Women in the Maritime Industry: ‘There is still a long way to go’


By Kathryn Hansbro

Marasi News Exclusive Editorial

Being addressed as a young boy by the chief engineer when she was part of a group of apprentices on-board a ship in 1993 and being too afraid to speak out and say she wasn’t a boy is something that Cecilia Österman, PhD Senior Lecturer in Maritime Science, Linnaeus University cannot forget.

She acknowledges that things have come a long way since then but that there is still room for improvement. She was talking at a recent Women in Maritime webinar with the theme ‘The Shipping Agenda and the Mechanisms for Change’, which saw experts come together from various sectors of the industry to give their views on how to readdress the gender balance in the maritime industry. The webinar heard that the global percentage of women in the maritime industry of the world’s 1.3 million seafarers was just 2 per cent.

Moderator Nicola Good, Head of Brand and External Relations for Marine and Offshore, Lloyd’s Register, said that diversity was a key topic not only for the maritime industry but across all industries and it was close to her heart. 

She said: “Career interruptions and caring responsibilities can hinder professional progression. There is no shortage of able women but they are not in the right place at the right time when opportunities emerge. While things are evolving, male-dominated networks remain a feature.”

She added the maritime industry should better “harness the talents of half of the population.”

Österman added that she was a little upset that “we are still having this conversation in 2020 and there is still work to be done but we are getting there.”

Real power and influence

Lois K. Zabrocky, President & Chief Executive Officer, International Seaways, said she sailed as a third mate on a chemical tanker in the early 1990s and was “definitely the only woman on-board.”

She said progress had been made in the past three decades and “although it was never quick enough the industry had made massive strides. You now see companies hustling to make themselves diverse.”

Österman made the point that gender equality is not a numbers game but more a question of women having real power and influence.

Christa Volpicelli, Managing Director, Global Transportation Group, Citi said that throughout her career at Citi she never felt she had suffered because she was a woman and that was “fantastic.”

Caroline Yang CEO, Hong Lam Marine Pte Ltd and President of the Singapore Shipping Association said that she was the first female president of the shipping association and that women were now taking leading roles in the industry in her country, which wasn’t the case 30 years ago.

She said: “I have seen greater participation of women in the sector – but don’t see equal participation – maritime has also been seen as men’s business until very recently.”

Dora Mace-Kokota Partner, Stephenson Harwood: “The story is slightly different in the legal profession as you do see a lot of women entering the profession but as you go through the ranks you see fewer women holding senior positions.”

Volpicelli said: “As leaders of organisations we should continue to call for transparency and effect change to see more women in senior management roles.”

Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou co-CEO, Tototheo Maritime; President, WISTA International said: “I grew up in the shipping industry and am fortunate not to have encountered the problems we’re hearing. I feel we’ve made leaps but there is still a very long way to go.”

Good added 2020 was proving to be a landmark year in everyone’s lives with the best-laid plans being reconsidered and that it was time to look at what virtual ways of working could mean for women in the marine and the offshore industry.

Remote working and multitasking

Regarding working from home it was agreed that women could perform effectively while also multitasking.

Zabrocky said: “We do have a strong contingent of women across financial planning. Everything is done and executed on time via multitasking. In this time the team has come together.”

Yang said: “COVID-19 has put to rest the myth that working from home is not possible – it does not affect productivity. Women should be allowed to choose part-time or full-time work. We need to be realistic and give up one role to be fulfilled in another. We need to learn from men about networking and being in the right place at the right time.”

Volpicelli said: “We have seen changes as a result of the new normal and the embracing of new digital tools, and have seen a shift with companies providing more flexibility. At Citigroup, we try to be respectful of every situation – these are unprecedented times and they create very personal stresses.”

It was agreed that mentoring was important and more women at senior management level needed to be role models. Success will breed success. Job advertising needs to appeal to all, and to build an image of the modern, innovative workplace that shipping strives to be, so the industry can attract the best talents of the next generation.