Advancing the role of women

Challenges remain to increasing the number of women in ports
Challenges remain to increasing the number of women in ports
Encouraging gender diversity needs to be started at the recruitment process
Encouraging gender diversity needs to be started at the recruitment process
Industry Database

The campaign to encourage more women into ports is gathering pace. Felicity Landon reports

It isn’t hard to find statistics to show that the maritime sector has a pretty woeful record in the gender diversity department. But it also isn’t hard to find companies and organisations talking a great deal about how to tackle it — in essence, how to persuade more women to join, stay and progress in the world of ports, shipping and all things maritime.

In its Review of Maritime Transport 2018, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says: “An increasing number of women are entering the shipping industry in all roles, including seafaring and operations, chartering, insurance and law. More women are also enrolling in maritime-related studies.”

This may be due to efforts to advance the role of women in the maritime industry, including through IMO initiatives, says the report. However, it says, challenges remain.

The International Transport and Workers’ Federation  estimates women make up just two per cent of the global maritime workforce. According to data from the Maritime HR Association, run by Spinnaker’s HR Consulting, women who work in the shipping industry are paid on average 45% less than men — and they fill only seven per cent of management positions.

There are some pretty basic challenges. Karen Waltham, managing director of HR Consulting, says that some shipping companies are struggling in targeting female cadets because they don’t (yet) have suitable berths and separate washroom facilities onboard. In one case, the only woman onboard a ship reported that the locks had been removed from her door.

Women taskforce

In September, Maritime UK launched a Women in Maritime Taskforce Charter, an initiative to encourage more women to take up roles in the industry. More than 60 companies across shipping, ports, engineering and naval forces have already signed up.

“We are failing to fully harness the talents of 50% of the population. It doesn’t make sense and there is a dire need to change this,” said ABP’s chief executive, Henrik Pedersen, at the launch. ABP’s workforce is 15% women and it is proactively encouraging more women to apply for jobs, he said. ABP’s focus on diversity is delivering a much stronger company, “with different voices listened to”.

The terminal and ship operating system specialist Navis is taking a pretty comprehensive approach to the issue, with a programme that focuses on stepping up the recruitment of women, supporting and mentoring women in the company, running workshops on awareness and unconscious bias, and promoting more women to the vice president level.

Four Navis women are leading the effort to ‘promote innovation through diversity’ chief people officer Suni Lobo, XVELA vice president Sumitha Sampath, general manager for the Americas Susan Gardner and XVELA director of engineering Olja Dimitrijevic.

At the last count, Navis’s global workforce of 570 had a 78/22 men/women split. While there isn’t a specific target, the aim is to move towards 75/25 as soon as possible, says Ms Lobo.

“What we know is — if you don’t have a strategy and plan, nothing is going to get done. If you are crafting a sales plan, you are always thinking about what do we want to achieve two years from now, and how do we get there. So why would you not approach diversity in the same manner?

“We are very purposeful in what we should achieve. From a leadership team perspective, it is going to be more aggressive. Promotion to the VP ranks in the organisation has been 100% women in the last 18 months.”

She is referring to the promotion of three women to VP roles. What do the men think? “There is a lot of support from men as well — it is the right thing to do,” says Ms Lobo.

Work to do

Ms Sampath says that once Navis started to collect data, it was obvious there was a lot of work to be done on gender inclusivity — “and that is not unusual, given that every company in Silicon Valley is working to make their workforce more inclusive.

“When you talk about gender diversity, there are things you have to do at the front end, recruitment; you want to make sure that the funnel is wide enough that women can come in and work through the process.”

It’s not a case of settings quotas, she says, but: “What is not measured we can’t change, and what is measured, people pay attention to. We have the same aspirations as other tech companies to have more women in the company.”

Further down the line, she is passionate about the need to retain, nurture and grow women who are already in the company.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where numbers are going well on the recruitment side, but we are also losing women, so the net effect is lost.”

Ms Lobo says the focus on promotion is key. “Research has shown – not only in Navis, but also outside – that is where the greatest drop happens. In the first promotion timeframe, that is when women drop off and men get promoted up. So we are focusing specifically on promotion and building pipelines.

“I just promoted a woman in my team. The first thing she said to me was ‘Are you joking?’ and the second thing was ‘Are you sure?’. That is how women often think when you talk to them. They want to be recognised rather than saying out loud that they want to be promoted. There are men who think the same way, but it is more prevalent among women.”

Meaningful conversations

Navis wants its managers to be more proactive in having conversations about development and promotion with both women and men, she says. Meanwhile, it will be rolling out unconscious bias workshops to all its managers in 2019.

Its Women in Navis meetings bring women together to discuss issues and challenges they face, and Navis has embarked on a pilot mentoring programme. “One of the biggest issues that emerged was that women felt they didn’t have access to mentors or sponsors,” says Ms Lobo.

Ms Sampath says this provides benefits both ways – by working with diverse people, the leadership team involved gets a view of the organisation that they wouldn’t necessarily get. Meanwhile the mentee learns and absorbs from the mentor.

“We have ten to 15 people in the Navis executive and leadership team signed up to be mentors. For any inclusion or diversity programme to have any influence, you need that buy-in at the highest level. And there is a very strong commitment and interest to support these programmes.”

Men in general are able to talk about their accomplishments and are not shy of doing it, she says. Women, who can be less comfortable with talking about their skills and capabilities, need to realise that they are doing as good a job as their male colleagues “and many times a better job”, she says. “Women don’t always sit around the table. You will often find them in the back row and I think the confidence aspect is some of that. But they should raise their sights up.”

It’s heartening, she says, to see that many of the terminal operators Navis works with – typically rather male-dominated working environments – are also investing in women in the workforce.

“The industry at large is looking at the issue and working on more inclusive programmes. It is all about recognising the need and explaining and positioning jobs in ways that attract women.”


The maritime industry is gradually waking up to the need for, and the benefits of, a more balanced gender split, says Karen Waltham, managing director of HR Consulting.

“There is an appetite for change, but we have to justify the business case for it,” she says. “An obvious benefit is access to 100% of the talent pool.”

There is a need to eradicate stereotypical feelings and give some thought to the unconscious bias that exists – including in job advertisements, for example, which often feature ‘blokes at work’, or photographs of boardrooms full of men.

The advance of digitalisation is creating new roles, the need for different skill sets, and the opportunity for more flexibility, all of which could attract more women into the maritime sector.

However, it is also about encouraging women and persuading them to have confidence in themselves, says Ms Waltham. It has been shown that most men would be comfortable applying for a position for which they had 75% of the requirements – learning the rest on the job. “It isn’t in women’s nature to do that – so some of the ‘resistance’ is from women. We are saying – have the courage to do it.”


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