26 Apr 2023
Author: Simon Doran, HullWiper MD
More and more, women are making their mark on what was traditionally male-dominated sectors – not least the global maritime industry.
From seafaring roles to executive positions and advocacy, our female colleagues are challenging stereotypes, breaking down barriers and making significant contributions to the industry. And in doing so, they are living examples of the benefits of gender diversity in all areas of maritime and logistics.
But rather than me ‘mansplaining’, let’s hear what some of the women I have the pleasure of working with have to say about where we are now, where we’re heading and what needs to be done to create a more inclusive and equal workplace for all.
From tradition to transformation
Greek-born Liana Kouimtzi, the GAC Group’s Hub Services Assistant Commercial Manager, highlights that despite her country’s strong maritime tradition, there was no national institution for maritime education when she started her career. Shipping companies often prioritised former mariners and masters for operational positions, leaving women at a disadvantage. But things have changed in the past two decades.
Elisabeth Charmley, Executive Director of the Vancouver Maritime Centre for Climate (VMCC), adds that value of inclusivity and cognitive diversity is becoming more widely recognised as more women take on leadership roles, bringing with them a fresh perspective and unique set of skills that benefit everyone. "It's no longer about having a solution, a leader, an employee," she adds. "It's about having the best solution, leader, and employee."
Melamie Malaluan, QA and Administrations Manager at HullWiper Ltd, says women bring specialised expertise and additional attributes to the shipping industry, including out of the box thinking, viewpoints and proficiencies that can drive innovation and progress. She believes that having more women on board creates a positive work environment and brings greater harmony to the industry: “As the industry evolves, women's outlooks and contributions are critical to facilitating change management, improving competitiveness, as well as developing a healthy and cohesive work culture."
Kouimtzi agrees: "Women have become major players, fueling progress and improving market advantage and profitability, and are a valuable resource that contributes to the industry's growth and success. Giving a voice to women on relevant environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues can lead to better governance through a responsible approach."
She highlights the talents and characteristics that women bring to shipping, including organisation, mental flexibility, empathy, emotional intelligence, and effective communication: “Whether by nature or nurture, women are more organised in thought, procedures and follow-up."
Tackling bias with collaboration
However, women in the industry still face challenges. Gender bias and the pay gap have not gone away. Kouimtzi suggests that a holistic approach to worker outcomes and appropriate performance appraisals are necessary to address the issues: "Greater diversity and inclusion can only be achieved when unconscious bias is acknowledged, and steps are taken to avoid it."
Malaluan adds that building collaborative relationships with male colleagues empowers their female counterparts and creates better gender parity and balance.
"The benefits are exponential," says Charmley. "When we have well-informed, vocal individuals around the table, we don't just get a solution, we get the best solution. There are so many great ideas out there, and bringing people with different life narratives around the table to share them helps us advance in an equitable and inclusive way towards the best possible outcomes for everyone.
“By opening the doors to enable access to the workplace, we can stimulate the economy in the near and long term, bringing benefits to everyone. As a woman in a leadership position, I am constantly challenged to think differently and to see the world in a new light. We need to be proactive – it’s crucial for companies to take a more active role in promoting and practicing inclusivity in the workplace.”
One way to support and advocate for the dynamic female presence in shipping is through the Women's International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA), an international networking organization connecting female professionals in the maritime, trading, and logistics sectors.
With a willingness to learn and contribute to something useful, Charmley, Vice President of WISTA Canada West says: “Just showing up and being yourself is enough.” As one of the founders of the UAE chapter of WISTA Kouimtzi urges her female colleagues to stay strong, determined and resilient, and to be team players. Climbing the career ladder may not be easy, but networks like WISTA can help create more opportunities. And by providing women with support and resources to succeed, a more equitable and effective workplace culture can be created for everyone.