Skip to content

How inspiring women in maritime will result in a thriving industry

In January I attended a WISTA (Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association) event discussing the results of their research into the gender pay gap within the maritime industry. While the pay difference between male and female employees was large and to many shocking (46.4%) it was the seniority of women within the maritime sector that struck a chord with me.

The maritime sector is traditionally a male dominated industry. But, even looking at shore-based roles where one may expect a greater gender balance, the findings showed huge discrepancies between positions held by men and women. According to the findings, women represent 36% of the shore-based maritime workforce globally. However, the majority of these female employees work at Administrative, Junior and Professional level with very few reaching managerial level and above. Of the 40 UK companies that participated, not a single company had a female at ‘Executive’ level position.

So does this matter?
There is some debate over the differences in traits between men and women and what that means to the work environment. Sweeping generalisations can be dangerous, but it is not uncommon for women to be considered more empathetic, intuitive or to possess a greater awareness of the concerns of others. Where there is substantially less debate however, is in the recognition that functional diversity and diversity of experience has a hugely positive impact on building better leadership teams.

So does this matter to maritime?
The maritime sector is of critical significance to any economy. In the UK alone the sector contributes nearly £40billion to the economy. So having a highly productive sector that can fulfil its potential is paramount. As such, we should be encouraging diversity in all areas, including gender, in order for the sector to thrive.

So what can we do to encourage more women into the sector, and to move up the ladder into the senior positions?
Awareness and education
Seafaring has traditionally been viewed as a man’s job and in the past, women have been actively discouraged from joining through stereotyping, social acceptance, career advice or family pressure. But today’s maritime sector is not what it was in ‘days gone by’. Understanding the breadth of interesting career opportunities available to men and women should start right back at classroom level.

Role models and unconscious bias
We often employ people that mirror our own experiences, capabilities and traits – which given the current make up of the industry is unlikely to result an increase in opportunities for women. This, often unconscious bias, when magnified across an entire sector, can result in a sense of disillusionment for those minorities looking to succeed in their career path. By becoming aware of our unconscious bias and by actively seeking and showcasing more female or diverse role models, we can encourage the next generation to strive for their goals.

Flexibility and HR practices
Women can be discouraged from a maritime career due to long stays out at sea. While not always possible for seafaring positions, shore-based roles should look at their HR practices and in particular their approach to flexible working to encourage talent into (and to stay with) their organisation, that may otherwise be denied through a need to balance work and family commitments.

In addition, many private shipping companies utilise contractual employment and do not provide secure retirement opportunities. Just like their male counterparts, women often look for a secure income and security in retirement, so participating in pension arrangements – such as the maritime sector’s Ensign Retirement Plan – can have a positive impact on attracting and retaining talent.

So what’s next?
There are many initiatives, both internationally and at national level that are looking to encourage more women into the industry.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has been running the ‘Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector’ (IWMS) for approximately 30 years. According to the IMO, “…empowering women fuels thriving economies, spurs productivity and growth, and benefits every stakeholder.” Nov 17

In the UK, the Merchant Navy Training Board is actively looking to encourage young women to join the industry. On launch of its, “To sea or not to sea” recruitment video, it found that 56% of views were by women, 41% of which were aged 13-17.

As well as attracting women into the industry, initiatives such as HR Consulting from Spinnaker Global’s, ‘Career Development Programme for Women in Maritime’, will hopefully have a positive impact on retaining this diversity, and helping support women as they move forward in their career, to the benefit of our industry as a whole.

In conclusion

I firmly believe that variety is the spice of life. I believe that teams and companies that that embrace diversity are far more likely to innovate and grow than those that take a narrower approach to inclusion.

Let’s applaud the initiatives that are taking place in the UK and across the globe to encourage and support more diversity within our industry, but let’s also take a look at ourselves, see when we may be guilty of unconscious bias, and explore what we may be able to do to support a more flexible and dynamic workforce.

Jemima FitzMorris is the Marketing Director for the Ensign Retirement Plan – a defined contribution pension plan with one straightforward goal, to improve the retirement outcomes of those working within the maritime sector.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.