Article: Can we get more women into maritime?


Can we get more women into maritime?

Elaine Yu, Chairperson of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers (Singapore) delves into the evolving landscape of the maritime industry, shedding light on strategies to foster inclusivity, the role of education, and the long-term benefits of a diverse workforce.
Can we get more women into maritime?

In an era where diversity and inclusivity are at the forefront of organisational agendas, the maritime industry stands as a beacon of change. Elaine Yu, a seasoned professional and Chairperson of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers (Singapore), shares invaluable insights on the challenges faced by women and their underrepresentation in the maritime industry and opportunities surrounding gender diversity within the maritime sector, otherwise considered a male-dominated industry.

What is the diversity situation in the Maritime industry now as compared to a decade ago, and what has changed?

Regarding gender diversity in the maritime industry, it has historically been male-dominated and continues to be so today. However, the past decade has witnessed a noteworthy increase in awareness regarding the importance of gender diversity in shipping, signalling a positive shift.

While strides have been taken, gender diversity in the shipping sector still encounters challenges, with women's representation in certain roles remaining relatively low.

Taking seafarers as an example, the BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report indicates that women constitute only 1.2% of the global seafarer workforce. Despite this low figure, there is a positive trend, reflecting a 45.8% increase compared to the 2015 report.

Consequently, additional efforts are needed to heighten awareness, promote equal opportunities, and support the professional development of women in the industry.

Simultaneously, it is crucial to broaden the definition of diversity to encompass factors such as age, ethnicity, education, physical ability, and neurodiversity. In essence, establishing an open and tolerant working environment is paramount for attracting and retaining diverse talents at all career stages, not exclusively within the maritime industry. As a working environment becomes more inclusive, diversity naturally flourishes, and the necessity for active resolution diminishes.

What specific roles or positions do you believe are currently underrepresented within the maritime industry, and what factors contribute to this underrepresentation?

According to statistics from the International Labour Organization, women represent a significantly low percentage of the workforce, with a maximum of 2% in the Global Maritime Sector (source: Consequently, it becomes challenging to pinpoint specific positions currently underrepresented within the maritime industry; the underrepresentation appears to be pervasive across various roles. Zooming in on the management level exacerbates the issue.

Based on my observations, female leadership is notably scarce in the maritime industry. Women are seldom found in prominent positions such as Ship Captains, Senior Executives, and Board Members.

Examining the boards of the ten largest container shipping companies globally reveals a distinct gender imbalance. A majority of these companies, as evidenced on their websites under the board of directors section, still predominantly feature male directors. In some cases, certain companies have an entirely male board, providing a stark illustration of the rarity of women leaders within the shipping sector.

One of the significant barriers hindering women from attaining leadership roles is likely linked to persistent gender biases prevalent in many industries, including shipping. Numerous studies have demonstrated that men are often perceived as more competent in leadership, even when possessing equivalent qualifications to their female counterparts. These entrenched perceptions, commonly referred to as gender stereotypes, significantly influence the recruitment and advancement of women in their careers.

Moreover, it is noteworthy that not all shipping companies proactively promote gender diversity within their organisations. A lack of awareness and inadequate education regarding leadership training for potential women leaders contributes to the issue. Consequently, these individuals often face disparities in opportunities while seeking promotions within the company, particularly when leader roles are open. 

What strategies do you believe are the most effective for championing inclusivity and belonging?

 If a company is looking at improving inclusivity and belonging within the organisation, there are certainly many things that can be done.

Firstly, building an inclusive and flexible working culture is crucial.

This can be achieved by reviewing and updating corporate policies related to hiring, promotions, and professional development. Eliminating barriers that disproportionately impact certain groups and creating a level playing field for all employees should be a primary focus.

If we can set criteria to evaluate whether a culture is inclusive or not, I would say it should be about whether staff can always be seen, heard, and recognised.

To evaluate whether a culture is inclusive, a criterion should revolve around whether staff can always be seen, heard, and recognised. However, implementing this benchmark is complex and requires a comprehensive work environment, requiring Leadership Commitment, Recognition Systems, and Feedback Mechanisms.

Starting from the top, leadership commitment is essential for creating a culture of inclusivity. When leaders actively support and champion diversity and inclusion, it sets the tone for the entire organisation. Leaders should communicate the importance of these values, integrate them into the organisational mission, and lead by example.

Once the foundation is established, systems should be in place to recognize and encourage diversity through various channels. Highlighting the achievements of individuals from diverse backgrounds promotes inclusivity and reinforces the organisation's commitment to acknowledging and valuing diversity.

Backing these efforts, the implementation of anonymous reporting mechanisms (for instances of discrimination, harassment, or bias) and regular feedback or assessment (via surveys, focus groups, one-on-one discussions with management, etc.) is crucial. These measures provide employees with a safe and encouraging way to share their concerns and give feedback, refining existing strategies and promoting a culture of accountability that continues to evolve in its commitment to inclusivity.

What role does the Education and Training Committee of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers play in promoting diversity? How can industry stakeholders collaborate to support initiatives aimed at increasing diversity?

