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Maritime is missing out on the skills and talents of outstanding women

Maritime is missing out on the skills and talents of outstanding women
Feb 19th 2018

Rachel Morgan from recruitment firm Spinnaker Global takes on the issue of gender inequality in shipping.

Women who work in the shipping industry get paid 45% less than men. The BBC gender pay gap is around 10%, the same as the UK’s Home Office. It’s not quite Easyjet’s 50% pay gap, but it’s not far off – and it’s not good enough.

The shipping industry is tough on women. It is very male-dominated, which is entrenched in many parts of the industry. It’s notoriously a ‘boys club’ – sons inherit shipping empires from their fathers and grandfathers; from its founding in 1744, women were not allowed on London’s Baltic Exchange trading floor. It took one pioneering woman in the 1960s, Inge Mitchell, to be ‘allowed’ in, and even then, they only let her in through the kitchen. She is now in her 90s, and still working hard to promote the maritime industry as one of the first female faces of shipping, and was recently named Woman of the Year by the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA).

For many years, women have only made up 2% of the general seafaring workforce. Of 6,500 engine officers at sea, only 1% are female. Last year it was reported that a massive 50% of female seafarers said sexual harassment on board ships is ‘an issue’, and 40% of female seafarers do not have access to sanitary bins onboard ships. The industry has a responsibility to take these issues very seriously indeed.

Things are not all bad. WISTA have over 3,000 members worldwide, a network of women in shipping, where they have events and conferences where, importantly, women and men are welcomed. In early 2018, a new ‘Women in Maritime taskforce’ was launched by Maritime UK to address fairness, equality and inclusion in maritime. The new maritime minister, Nusrat Ghani, has championed the initiative.

The great imbalance within shipping has got to change, and that means at all levels, from deck cadets to the boardroom. Looking at the shore-based women in shipping, less than 20% progress to executive boardrooms. The Maritime HR Association, which collates and analyses shipping salary data and is dedicated to revealing the shipping pay gap, found that 0.17% of the women studied were on executive leadership teams.

Geography plays a part in equality for women in shipping, just like any other industry. In every country recorded, women on average earn less than men. Women make up just 25% of the shipping workforce in the Middle East, Africa and India. In Eastern Europe however, more women are employed than men, but mostly across support functions, so are paid less.

If all this is sounding depressing, it is, but finally, people are sitting up to take notice. In the US, nearly 20% of director-level positions are now filled by women. In the UK, the new pay gap legislation means that large companies – which a lot of shipping companies qualify as – have to publish their pay gap data. Transparency is coming. Every year, the Maritime HR Association gathers salary data so will be able to compare year-on-year. While they don’t publish raw data – the association is a membership body and their salary data is classified – the data is presented in aggregated percentiles which can still give a true sense of where discrepancies lie. Gender data wasn’t even reported on until a couple of years ago, but now it is an essential part of what the Maritime HR Association communicates. Spinnaker Global, the shipping recruitment and HR consultancy that oversees the Maritime HR Association, is a champion for gender diversity within shipping, and is proud to have a 50% female board.

So how else can things change? The maritime industry, although massive is often ignored. There is poor visibility in schools about maritime careers. Great effort has been made so young girls are encouraged into STEM subjects now, so hopefully what will follow suit is telling young women that they can grow up to be master mariners, naval architects, maritime lawyers, and CEOs. There are organisations who are going into schools and colleges and talking about maritime as an exciting career option. And for the wider world, shipping needs positive press. We only ever see the industry in the news when there’s been a disaster. Hopefully, the Women in Maritime Taskforce set up in the UK, which includes government representation, can give the industry better positive visibility. As Lilian Greenwood MP said, “A plan to tackle gender inequality isn’t just ‘nice to have’, it’s essential, because right now our maritime sector is missing out on the skills and talents of outstanding women.”