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More inclusivity in the maritime industry

More inclusivity in the maritime industry
March 11, 2020

March 8 was International Women’s Day, so I would like to recognize the women who shine in the firmament of the maritime world.

In April 1978, Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz of Poland became the first female sailor of the world to have single-handedly circumnavigated the earth, after completing her voyage in 401 days without interruption.

Later that same year, Naomi James of New Zealand became the first woman to sail solo around the world via Cape Horn within 272 days, breaking the earlier record held by Sir Francis Charles Chichester by two days.

In 1988, Australian sailor Kay Cottee completed a single-handed, non-stop voyage around the world in 189 days.

These women’s amazing feats put them on a par with their precursors, Grace O’Malley of 16th century Ireland, considered one of the best female sailors in the world; and Skipper Thuridur of Iceland, one of the world’s earliest woman sailors who braved the treacherous North Atlantic sea, and became one of the prominent figures in Icelandic history.

There have been many others like them over the years, women who have broken the mold, pursued their hearts’ desires, and in the process contributed immensely to women’s advancement in various fields, including the maritime industry.

And yet, ships remain a male-dominated working environment. Available data show that women represent only two percent of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers.

Key players in the maritime industry have taken measures to address this imbalance which I am pleased to reiterate and share with you. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has established two senior level executive panels to look into issues relating to diversity.

One panel identifies ways in which we can encourage the best talent to join our industry irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation. ICS Secretary-General Guy Platten asserted that the “industry needs to attract the very best talent and we must use all means to encourage a more diverse workforce.”

The other panel is looking into broader issues affecting diversity such as age, health, religion, culture, and nationality, among others. Such diversity in the workplace puts together people of varying backgrounds, cultures, races, insights, and beliefs, resulting in diverse and global perspectives.

The panels are reviewing the findings of a study of responses on diversity from many shipping companies, believed to be the first broad-based study of its kind. The findings will be shared later this year.

ICS is also starting to put together guidance for shipping companies on a number of these areas, the most recent being on how to tackle age discrimination. In addition, the ICS and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have joined forces to embrace diversity and empower women in shipping.

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has remarked that “gender equality has been recognized as one of the key platforms on which people can build a sustainable future…Diversity is better; it’s better for teamwork, better for leadership–and better for commercial performance. The maritime world is changing. And for the better … And a new generation of strong and talented women are responding. They are proving that in today’s world the maritime industries are for everyone. It’s not about your gender, it’s about what you can do”

Shipping needs diversity in the workforce to ensure sustainability. It is time to recognize the truth of Nancy Rathburn’s statement, that “gifts such as logic, decisiveness, and strength are just as feminine as intuition and emotional connection.”

The Women in Maritime program will continue to endorse and strengthen the empowerment of women in the industry through gender-specific fellowships, access to high-level technical training, and the creation of a supportive environment conducive to career growth in maritime administrations, ports and maritime training institutes.

The good news from the most recent ICS, BIMCO Manpower Report is that there is an expected rise in the number of women seafarers in the coming years. Right now, of the 16,500 women seafarers, most are in the process of training to be officers.

Indeed, the future looks bright, for women in maritime, and consequently for the maritime industry. We look forward to having more women with us, women who echo the words of Louisa May Alcott in Little Women: “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”