Empowering women in the maritime sector


Over the years, the representation of women in leadership roles has drastically increased. A report released last year stated that in 2019, the proportion of women in senior management roles globally grew to 29%. The figures remained the same in 2020. The report also stated that 87 % of global mid-market companies have at least one woman in a senior management role in 2020. However, this number significantly drops when it comes to the maritime sector. Women make up a mere 2% of the world’s maritime workforce that includes 1.2 million seafarers. 

Held on October 7, 2020, ShipTek Webinar - “Integrating Women In Leadership Amid Challenging Times” in collaboration with Marasi News and AWIMA, highlighted concerning issues about women working in the maritime sector. 

Moderated by Nima Roy, Project Manager, V.Group, the virtual event featured accomplished panellists from a range of sectors within the maritime industry. Part of the panel were H.E. Eng. Hessa Al Malek, Executive Director, Maritime Sector, Federal Transport Authority - Land & Marine UAE; Jasmin Fichte, Managing Partner, Fichte & Co.; June Manoharan, Managing Director, Lukoil Marine Lubricants DMCC; Capt. Sahar Rasti, CEO, SRJ Group; Nicola Good, Head of Brand & External Relations, Marine & Offshore, Lloyd’s Register; Noura Al Shamsi, Head of Community Engagement, AASTS; Delilah Rodrigues, Content Editor, Tactics Media and Marasi News. 

Women in leadership roles

The webinar highlighted various key points ranging from each panellist’s journey in the industry to the role of the media and local and international efforts to promote gender diversity in the sector. 

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), when an organisation's executives are at least 30% female, it leads to 15% gains in profitability and can be an advantage to recruiting and retention. This is why having more women in leadership roles is essential. Commenting on organizations that encourage women leaders H.E. Eng. Hessa Al Malek remarked, “Just like in families, where women play a crucial role. I think it works similarly when it comes to businesses. Organisations with women leaders definitely fare better, as the women use their innate abilities to come up with the best solutions that have minimal risks, great budgets and outstanding returns.” 

“I believe that female influence can definitely benefit companies. Women display emotional intelligence, it is natural to us. We are also more open to suggestions and this helps greatly,” said Jasmin Fichte.

Efforts to promote women empowerment

Local governments and countries around the world are putting in much effort to ensure equality between working men and women. The UAE has made notable efforts to promote gender equality. Sheikha Fatima, the Mother of the Nation, launched Emirati Women’s Day in 2015 so that the role of women in the county was highlighted. Another move to further equality was ensuring half of its 40 Federal National Council members were women after a decree by President Sheikh Khalifa. In September, this year, a new UAE law ensuring equal pay for men and women in the private sector came into operation. The trickle effect of such initiatives will also prove beneficial for the maritime sector.

Noura Al Shamsi elaborated, “We all agree that maritime has always been a male-dominated sector. In our university, we are trying from the beginning to educate our students that this is not a male-dominated sector. Women can be a part of it. I have been a part of it for a long time too. Things are changing lately, but we still need to spread awareness. Though I must say that UAE as a country is doing its bit to ensure men and women receive equal visibility in all sectors,” 

Educating young men and women about jobs in the sector is essential. The local community has a lot to do concerning this issue. Nicola Good said, “The local community has a huge role to play. It is all about building awareness about the maritime community. People aren’t aware of the fact that the existence of the maritime sector. They are unaware of what we do as an industry. This prevents us from getting people engaged in the industry from an early age and that’s critical.” 

Various organisations like the IMO are also taking the necessary steps to promote women in the workforce. Delilah Rodrigues said, “When an agency of grabbing more eyeballs. Additionally, organisations like AWIMA and WISTA also have a crucial role to play in terms of spreading the word about the maritime. They are great platforms that recognise, identify and collectively overcome the common challenges that women face as professionals, while also inspiring the younger lot who aspire to be a part of the maritime sector.” 

Overcoming challenges 

Every industry fair share of roadblocks, the maritime sector is no different. However, when it comes to women in this segment, they do have a larger chunk of issues to deal with, right from sanitation facilities onboard to maternity leaves. 

Capt. Sahar Rasti revealed, “Being the first female captain in the UAE was challenging. I will agree that there were sanitation issues, so much so that there were no toilets for women. Additionally, communication with the male members of the team was also a problem. But all this didn’t discourage me, I continued my work and learnt how to deal with these problems. My friends in the industry and my family have been my supports systems throughout my journey.” 

“When I was junior, getting a lawyer to take me on board a ship for witness statements, they wouldn’t want to take a woman. They would take the male colleague. Although, I was much more qualified. I think women refrain from standing up for themselves and chasing opportunities. They should not wait for their supervisors to recognize their hard work,” adds Jasmin Fichte.

“The industry has come a long way as compared to when I joined almost three decades ago. But there isn’t enough being done. In my career no doubt I have had numerous ups and downs, but they have added significant value to my journey. When I joined there wasn’t a single woman leader in the top management. Today, we are living in an advanced world, hence we as women should not become complacent, we must grab every opportunity that comes our way. My advice to the younger aspiring women professionals will be to always believe in yourself and be positive and everything will be possible,” exclaims June Manoharan. 

Media and gender diversity

The media plays a significant role in our lives. It is a powerful tool with an immeasurable reach. Despite this, there is a huge gap when it comes to the representation of women in the media. Gender stereotyping and preconceived gender roles are preventing the creation of a gender-diverse society. 

Delilah Rodrigues said, “The media has a huge role to play in spreading awareness about women who are doing a great deal of work in the maritime segment. We at Marasi News have an entire section dedicated to women in the industry. We highlight all aspects, right from their achievements to the challenges they face. I think it’s time for more media houses and publications to embrace the fact that there are accomplished women in the maritime sector and their roles are not limited to conventional fields.”