There are some issues that you just cannot skirt around, and the lack of women in maritime, particularly in senior roles, is one. We all know the numbers are especially sobering when you look at the merchant navy. According to the International Transport Federation, women make up only 2% of the world’s maritime workforce. And while more women are employed in shoreside roles – the estimates vary – scanning the room at any shipping event is a clear indicator of the existence of a female minority.
While there are a myriad of views about the factors that either dissuade women from shipping careers completely or see them turn their back on the sector a few years down the road, the bottom line is that the female shortfall must be addressed. After all, the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has estimated that equalising the role of men and women in the labour market could increase GDP by 10% by 2030.
The good news is that efforts are under way in the UK to tackle the problem. Following the launch of Women in Maritime Taskforce earlier this year – whose mandate is to identify practical steps to increase the number of women in maritime and address fairness, equality and inclusion within the sector – the group has already succeeded in winning firm support from leading UK business to improve equality.
The taskforce is working on a Women in Maritime Charter – based upon shared experience provided by other sectors, such as Women in Finance. As a forerunner to the charter, the group has focussed on a Women in Maritime pledge, with signatories committing to positive change within their organisations and collectively across the UK maritime sector. Just one week after it was launched, 60 companies have already signed up.
According to the chairman of the Women In Maritime Taskforce, Sue Terpilowski, the companies that have committed “show that they are already starting on their journey and commitment to making a positive change in their businesses and building an employment ethos that actively supports gender diversity.
“But this is only the beginning and we would like to see a lot more companies small and large join us by signing the pledge,” she told IHS Markit.
For taskforce member and Royal Fleet Auxiliary chief officer and capability manager Susan Cloggie-Holden, the initial response is equally pleasing. “I believe the industry as well as society are waking up to the fact that women are more than capable of fulfilling roles which historically have been seen as a ‘man job’. Clearly in the maritime sector, we are now working to ensure a cohesive approach to this problem and assist the sector to ‘tap’ this huge largely undiscovered resource of talented individuals within our population.”
And the UK’s efforts are being noticed further afield. “As a women working in this industry, no matter which association I represent, the UK gender pledge initiated by Maritime UK is something I wholehearted support,” said Karin Orsel, CEO of MF Shipping Group and co-chair of the Royal Dutch Shipowners’ Association. “The UK is to my knowledge the first who initiated a gender pay gap analyses and taskforce specific for the Maritime industry. This should be followed up by our industry as a whole.”
The UK and Maritime UK lead by example and the timing for this initiative could not be better, said Orsel, pointing to the EU Platform for Change initiative to promote equal opportunities in the transport sector, the ILO meeting on Recruitment and Retention of Seafarers and the Promotion and Opportunities for Women Seafarers in 2019, as well as the IMO World Maritime Day Theme for 2019; Empowering Women in the Maritime Community.