Rather than focusing solely on the specific role of ICS education in promoting diversity, it is more appropriate to discuss the broader roles that maritime education plays in fostering diversity within the shipping industry. ICS, as the premier provider of professional maritime education and qualifications globally, takes pride in its contribution to enhancing diversity in this industry.

Through our structured programs, individuals not only enrich their knowledge and skills in various aspects of shipping, trade, and logistics but also contribute to fostering a more diverse workforce.

Our commitment to gender diversity is evident in the inclusive nature of our curriculum. Covering essential aspects of dry bulk and tanker business, ship sales and purchase, port management, shipbroking, and other ship-related areas, our programs aim to attract and support individuals from diverse backgrounds, regardless of gender. We recognize that a solid educational background is essential for professional development, and by providing equal access to quality education, we actively work to reduce barriers to entry for underrepresented groups.

In addition, our education equips potential women leaders with the necessary qualifications for higher positions in their career paths within the shipping industry. By offering comprehensive programs and fostering an environment that encourages diversity, we empower women to pursue leadership roles and contribute significantly to the industry's success.

In essence, the education offered by ICS goes beyond traditional boundaries to create an environment that encourages diversity, supports the maritime industry in building a workforce that reflects the richness of perspectives and experiences, and provides a pathway for women to attain leadership positions in their shipping careers.

In addressing the collaboration of industry stakeholders to support initiatives aimed at increasing diversity, a strategic approach involves prioritizing the elevation of awareness regarding gender diversity and mitigating unconscious bias within the industry. These initiatives can be considered as low-hanging fruits that every stakeholder can readily engage in.

Looking towards long-term goals, educational institutions can play a significant role by offering comprehensive career guidance and mentorship programs specifically designed to support individuals from under-represented groups. These programs assist in navigating the intricacies of the industry and overcoming potential challenges.

 In essence, education catalyzes transformative change in the shipping industry. It functions to foster inclusivity, dismantle barriers, and cultivate a diverse and skilled workforce. Positioned as a foundational element, education is integral in constructing a maritime sector that not only values but actively embraces diversity across all organisational levels.

What do you see as the long-term benefits of a more diverse and inclusive maritime industry, both economically and socially?

Economically, no industry can afford to exclude female employees, as doing so closes the door to 50% of the potential workforce. This exclusion not only hinders industry prosperity but is also impractical, particularly in the context of the low birth rates observed worldwide. An industry that embraces diversity and inclusivity is better equipped to navigate the complexities of the global market.

From a corporate perspective, diverse teams provide a spectrum of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences, fostering creativity and innovation within the maritime sector. An inclusive environment not only attracts a broader talent pool but also allows the industry to leverage diverse skills and talents, retaining top performers and enhancing competitiveness. Incorporating input from individuals with varied backgrounds in decision-making processes leads to more informed and robust choices, particularly crucial in the dynamic maritime environment.

Furthermore, improved diversity and inclusivity can yield various social benefits, including the creation of a sustainable and ecologically conscious work environment, the promotion of equality and fairness, and the provision of equal opportunities for individuals regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or background.

Organisations that prioritise diversity and inclusivity are perceived as socially responsible entities. This positive reputation can enhance relationships with customers, partners, and the public, contributing to a positive industry image.

What would you recommend to prospective candidates who aspire to be part of the maritime sector? How can they flourish in the maritime sector?

The maritime industry stands out as a unique sector with distinctive characteristics that set it apart from various other industries. One notable feature that distinguishes the marine sector is the abundance of offshore job opportunities, a facet not as prevalent in many other industries. The scope of offshore roles within the marine industry is diverse and encompasses a range of crucial positions, each playing a pivotal role in the seamless functioning of maritime operations.

I would wholeheartedly recommend prospective candidates aspiring to join the maritime industry to familiarize themselves with all kinds of jobs within the shipping industry. There is a wide variety of sub-categories within the shipping industry, both onshore and offshore, that they may consider as the start of their career. Obtain the necessary qualifications and equip yourselves well to pave the way for smoother professional development.

Meanwhile, engage in continuous learning and skill development within the industry, both on the job and during off-work time, if possible. Expertise can be obtained through maritime education, internships for hands-on knowledge, joining professional associations to stay updated with the latest cutting-edge technology, and networking with senior professionals in the industry to humbly learn from their experience. I myself actually would be attending the Asia Pacific Maritime (2024) Conference during March 13-15, and join a panel to discuss the topic of ‘Developing a future-ready maritime workforce’. The session aims to explore strategies, educational pathways, and skill development initiatives to meet the technological advancements, sustainability requirements, and shifting industry demands of the ever-evolving maritime sector. I would truly recommend young candidates in this industry to participate in these important shipping conferences for valuable insights and stay abreast of the latest trends and developments in the industry.

Last but not least, a small piece of advice for women candidates: believe in yourself; you are hired for your competence. Don't be gender-biased yourself, and don't quit before giving it a try.

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Topics: Diversity, Strategic HR, Talent Management, #SheMatters, #HRCommunity, #IndustryInsights

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