The IMO’s decision to dedicate 25 June, this year’s International Day of the Seafarer, to gender equality is indicative of a gradual cultural shift in the sector towards being more visibly inclusive.
Given that shipping is in the middle of a huge transition due to emissions regulation and increasing digitalisation and has been talking about skills gap for quite a few years, I feel that efforts to be more inclusive are long overdue. This transition is already challenging and will undoubtedly be more so if we miss out on input from half the population, who bring new ways of problem solving to the table.
This view is shared by IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim who said, “To everyone in shipping – you are missing out on a huge talent pool if you don’t recognise and empower women in the workplace.” Accordingly, the IMO has created a campaign entitled ‘I Am On Board’ (#IamOnBoard) to encourage everyone (of all genders) in the maritime world to show their support and solidarity for gender equality in seafaring.
The IMO is urging seafarers, shipping companies, and individuals of all genders to answer the question, “What would you do if you were able to make just one change to achieve gender equality in seafaring?” using a virtual wall.
As a woman working in the maritime industry for the last 15 years, my view is that there need to be more women visible and empowered in management roles because this is the most effective way to bring about organic cultural change. When you have a multiplicity of voices creating the rules, there is more opportunity to reshape an established narrative and avoid subconscious bias.
An obvious example of unconscious bias, highlighted by an International Seafarers’ Welfare Assistance Network (ISWAN) study, is a lack of easy access to sanitary products when at sea and waste bins in merchant vessel bathrooms, thereby making a harsh working environment even more difficult.
I encourage Safety at Sea readers to engage with the IMO campaign and share your views. Read up about the experiences of women at sea such as Electro Technical Officer Amreen Bano who was told repeatedly that her gender ensured that she would struggle to find work.
More importantly, make sure that you add women seafarers to your social media feeds so that you engage with the issue for longer than a day. The IMO recommends Pilot Elizabeth Marami, the first female pilot in Kenya; Captain Kate McCue, the first woman in the United States to captain a cruise ship; and Captain Wendy Williams, the first Canadian female to captain a cruise ship. However, there are others including Sierra Oscar, Sarah Spence, Rachel May and more.