27 May 2023
By Simon Doran, HullWiper MD
In a previous blog, I shared stories of some of the remarkable women in the shipping industry. But there are many more, and as last week marked the IMO’s International Day for Women in Maritime, we’re continuing to celebrate their growing power and influence in the sector, because International Day for Women in Shipping is for me an every day. Earlier this month I was invited to attend the GEF-IMO-UNDP GloFouling Partnerships Project, Arab Women in Maritime - Biofouling Management Workshop. As the only man present it was an honor to be invited to attend and speak, it was also thought provoking to experience the role reversal, and inspiring to listen to the discussions, I came away a lot more enlightened.
This time, we are putting three more stars - Sanjam Gupta, Executive Board Member of Sitara Shipping; Nazli Selek, Senior Partner at NSN Law in Turkey; and Rania Tadros, Office Managing Partner at Stephenson Harwood Middle East in Dubai– in the spotlight and sharing their insights into the evolving landscape and the challenges women still face in our industry.
Breaking maritime boundaries
Sanjam acknowledges that bias persists that question women's capability to sail on ships or hold leadership position, while stressing the importance of setting gender diversity goals to achieve a more balanced ratio and advocating for gender equality: "Promoting equal opportunities, diversity and inclusivity within the industry is significant to create a fair and competitive environment."
Nazli reflects on the transformation she has witnessed during her 27 years in maritime law. Though gender discrimination was never a personal hurdle, when she first started, women seafarers were rare, a novelty even, and their presence was met with surprise. But there has been a remarkable increase in women's power and influence, both onshore and on board since she became involved with WISTA in 2009.
"Advances in technology, improved education and reduced biases have empowered women to demonstrate their skills and abilities," she says Selek. “Pioneers have already paved the way, but it is important to continue to drive to further boost female presence and visibility in the industry.”
Rania recognises that diversity and inclusion have a profound impact on industry and better reflects society by bringing a broader range of perspectives to the table. Qualities traditionally considered to be female strengths such as multitasking and problem-solving capabilities can be valuable assets in a sector that necessitates handling multiple tasks simultaneously.
“The presence of women fosters creativity and adds vibrancy to the working environment, which can benefit the mental health of seafarers,” she adds.
Women at the helm
More and more women are rising to leadership positions in the shipping industry. Inspiring figures who have demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities include Sadan Kaptanoglu, the first woman to be elected as President of BIMCO; Ann Fenech, Head of the Marine Litigation Department at Fenech & Fenech Advocates; and Dorothea Ioannou, Chief Executive Officer – The American P&I Club.
"Their integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the industry as a whole contribute to their success. They actively support and promote other women within the industry, acting as role models and educating others on issues like 'unconscious bias',” says Rania. “"The significance of work-life balance needs to be recognized by companies to accommodate the needs of all parents, regardless of gender, to avoid amplifying stereotypes."
Despite progress made, there is still work to be done to achieve gender equality.
Sanjam believes that setting goals for achieving a gender ratio closer to 50-50 is crucial. She highlights the significance of promoting gender equality as a business case to ensure equal opportunities and a more inclusive environment for all, citing a key takeaway from her recent participation in the Arab Women in Maritime – Biofouling Management workshop: "It is important to celebrate the successes of women in biofouling management and promote their visibility as role models. I was impressed by the skills, expertise, and experience of the Arab women I met. Cultural approaches should be respected when developing policies for gender diversity and inclusivity and should be taken into account when developing standard international approaches regarding diversity, presence, and visibility."
Embrace the journey
"I believe working in the shipping industry should come from the heart," says Nazli. "When you love it, you can never leave it."
She encourages women to work in this field due to its unique nature, enabling people to connect with the world and meet people and cultures from all over the industry: "It is a world that develops a person's vision, acceptance, and tolerance. Develop your self-confidence and raise awareness with your male colleagues, who may have no idea what issues women face."
Rania encourages women to have fun, embrace challenges, and remain authentic: “Arm yourself with knowledge and have a thirst and eagerness to constantly learn about the industry.
"Be willing to try something new, embrace challenges and adventure," adds Sanjam. " I have had some incredible opportunities that often put me beyond my comfort zone, but it always helped me grow as a maritime professional. By being willing to try something new, you will end up somewhere unexpected but exactly where you should be."
The insights and experiences shared by Nazli, Rania and Sanjam underline the ongoing need for increased visibility, gender diversity goals, and equal opportunities within the industry. By promoting inclusivity and embracing challenges, women can thrive and become a true power in the shipping industry.