Budrus Laivas tackles the Blacks Lives Matter protests in the context of shipping.
Our common bond is our human experience and the planet on which we live. That should be motive enough to coexist in mutual dignity rather than perpetual division. But if companies need the scent of money before they look at how they practice equality, here’s the clincher: diverse businesses make better decisions. And shipping, let’s be honest, often needs better decision making.
The Black Lives Matter protests since a Minneapolis policeman murdered George Floyd on May 25 have pricked society’s consciousness of widespread racial injustice. Police departments have been defunded, streets renamed and statues torn down. The corporate world has not been immune. One CEO has stood down, in the hope of making way for a black candidate on Reddit’s all-white board; two US newspaper executives have resigned after ‘insensitive’ commentaries; the National Football League and L’Oréal (sort of) are among companies to apologise for racist policies or incidents; and IBM and Google have withdrawn allegedly racist facial recognition technologies from police use and, potentially, from the market altogether.
Amid this wave of change, it is time to reflect on shipping’s traditionally dire performance on equality. As readers of this website will know, abuse of seafarers is rife. Aside from the current crew change crisis, regular highlights of low behaviour include crew abandonment, failure to pay salaries, extortionate recruitment fees and restricted shore leave. Crew from predominantly developing countries must accept abusive behaviours that employees from higher-income countries would simply not have to: not exactly racism, but clear abuse of an imbalance of power.
It’s not just on ships that unequal treatment is meted out. Across the maritime industry female and non-white candidates are denied representation access to senior positions, while pay data released under the UK Equality Act last year revealed a 44% gap in the mean average salaries of men and women.
Unequal representation is amplified by media and event organisers, who fill pages and panels with white, middle-aged voices. This author has sat on three webinar panels in the past three weeks without encountering a single female or non-white panellist. A quick scan of the latest instalments of several big maritime conferences shows that 18% of all speakers were women. Only 25% of conferences reached this measly tally, suggesting that those who look for equality take the search seriously, but far too many do not look at all.
Shipping faces formidable challenges from decarbonisation to talent retention. The wider the range of backgrounds, cultures and experiences we can draw on, the more likely it is that we will succeed. This is not wishful thinking: studies from leading management consultants have repeatedly affirmed that diverse businesses are more successful.
According to McKinsey & Co in 2018, out of 1,000 companies studied, those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity were 33 per cent more likely to register above-average profits than those in the lowest quartile. A bigger study by Boston Consulting Group found that more diverse management teams were clearly more likely to generate more of their revenue through innovation.
There is a clear moral argument for equality, but it is also a matter of self-interest. In countries like the US and others, inequality restricts access to political power and platforms. This preserves the position of the elite but limits the pool from which talent is drawn, weakening prospects for the whole state. With so many dangers to navigate, shipping must not follow this ruinous path.