Bridging shipping’s gender pay gap

Teresa Peacock from Spinnaker on steps companies can take to ensure a more equal workforce.

Shipping has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, particularly at sea, with 98% of UK maritime jobs still held by men. The job market, and the scope and variety of maritime roles, has changed significantly with new types of roles constantly emerging that need to be filled and which should be seen as no more appropriate to men than to women.

Bringing more women into any industry is beneficial for business and society. The rise of female-focussed organisations within shipping – such as WISTA – and the launch of the International Day for Women in Maritime by the International Maritime Organization has done great work to attract and support women in the maritime industry. However, there is more to be done by companies to close not just the shipping gender gap, but to address the salary chasm that currently exists between men and women working in maritime.

The pandemic has negatively impacted the gender pay gap across every industry

Since April 6 2017, UK employers with more than 250 employees have been required by law to report annually on the gender pay gap on their own website and to the UK government. The Maritime HR Association, run by Spinnaker, collects pay gap data for the maritime industry as part of its annual compensation survey. Whilst the pay gap has generally been slowly decreasing year-on-year (except for 2020 when a small increase was reported), it remains at approximately 40% within the shipping industry, compared to the average UK national pay gap of approximately 10%. Spinnaker’s 2021 salary data for over 3,300 UK shore-based employees also reveals a decline in the proportion of women in the industry since the start of the pandemic. This is after a steady, year-on-year rise prior to the outbreak of covid. The pandemic has negatively impacted the gender pay gap across every industry, but the knock-on effect of declining numbers of women for gender diversity within shipping highlights how the maritime industry cannot rest on its laurels and expect gender equality to happen without a concerted effort.

Challenging the status quo is never easy and bridging shipping’s gender gap will require work from organisations across the industry. It can be hard to know where to begin, but there are actions that the maritime industry can take to attract, recruit, and retain women and minimise the pay gap.

One step is challenging automatic assumptions about which jobs in shipping require a seafaring background. This is a longstanding debate of course – but put simply, there are lots of employers who run very successful businesses and operations departments with plenty of non-seafarers in roles in which other employers argue seafaring backgrounds are essential.

Another recommendation is hosting recruitment drives that specifically target women. The battle for talent is especially tough for all industries now, so attracting new recruits from all spheres is important. Companies looking to bring more females into the fold should look at using gender neutral language in job adverts, advertise diversity and inclusion as a part of corporate culture and support women’s involvement in maritime networks. This can help demonstrate to the best and brightest that a career in maritime can be exciting, rewarding, and relevant. At Spinnaker, we have run several recruitment projects focused on increasing our clients’ diversity, including some fascinating market research projects aimed at identifying top female talent in shipping. Despite the overall message in this article, there are many more women in influential and technical positions in shipping than when we started in business in 1997.

Improving salary transparency in job adverts by advertising salary bands can also help to close the pay gap, as it removes the need to ask candidates what they’re currently earning and what salary they expect from the new role. Salary history is not an accurate indicator of current market worth and as women are generally paid less across the industry, the practice of asking about current salary perpetuates the pay gap, even if, collectively, more females are brought on board.

Once women are in the workforce, it’s crucial to provide flexible working options and encourage male staff to take their entitlement to shared parental leave. Women often leave the workforce when they start a family, skewing the data and exacerbating the pay gap as younger people are typically paid less. Improving support, providing extra training when women return to the workplace and offering greater part-time work-from-home flexibility can help to keep them in their roles and achieve long-term pay parity with their male counterparts. Balancing maternal and paternal leave can also help ensure women don’t fall behind in tenure and experience, which contributes to the gender pay gap.

Women bring diversity of thought to the maritime industry, essential for tackling both long-standing issues and current concerns such as decarbonisation and digitalisation. Shipping is way behind the curve when it comes to bridging the gender gap and it is time for the industry as a whole – and not just the larger corporate employers – to take decisive action not only to encourage more women to apply for job roles on offer, but to retain that talent and deliver pay equity once they are onboard.


Splash is Asia Shipping Media’s flagship title offering timely, informed and global news from the maritime industry 24/7.


  1. “Bringing more women into any industry is beneficial for business and society”. Who said that? Look at decadent EU.
    Bringing more women at sea will bring more sexual harassment cases to the industry. And Seafarer’s happiness index will drop further down (however 1-2 persons from each crew probably will be happy).

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