Beating a breast for women in shipping

Shipping is not the only industry that would benefit from more women at the top.

It’s that time again when the great and good in maritime head to Oslo for Nor-Shipping 2017. This biennial event celebrates innovation and progress within the industry – five halls full of nearly 1,000 exhibitors dazzling us all with a smorgasbord of product and service offerings – and a veritable feast of networking, debate and social activity indulging every conceivable shipping whim.

As with all such events, something will stand out. For some of us who attended Nor-Shipping 2015 that moment came with the ‘Nipplegate scandal’ – the furore that followed after a shiprepair yard from Fredrikshavn enlisted the help of a troop of bodypainted topless beauties to rove the halls and promote its wares.

Jaws dropped everywhere – some probably for the most primal reasons known to humankind – but others because they couldn’t quite believe that in this day and age the female form could be used for such a purpose, when women seek to build legitimate careers within the industry based on their skill, experience and talent.

While the yard cited ‘art’ and good way of generating publicity in defence of its actions – to be fair the stunt got people talking and the yard had been using this tactic for many years – twitter was ablaze with fury. Many felt that such a tactic undermined the contribution of women to shipping, and the organisers of Nor-Shipping had to respond. Such activities would be banned from 2017, they said.

The day of reckoning is almost on us. There is no doubt that Nor-Shipping director Birgit Liodden has done her best to ensure that such practices are booted into the past. Furthermore, a good helping of diversity and lashings of insight into the role of women in the industry from Wista are also on the menu for this year’s event.

Such lavish attention is naturally welcome to those of us that sport the double X chromosome – as well as for those male peers who firmly believe that women have earned an equal right to a place at shipping’s top table.

However, it is worth noting that for some, the concept of ‘women in shipping’ is a bit difficult to swallow. There are many female power players in the industry but a number of them prefer to retain a low profile. They have risen up the ranks through sheer hard work while juggling domestic responsibilities, raising families and navigating the obstacles that would thwart their progress. They want to be recognised because they excel at what they do. For them, the fact they are female is irrelevant to their success.

No-one should seek to create unnecessary hurdles for any professional – man or woman – determined to build a stellar career in any industry. The clubby culture that pervades within some sectors of shipping – you know who they are – can effectively lock women out and it is unacceptable. It has to go and all of us must work to see its demise.

Women will take career breaks to have children and motherhood should not mean that they are ‘mummy tracked’. They should be fully supported in this transition with their career advancement unrestricted, but this requires reciprocity and reliability. Ladies, you can’t play the ‘kiddy card’ every single time there is a major work problem and a team has to pull muster after hours. Unexpected crises aside, you must make sure you have proper childcare in place – yes, I know it’s cripplingly expensive – as well as a strong support network. This will enable you to focus on those professional responsibilities to which you have contractually agreed.

Shipping is not the only industry that would benefit from more women at the top. One can look to quotas or such the like to address the imbalance but the bottomline is that no-one with the desire and ability to achieve something should be denied the opportunity or held back on the basis of their sex. But that said, success doesn’t have a gender bias either.