Diversity in shipping: a clear path ahead but a long way to go

Heidi Heseltine, the CEO of Halcyon Recruitment and co-founder of the Diversity Study Group, writes exclusively for Splash today.

The pioneering work of the Diversity Study is well underway and I am delighted with the support that we have received so far and the existing membership which continues to grow. As the end of the year comes into sight, it’s a good time to take stock of the many conversations, discussions and debates on diversity and inclusion in our industry that I have been involved in this year.

I have worked in the shipping industry for nearly 30 years, it’s actually in my blood – my grandfather worked for Louis Dreyfus and was a director at Clarksons although sadly passed away long before my career began. I have worked in shipowning, in shipbroking and in technology and loved every job that I have had. Now I am incredibly fortunate to work in the recruitment sector and to have a broad view across the shipping and maritime sectors that I could not have ever envisaged was possible. It is this background that leads me to be so passionate about employee engagement, inclusion and diversity – our people are our biggest assets and they deserve the best environment and working culture we can provide them with and the good thing is, as employers we also get to reap the benefits.

Having been involved with the Diversity Study Group (DSG) for many months now and having spoken with senior management across the shipping industry and from a broad range of sectors within it, I have to admit that my interactions leave me with feelings ranging from exhilaration through to despondency.

The exhilaration comes from speaking and working with inspirational organisations who have taken to heart that people are their biggest asset. These organisations are supportive, encouraging and are working exceptionally hard to ensure they have an open, transparent and inclusive working environment where employees feel valued, able to contribute and safe. It is true that many of these companies are at the beginning of their employee engagement, not to mention their inclusion and diversity journey (and they recognise this) but there is no doubt that for them D&I is as an essential component in their business strategy and, for once, one that doesn’t have to be too costly. It does however have to be driven from the top management with defined objectives, accountability and clear communication in order to succeed.

What is also fantastic to see in our industry, which one has to admit can be staid and old fashioned, is a growing belief that a forward thinking and open minded approach with respect to hiring has to be a pre-requisite. Continual clones of employees past is one aspect being challenged with companies reevaluating their hiring requirements for each and every position, allowing for some lateral thinking in order to encourage the hiring of people of different demographics and working backgrounds in order to develop exceptionally strong and diverse teams throughout the business.

The despondency comes when I experience companies where not only is diversity and inclusion not on the radar, but its value is being dismissed. More than one director of human resources has said to me that they themselves are strong advocates of employee engagement, diversity and inclusion but their CEO/COO/MD/President does not feel it should presently be a priority. I fully appreciate that there are other priorities on the agenda but when you look at the demands placed on our employees, surely we have a duty of care to invest in them and look at ways to enhance their working environment, the teams they work within and to positively encourage creativity and performance? The statistics are clear, when this is done effectively, loyalty and engagement, as well as results and performance improve.

At our Diversity in Shipping event during London International Shipping Week, I asked the audience how many of their employers operated proactive diversity and inclusion programmes – one person out of about 45 raised their hand. At the recent Maritime CEO event in Hong Kong, I asked the same question and roughly half the audience (of about 70 people) raised their hand. However, when asked for examples of what initiatives were in place that were making a real difference you could have heard the proverbial pin drop and, I should point out, these were not just people from the local market in attendance.

This week I presented at CASS business school and I asked the students how many of them would have as a priority finding an employer with an inclusive and diverse working environment and culture. Roughly 50% of them indicated this will be one of their priorities.

Statistics clearly show that our future employees such as millennials and Generation-Z place a huge level of importance on the working environment and if we want to be an attractive proposition as an industry, we could do up with upping our game.

I still feel very strongly that shipping has a fantastic opportunity to make a significant difference and one that can only be for the greater good. Shipping is in a unique position to take advantage – we are, by the very virtue of the work we do, the markets we operate in and the networks that we possess, tapped into a global employee network.

The Diversity Study that we are presently undertaking with our members is the first initiative of its kind to look at diversity and inclusion across the industry. Our members are keen to understand how they measure up and to be able to benchmark themselves against others in the same industry – if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. With customisable elements and the sharing of expert opinion and practical solutions (from both within the industry and from other sectors more advanced than the shipping and maritime communities) this is a unique and pioneering project.

We have kept our timing with this project flexible to allow for its incorporation into the HR strategy and planning for a number of organisations who have requested this from us. Consultancy services are also available through the Diversity Study Group for those organisations wishing to make use of our broad ranging expertise in this area.

Nobody is saying that there are any immediate solutions or overnight successes when it comes to employee engagement, inclusion and diversity – it takes time – but if you don’t start the journey, you will never get to your destination.

Heidi Heseltine

Heidi Heseltine is the CEO of Halcyon Recruitment and co-founder of the Diversity Study Group. Her past career saw her work for shipowners, brokers as well as Levelseas.


  1. When the industry faces some of the biggest existential challenges posed by regulations amongst others, let’s instead focus on pointless and useless distractions like #diversity!


  2. There are also other entrenched issues facing job-seekers such as Age Discrimination or an open mind towards re-training and transferable skills.
    How difficult is it to find an employer who will take on an employee over 50 years, let alone over 60 years?
    How often have I heard from a recruiter that the employer’s brief is what needs to be observed and any other experience is irrelevant?
    Until we can get some of these entrenched views to be moderated then there is little chance for more progressive ideas.

  3. Absolutely agree with Captain Gautam’s comment. The diversity agenda has about as much to do with true diversity as modern-day feminism has to do with the true spirit of the women’s movement. Essentially any industry which has traditionally not been the bastion of “minority groups” will be labelled sexist and averse to cultural change. So the only way to address this, is to ensure that people are forcibly shoe-horned in and employed basis their gender, identity or sexuality, provided they don’t happen to be straight, white or male…

  4. Thank you for a thought-provoking article. Some comments aptly illustrates the point that the author is making; there is still some way to go. The industry does obviously not discriminate towards straight, white males. The industry just needs to adopt a wider perspective in order to meet local, regional and global sustainability goals.

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