Sanaz Taransari, commercial manager at Seaport International Shipping (SIS), is a leading light in the battle for women to gain increased representation in regional shipping.
As a leading player in the industry, Seaport supports a full range of logistic services and support to the offshore oil and gas industry, while ensuring that applicable codes, guidelines, and standards recommended by the International Maritime Organization, flag states, classification societies, and other marine industry organisations are duly addressed.
“Most of our vessels operate in the waters around the Gulf and a large portion of our fleet is on long-term contracts with leading oil companies. We strongly believe that the offshore support vessel market will remain strong in the medium- to long-term providing abundant opportunities for players such as SIS,” she told IHS Markit.
Asked who she credited for her start in shipping, Taransari does not have to look far. “My father is the one that opened the door for me but not so easily. I was always exposed to the industry through him, as it is his passion and life’s work. I sat through many business dinners with him, listened to his phone calls, and visited [his] office. However, it was not until much later that my interest peaked and I decided to pursue a career in the shipping industry.
“I started out working in banking and it was something that I thought I would be very passionate about. However, four years in, I realised my heart was just not in it and I lost interest. Around the same time, I decided to do an MBA instead of a CFA and I approached my father about joining the business. He was apprehensive at first and wasn’t sure I would like the industry and didn’t really think I was serious. After some time, I managed to convince him, and I joined the company.
“It is a common misconception that when you work with family, you don’t ‘really’ work. The reality is [very] different. For any company to successfully grow and prosper, all hands must be on deck. My father is the type of [manager] that throws a person in at the deep end and waits to see if they can swim. I was no exception. Although I didn’t really appreciate this at time, I’m glad he did it,” she said.
“This forced me to work hard to build my expertise and skills to get me where I am today. Of course, it was very challenging at first. I was in a new industry, but I quickly adapted and every day brought a new challenge and subsequently a new learning experience. Naturally there were many ups and downs and it was a steep learning curve, but nothing worthwhile comes easy.
“Along the way, there have been many people who have been very supportive. One of those people is Fazel Fazelbhoy, managing director of [Dubai-based] Synergy Offshore. He is someone I’ve always been able to call on for advice and guidance. Every time we speak, I learn something new. It is very important to have mentors,” she said.
Taransari believes determined women can overcome the challenges they face in shipping. “If you are ambitious enough, nothing will stand in your way. I believe that our gender shapes us but it should not be what identifies us. We hear more about women working in industries like finance, construction and mining, but not so much in shipping.
“The shipping industry, and particularly the offshore sector, have always been more of a closed-door industry, dominated predominantly by older men. This doesn’t mean that women are not welcome. I think the lack of women in shipping has more to do with them not knowing enough about it to become interested in it, and not being aware of the career opportunities it has to offer.
“As individuals we should actively seek out opportunities and not be constrained by misperceptions. Recently I have been encouraged to see more women working in the offshore industry and carving out careers for themselves,” she added.
“There have been situations in which I have felt people have been hesitant to work with me. I have to wonder is it because I’m a woman, I’m young, or simply because they didn’t like my approach or idea, as is normal in business where you will always win and lose. It’s hard to say. I choose to be positive and work on bettering myself each day. Women do not have to behave different to men to succeed. When you work hard, are professional, and at the top of your game and present well, you will always be taken seriously, no matter who you are.”
She said expecting overnight progress for women at the management level in the region is unlikely. “I don’t think we should expect the industry to change. You can’t expect to be spoon-fed. If you want to win a race, the finish line won’t come to you. Anyone ambitious enough can grow in this or any other industry, and you can help by opening the door for other likeminded individuals. My own father did not make it easy for me to join the business and he didn’t think I’d stay.
“I had to prove myself by not giving up, working hard and accepting the challenges that were presented to me. I did this because I wanted to succeed in this industry. Sometimes I hear women saying that they decided to join a company or accept a role only because they were told that they couldn’t and they wanted to prove a point. I think a challenge should be accepted if there is genuine interest and only then will a person grow and make a difference.”