Women in shipping – Kirsi Tikka, executive vice president, ABS

Kirsi Tikka. Credit: ABS
Kirsi Tikka. Credit: ABS

Kirsi Tikka may be one of the most senior women in the classification sector, but she is definitely not scared about speaking up on maritime industry issues. In fact, she stressed that there are times when she still has to work harder to get her voice heard.

“For me personally having a strong technical background has been an asset but even today, after so many years in the industry, I get pushed aside and ignored unless somebody introduces me. Nobody assumes that I have anything to contribute unless they know me,” Tikka, ABS’ executive vice-president and senior maritime advisor, told IHS Markit.

“When I was younger I acknowledged that the young men and women had the same challenge of becoming established, but I wonder if that is still the case for the men who have been in this business as long as I have. This is not sour grapes but rather an ambition that I have for the shipping industry to fix a problem, because we don’t want to ignore 50% of the talent out there,” she said.

With a first degree in mechanical engineering and a naval architect by training, Tikka has worked for ABS for more than 17 years. There is no doubting her maritime pedigree given that she started her career at a Finnish shipyard before heading to UC Berkeley for a PhD and before going on to become a professor of naval architecture.

But like many women in the industry, there have been many milestone events in her career where Tikka, a mother of two grown sons, has had to make conscious decisions to balance work and family.

“Even with a very supportive husband, I realise that I have made some career limiting decisions. I don’t regret any of them because my greatest achievement is my family, but I also hope that with the help of technology and changing societal attitudes that the working life of both men and women can accommodate [all our] ambitions, both in terms of home and work,” she told IHS Markit.

A source of frustration for Tikka is the few number of women in technical areas in shipping. She believes the industry’s image is one of the reasons why shipping suffers when it comes to attracting women, as well as others from outside the shipping circle. The fellowship within the industry can at times serve as a barrier to bringing in outside talent.

According to Tikka, her childhood in Finland helped shape her views on gender equality. “I was born and raised in Finland by parents who both worked, which was not unusual in those days. Growing up I had no idea that there would be any question about the different capabilities and opportunities of men and women. I attribute this to a large extent to my parents and grandparents but also to Finnish society and language that does not differentiate between he and she,” she explained.

Tikka believes that the big challenge for working women is having children, which temporarily takes them out of the job market, whether this is due to entitled leave or by physical and emotional needs associated with having children.

“There are courageous women who are able to balance the demands of both family and work and play a meaningful role in a corporate career – not to mention making it somewhere near the top – but it is not easy,” she said.