’t pigeonhole ourselves by limiting employment or leadership opportunities based on preconceived notions or even unconscious biases. Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion in processes helps organizations access larger talent pools than they would otherwise, helping us all succeed together.

ABS strives to be an industry leader in this effort by continually examining where we can obtain the next generation of qualified talent. To do this, we include non-traditional sources such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities and organizations such as WISTA. We have made significant progress in this area through such efforts. For example, ABS has a global staff of female surveyors in countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Korea, West Africa, and throughout the United States. This is our effort to normalize the concept and default mental paradigm of our survey and engineering workforce in the psyche of our industry.

Maintaining a diverse team is at the core of everything we do at ABS. We are a global organization of 53 nationalities and 31 ethnicities, and we are constantly striving to ensure every voice is heard.

By prioritizing efforts to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, the maritime industry can create a more resilient, competitive, and forward-thinking sector that genuinely reflects the diversity of the world we serve. The journey is ongoing, but the potential benefits make it a worthy endeavor for all stakeholders.

Article written by Njsane Courtney, Vice President of Human Resources and Global DE&I Officer at ABS. You can see Njsane speak on the topic at the forthcoming Spinnaker Maritime People & Culture Conference.

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