Sangeeta Sharma, a Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) veteran of 32 years, has been picked by the government headhunter Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB), to run the State-run ocean carrier’s liner and passenger services unit, as more women break the glass ceiling to occupy leadership roles in an industry traditionally dominated by men.
Sangeeta, currently a Senior Vice-President (Tanker Commercial – Product), told BusinessLine that she “never” faced any gender discrimination since joining India’s biggest ocean carrier in 1985. To be sure, the PESB recommendation will have to be ratified by the Shipping Ministry, which controls the Shipping Corporation, but her elevation as Director means that the Mumbai-based firm’s board will soon have two women out of six functional directors.
Change in attitude
HK Joshi, who is the Director (Finance) at the firm, is also holding the additional charge of Director (Personnel and Administration).
“There is a lack of awareness (among women) on shipping as a career,” says Sanjam Sahi Gupta, Director at Sitara Shipping Ltd and Astral Freight Forwarders Ltd. “Shipping being male dominated like several other professions, the percentage of women in management level is very small. While there are plenty of women in the lower positions, somehow there is a barrier and very few women rise to leadership positions. There is a glass ceiling that holds them back from reaching there. While there is a bias, there is a marked change of late,” Sanjam says.
“We need to encourage people to look for the right ‘person’ for the job rather than the right ‘man’ for the job,” quips Sanjam.
There are specific challenges facing female seafarers. “Young cadets approach me very often with help as they are not getting placed despite their male classmates being placed. Unfortunately, there is a bias towards female cadets on safety issues. Several companies have a ‘no female cadet policy’ to protect themselves from claims in case of harassment,” Sanjam says.
Apart from running the non-vessel operating common carrier business in India and the Middle East region for her companies, Sanjam will have an opportunity to change this “perception” in her new role.
‘Exceptions’ at home
In June, Sanjam became the first Indian woman to be nominated to the executive board of the Sweden-based World Maritime University for a two-year term by Kitack Lim, the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Top lawyer Neeru Chadha was elected as a judge in June on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) for a nine-year term beginning 2017. She is the first Indian woman judge to be elected to Hamburg-based ITLOS (and only the second in its two-decade existence), a dispute settlement mechanism set up under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Closer home, there are a few more “exceptions”.
Malini V Shankar, an Indian Administrative Services officer of the Maharashtra cadre heads the Directorate General of Shipping, the country’s maritime administration.
Vinita Venkatesh runs the container terminal business of Krishnapatnam Port, a private port built and run by CVR group in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh.
Poroma Rebello is a Director (Commercial) at India Infrastructure and Logistics Pvt Ltd, a container rain operating firm run by Singapore’s APL.