WISTA Hellas seminar shines spotlight on challenges faced by women at sea
The first WISTA Hellas ‘Women at Sea’ seminar, staged at Posidonia 2022, offered a thorough examination of the challenges facing women seafarers as well as food for thought on how to support them throughout their careers.
The panel discussion that was attended by senior shipping executives in a full room at Posidonia last week outlined that progress towards gender equality is real but outdated attitudes continue to obstruct fair treatment for women working at sea. Although UN 2030 agenda item #5 – the goal of gender equality – offered a resounding call to action for a sold-out WISTA Hellas ‘Women at Sea’ seminar*, it transpired that the distance that needs to be covered until this goal is achieved is indeed long.
Generously supported and sponsored by ABS and moderated by Maria Kyratsoudi, Business Development Manager at ABS, WISTA Hellas welcomed a panel of speakers to share their experiences and perspectives on the topic. Panellists included: Leonidas Dimitriades-Eugenides, Chairman, Eugenides Foundation and IMO Goodwill Maritime Ambassador for Greece; Vivi Kolliopoulou, Insurance Manager, Angelicoussis Group; Capt. Michael Fotinos, Crew Manager, Diana Shipping Services; George Alexandratos, Vice President, Hellenic Chamber of Shipping; Georgia Darsaklis, Master Mariner, Olympic Shipping Management and Cees Horvers, Managing Director, Wagenborg Crew Management.
Women seafarers represent just 1.2% of the global seafaring workforce. Asked about why she thought this was the case, based on her experience at sea, Darsaklis cited outright bias against women, but also the need to balance work and family commitments, and a lack of access to the social networks which lead to opportunities in shipping companies.
Male domination of the seafaring profession presents a high barrier to entry for those women intent on working at sea, added Darsaklis. “Before choosing the profession of seafaring, we need to be prepared mentally, physically and emotionally to survive,” she said. “You will also need proper mentors, but that can take time because one of the most difficult things is being accepted as part of the team. My experience is that, if you are persistent and take the initiative, you will be accepted.”
If fewer than ever would openly admit to judging individuals on gender rather than competence and performance, the session noted that clear policies and processes will be critical in attracting and to supporting women throughout their seagoing careers. These must include zero-tolerance of unacceptable behaviours. Education was a recurring theme throughout the event for its role in changing perceptions, and stamping out gender bias and other forms of discrimination.
Dimitriades-Eugenides counselled the need for a holistic approach to address all of the challenges in shipping, if the “correct ecosystem” was to emerge. “It’s a question of education, training, mentoring and leadership in a world which is changing,” he said. “It is not a question of men and women. If all systems are developed to be more open-minded, resilient and accommodating, it will be best for all of us.”
Horvers provided straightforward reasons to explain why diversity improves results. “The first one is numbers: if you ignore women onboard, or in any job for that matter, you ignore 50% of the labour potential,” he said. Secondly, diversity enriches the working environment: Horvers drew attention to the multiple nationalities among women seafarers working for Wagenborg Crew Management.
“It’s not just about gender diversity, it’s a matter of diversity and if you have different nationalities, with people from different socio-economic backgrounds, then you get a different perspective and can develop a more collaborative approach,” agreed Kolliopoulou.
Maternity could not be ignored as a topic, and WISTA Hellas panellists agreed that feeling that a choice has to be made between motherhood and career, or that motherhood can be a barrier to career progression, can lead women to leave their profession.
Darsaklis said that many women are unaware of their maternity rights. “This is a limitation for women onboard at certain shipping companies. There needs to be a balance rather than a choice: women need to be made fully aware that – like their male counterparts – they can be a parent and have the career that they have dreamed of – whether that is to be a Captain or something else.”
Kolliopoulou believes that there needs to be an entire network to support women seafarers from the very start and throughout their careers, including when they are in need of maternity.
“Options need to be given to women who want to become mothers so they can transfer onshore for a period of time. It’s a matter of personal choice whether they want to continue their careers onboard or not, but today companies don’t have processes to support the choices of women.”
Alexandratos repeated the need of a holistic approach to address the challenges of shipping and delivered a strong message on gender diversity by inviting two female Cadets from the Merchant Marine Academy of Hydra to address the audience.
*The WISTA Hellas ‘Women at Sea’ event was sponsored by ABS.