Is shipping finally addressing the gender gap?

Rachel Morgan from recruitment and HR firm Spinnaker Global reacts to this week’s Women in Maritime charter launch in the UK.

When a global industry has an industry-wide problem like shipping’s glaring gender inequality problem, there is never an easy answer; no quick fix. But shipping has finally woken up and realised there is a problem, and thankfully, people are now talking. We’ve had to start talking, because the stats don’t lie. Just 1% of engine officers at sea are women. A third of shore-based roles are occupied by women. 0.25% of them make it to executive level. The gender pay gap in shipping is over 45% (way above the UK average of 19%).

Like many industries (let’s face it, we’re not the only one) men dominate in shipping. We know men are in the majority at sea, but it’s also male-dominated in shore-based roles (see chart).

Newbuilding, technical, marine safety and quality roles are predominantly male. In a study by the Maritime HR Association, women are more likely to be found in support functions: crewing, finance, IT, admin – and the most female-dominated areas, HR and marketing (note: these are also often poorer paid). Men are also dominant on panels at shipping conferences – we’ve all seen the line-ups.

We all know the stats, and we all know the problem. So what is the answer if there’s no quick fix? Maritime UK has launched its Women in Maritime charter with 100 companies already committed to addressing the challenge of gender diversity within the industry. Maritime minister Nusrat Ghani said at the charter launch, “The workforce should be reflective of the population”. A balanced workforce has to be the answer to improve or change company culture, company profitability, and much more. Quotas have been put in place by business leaders in other industries and, however forced they may seem, it’s potentially a good way to kick-start real change. As a recruitment business we are also firm believers in hiring for merit, not simply gender, so it’s about striking the right balance.

Shipping is notoriously old-school. It can be an ‘old boys’ network’. There are historical bonds and traditional relationships that are difficult to disrupt. But isn’t that what progress is all about? 100% male boards aren’t as effective as mixed boards, and neither are 100% female boards. Having greater gender diversity at board level is an essential requirement for progress.

In a recent interview with Spinnaker Global, master mariner-turned-partner at MFB law firm Helene Peter-Davies said, “We have an obligation to lead from the front and inspire the next generations in the industry… [no] woman should feel apologetic for being part of this industry… believe you have a place in [maritime].” Top dogs in shipping have a responsibility to hear comments like this, to see the stats and feel ashamed that they’re so blatantly male-dominated in 2018, to see their competitors join the Women in Maritime charter and think: “We should be doing this too.” It’s no quick fix, but I do think that shipping is finally addressing its gender gap. There’s a lot of work to be done, but people in shipping are industrious and ambitious – as an industry, shipping is known to rebuild itself and reshape itself to adapt to progress. If we’ve done it with containerisation, or digitalisation, we can do it with diversity. We’re ready. The time is now.


Photo: Wallem Group

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