Marta Kuzma from Tuscor Lloyds on the common misconceptions, misunderstandings and bad habits that have created a gender imbalance in shipping.
You’re in your mid-twenties. It’s the first week of June when you walk out through the majestic door of your university. Birds are singing, the weather is warm and inviting, everything seems to be just the same as it was when you had entered the building this morning. But it’s not. Because after years of hard work you have reached your goal, you have graduated. And now, your career as a psychologist can start.
But it won’t. Because you’re a man. And you see, according to the law, only a woman can become a psychologist. It has to do with the fact, that psychologists deal with so many different people and situations, it requires them to be very empathic and understanding. Men are considered to have weaker emotional intelligence than women, so they shouldn’t work with people. Also, they are expected to be the head of the family, with their firmness and authority, so the government doesn’t want their strong personality to be affected by this type of career.
So here you are, miserable and helpless because someone made that decision for you. For the sake of the society, or worse, for your own good. How ridiculous does it sound?
I can bet, if you got through to this point, there wasn’t a moment you could fully relate to this story. And no one can blame you, because it sounds insane. Sounds impossible. Yet, what if I told you it happened? Not in this country, not to this gender, in a different industry. In ours. In shipping.
Svetlana Medvedeva studied navigation in college and graduated as a navigation officer in the Russian Federation. After applying to work as a ship’s helmsman she was selected, however later her application was rejected due to the law. It took five years for the court to admit she was discriminated, yet even then, she couldn’t have been hired on her dreamed position. In Russia, there are 456 jobs in 38 industries from which woman are excluded due to Regulation No. 162, that lists the jobs too harmful or dangerous for women.
A total of 104 countries still have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs, 59 nations have no laws on sexual harassment in the workplace, and in 18 states, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.
Globally, over 2.7bn women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men.
Research estimates that gender gaps cause an average income loss of 15% in OECD economies.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) estimates that today, only 2% of global seafarers are women.
All this data might sound scary at first sight, but there is some good news as well. In most cases, this absurd number of women in the shipping industry doesn’t come from any law restrictions or political issues. It is simply a result of common misconceptions, misunderstandings and bad habits. Those, however, might be more difficult to change, than the most restrictive law. Fortunately, they also happen to be dependent on individuals, which means each of us can contribute to the change. And by saying each of us, I mean both women and men.
First of all, let’s take the vocabulary used in the industry for this topic.
‘Make the industry more accessible’, ‘allow women to participate’, ‘give women access’, ‘allow women in’, ‘women could be missing out on careers’, ‘allow women to join’.
It makes me shudder. Those poor women, shall we let them work in our exclusive industry?
Fortunately, not all of us have such a miserable picture of this situation. In her exquisite article for Splash, KD Adamson wrote: “What if I told you that there was something you could do, which required no increase in capex or opex, and which could enable your company to outperform its competitors by up to 26% over the next six years. Interested? Good. Well, here it is. Put me on your board.”
A better understanding of women’s role in the shipping industry should come along with this article. According to the Credit Suisse Institute’s research, companies with more female executives in decision-making positions continue to generate stronger market returns and superior profits. For this reason, at least, this male-dominated industry, instead of allowing women in, should consider inviting them in and truly hope for them to accept this invitation.
It’s a fact proven by research that having more women in your company, apart from being politically correct, is beneficial as well. In the end everyone likes to benefit, especially when it’s expressed in dollar signs.
On the other hand, it’s also women’s perspective that needs some updating. Growing up in the social environment that gives you quite a cut-and-dried vision of your future, it’s not that easy to see all the opportunities and possibilities in front of you. The shipping industry might have started realising it needs women on board, but are they aware? That’s why we need all those strong personalities to step up and lead others by example, sharing own stories, battles and successes. Organisations like Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association are the ones worth keeping an eye on.
In the end, it’s all about cooperation. It’s about finding the best possible way, to combine the skills of the best people, no matter what gender, and create the best possible future, for the shipping industry, for trade, for the world in general. And while searching for those talents, overlooking half of the population might not be the best solution. Trust us – we’ve been doing logistics for years.
Photo: Wallem Group.