Women are gaining a solid place in the maritime industry. The historically masculine environment is changing dramatically as more and more women gain senior positions in global organisations, whether as a captain of a major cruise ship or as CEO, Secretary General or Vice-Chairman of a major maritime corporation.
The ‘glass ceiling’ is a phrase synonymous with the attempt of women to reach senior positions within major companies, particularly if they lie within the FTSE 100. Within the maritime sector, however, the glass appears to crumbling back into sand. In 2007, Karin Stahre Janson became the first female captain of a major cruise ship for Royal Caribbean, despite the opposition she had from her male peers. One fellow sailor even told her that she ‘should be out making babies and looking for a husband’. Karin Orsel, chief executive of Management Facilities Group, also made history as she was elected the first female vice-chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping last year. The decision for her appointment recognised her extensive knowledge of the maritime industry and her key involvement in other maritime associations, most notably her current presidency of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA).
The awareness of efforts of women in shipping has increased vastly over the past few years. Associations such as WISTA, an organisation started by a group of female brokers in the tanker market in 1974, have helped to further awareness of women within the industry and highlight that, in some cases, women might be better suited than men.
Allan Ashby of Ashby Marine Consultancy asked “Has anyone ever questioned whether men’s leadership skills are suited to the shipping industry?” Men have had thousands of years in dominant roles throughout society, but in just over a hundred years women have been fast catching up in all industries – surely a sign that no challenge is too much. Although, Pamela Tansey, deputy director of the Technical Co-operation Division for IMO is keen to stress that “There have been women leaders since there were women”, they just may not have been visible or recorded.
Yet, should gender even matter in this industry? Rather, shouldn’t there be a greater focus on the ability of an individual? The shipping industry could suffer greatly if nations purposefully excluded half of their human capital. As discussed in the April 2014 ‘The Maritime Women: Global Leadership International Conference’, attended by over 265 male and female participants, shipping can involve physical pain, being tired, wet, hungry and even frightened. Not only men enjoy this challenge, but women as well, so give them the chance.