Driving forward the diversity debate

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

Diversity in shipping: why now? This was the question that we posed during London International Shipping Week (LISW) earlier this month. The number of people that came along to join this debate is a great sign that shipping is moving in the right direction. But although the shipping industry is waking up to the importance of diversity and inclusion, we still have a long way to go before these good intentions are translated into meaningful action.

We founded the Diversity Study Group earlier this year as the first ever membership organisation created to champion diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the shipping industry. Our LISW debate on why the time is now right to embrace diversity and inclusion spanned a wide range of topics, including the importance of timely and meaningful action, the significance of the sector’s current emphasis on gender diversity – but also the risk of overlooking other important measures of diversity – and shipping’s readiness to attract and retain a diverse talent pool.

There was a lot of consensus about the value of diversity and inclusion, but happily it wasn’t just a room full of people agreeing with each other. How can HR professionals benchmark diverse candidates? Why is the industry resistance to so-called non-shipping talent? What changes can be made to the industry’s social dynamics to further diversity and inclusion? All important questions that prompted plenty of debate.

Diversity delivers

First and foremost, the evidence is clear about the importance of diverse leadership teams. According to a 2018 McKinsey survey of over 1,000 companies, those with the most ethnically and culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43% more likely to deliver higher profits.

Just as importantly, it matters a great deal to our younger colleagues within our organisations; the new talent that we all need to recruit and retain. 77% of Generation-Z say that the level of diversity within an organisation would affect their decision to work there. Similarly, in Deloitte’s 2018 Millennial survey, 69% of those who believe their senior management team is diverse also describe their working environment as stimulating and motivating.

What does this tell us? That the message has to come from the top, but that it must permeate through all levels of an organisation’s culture and workforce. It also shows that diversity and inclusion can deliver a meaningful commercial dividend. Shipping is already struggling to attract talent, so it is crucial that our organisations reflect the criteria that matter to Gen-Z and millennial candidates. Without diverse, inclusive working environments, we will struggle even further.
Of course, shipping is far from being an early adopter of diversity and inclusion initiatives. If we had identified and embraced diversity and inclusion sooner, one can only begin to imagine how much more advanced our industry could be.

However, this does give us the advantage of being able to learn lessons from other sectors.

Our panel discussed the progress made by such other professional fields, such as the banking and legal sectors, where well designed D&I policies and programmes have been shown to make a real difference in delivering more diverse leadership teams and organisations. The Diversity Study Group has first-hand expertise of D&I initiatives in other sectors that we can offer our members.

Armed with these insights, shipping organisations can take significant strides in improving their D&I performance and unlocking the benefits that can follow; a workplace that is fit for the future and that attracts the best talent, that fosters collaboration and innovation, and that enables all colleagues to be the very best that they can be.

Good intentions are not enough

One of the recurring themes of our debate was not whether or not diversity matters, but what the next step is for organisations that want to do better. To put it plainly, support for this important cause is welcome but good intentions are not enough. Real action requires well designed company policies and processes.

One of our aims is to support organisations that want to take this next step. The shipping industry is at the beginning of its diversity and inclusion journey. The process will take considerable time, as well as careful measurement and management.

This key point was reinforced in a recent study of over 450 HR professionals, which identified two key barriers to the success of D&I implementation as the ability to measure effectively and to benchmark within the same sector.

This is why we are conducting the first ever survey into diversity in order to equip our member organisations with the data insights that they need. This survey will provide a detailed analysis of global diversity and inclusion statistics for their own organisations and allow them to benchmark against the anonymised data of other participants. Armed with these results, they can develop the D&I policies and processes that are right for them.

Unlocking the benefits of diversity

We believe diversity presents not just a challenge, but also a huge opportunity for shipping and are delighted to have the support of our members. These organisations don’t claim to have all the answers, but are working with us to build a better understanding of their own workplaces and how they can make the improvements they want to see; not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the commercially smart thing to do.

When implemented in the right way, with performance measured by accurate data and clearly defined benchmarks, the evidence is clear: greater diversity will lead to more innovative, creative and higher performing workplaces. If you’d like to join us, we’d love to welcome you onboard.

For more information about the Diversity Study Group and how to become a member, visit

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. You are more than welcome to join WISTA International and IMO, Women in Maritime, in our project to find out the number of men and women working in the entire maritime industry, onshore and at sea. The project was launched at NOR Shipping in May and we are working on finding the way of executing this, which has never been done before. The trick is to reach as many independent sources as possible.
    In addition, WISTA International launched a Diversity & Inclusion pledge on March 8th, 2019 which is now signed by more than 2,500 individuals and companies. There are a lot of sturdy, hands-on tips in there on where to start the journey towards a more diverse maritime industry.

    We encourage everyone to sign it, you find it on the platform for Change:

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