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Gender diversity in shipping

The drive for more equality in the sector

Only a very small percentage of the maritime industry’s workforce is female. Although some efforts have been made to change this, gender equality is still a long way away. With a shortage of qualified personnel in the sector, inviting and supporting more women to pursue maritime careers is both necessary and overdue.

According to recent estimates by the International Transport Workers Federation, only 2% of the total number of seafarers are female. The vast majority of seafaring women work either on cruise ships or passenger ferries. Onshore, the balance is also skewed: While women hold 55% of maritime junior-level positions, they only occupy 9% of executive-level positions. Some of the main reasons behind this gender gap relate to the perception of the maritime sector as a “male-dominated” industry. But there is also a general lack of information and education to encourage young women to pursue a career at sea.

What’s being done to improve the situation?

The IMO recognizes that there needs to be a concerted effort to encourage diversity and invite women into the industry. For example, the organization has established a Programme on the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector (IWMS). One of its aims is to give women in developing countries better access to high-level technical training and help raise awareness for career development opportunities. The IMO is also actively working with employers and educational institutions in order to offer women better prospects in the sector.

But the IMO is not the only organization striving for gender diversity. The Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) is a global networking organization with the specific aim of supporting women to achieve management-level roles in the maritime industry. In addition to helping its members improve their skills, it also facilitates collaboration and network building. This gives aspiring women in the industry a platform to demonstrate their abilities.

How the industry can benefit from gender diversity

Encouraging more women to take on a maritime career is not just promoting diversity for diversity’s sake: it would have positive effects for everyone in the industry. As digitization takes hold, the skills required to work in shipping will change. This means the industry will be more open to candidates with different kinds of educational background—and not necessarily reserved for those with seagoing backgrounds. Women could bring in fresh perspectives and new knowledge that is essential for the future of shipping.

In addition, diversity would go a long way toward alleviating the shortage of skilled workers in the sector. This is certainly a pressing issue: a joint study by BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) warns that the industry could be lacking up to 147,500 officers by the year 2025. By embracing a more balanced workforce, shipping will be better prepared for the future. And as more women are welcomed in, the maritime sector will improve its image and attract talented candidates from all backgrounds.