How are women in maritime jobs being supported? The shipping industry is currently undergoing a skills shortage, despite the sector seeing growth in recent years. The reasons for this are varied and possibly subjective: is the lack of talent due to an increasing need for seafarers to hold technical skills along with more traditional ones?
Is there a general disinterest in pursuing seafarer jobs as a career meaning there’s fewer new mariners coming on board to replace an ageing workforce?
Your guide to support for women in maritime jobs
Could it even be due, in part, to the lack of women entering the maritime industry? While all of those reasons are up for debate, one thing is clear and that the ratio of men to women working in the shipping sector is seriously disproportionate.
Let’s take a look at the data: the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has estimated that only 2% of seafaring jobs globally are held by women.
Delve a little further into those statistics and it’s thought that a massive 94% of these women are working either on passenger ferries or cruise ships.
Clearly the presence of women is not being felt too greatly on container ships and heavy load carriers. But why not? Is there a perception that women can’t work on these types of vessels?
Is enough being done to support both the entrance of women into the shipping industry and helping the ones that do make it thrive once they’re there?
Why aren’t there more women in maritime jobs?
There are a number of reasons why women aren't choosing seafarer jobs.
They range from the lack of support by careers officers and schools, inadequate advice for young women considering the idea of a career in the maritime industry, the idea that women ‘don’t’ go into shipping as it’s ‘man’s work’, concerns that working in a male dominated environment may leave one open to bullying or harassment, and even the lack of female role models in the maritime sector.
For a young aspiring female cadet it could be one, none, or all of these hypothetical reasons.
But some good news: the numbers are on the rise
If there is a silver lining to this cloud of gender inequality in the shipping industry it is that the ITF has noted a slow but steady increase in the number of women at sea working in maritime jobs.
But this trend is not wholly global with the majority of new female mariners hailing from Northern and Southern Europe, and North and Central America. Traditional seafaring nations such as the Philippines and other South East Asian countries, including India and Indonesia, are still lagging behind and have yet to catch on to this trend.
Clearly there is some work to be done when it comes to attracting women to maritime jobs, but what can we do to make sure that those who are already employed in seafarer jobs feel safe, secure and supported?
For surely this will have a knock-on effect in encouraging more females to seek employment on container ships and similar vessels.
How are women in seafarer jobs supported?
Attempting to address the low numbers of women seafarers are associations such as the Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association (WISTA). They offer support to current and would-be female mariners, helping to provide them with the necessary skills - and confidence - they need to apply for management roles in shipping companies.
Today WISTA has thousands of members across 45 different national associations.
Individually, some countries and regions are already making moves to improve their male to female ratio and close the gender inequality gap in seafarer jobs. Take for example, the UK.
All companies trading in the United Kingdom are now required by law to disclose their gender pay gap. And, crucially, take steps to close it. Within the industry itself, Maritime UK has launched a task force with the aim of increasing the number of women in maritime jobs.
Back in 2017, Central and Latin America - an area in which the number of female mariners has also started to slowly rise - created a maritime network especially for women at sea. Coming under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) umbrella, Women in Maritime Associations (WIMAs) works to shine a spotlight on the important role that women have to play within the shipping sector.
China too has put into motion an initiative that aims to increase cadet training - including females. Given the nation’s huge population and the fact that the country is one of the biggest players in the maritime industry, this could be significant in helping to address the global shortage of women in maritime.
Why we need more women in maritime jobs
As mentioned at the start of this article, the maritime industry is facing a skills shortage. That isn’t going to get any better anytime soon either.
In fact BIMCO have reported that by 2025 (that’s not that far off!) a further 147,500 seafarers will be needed to help operate the world merchant fleet. Attracting more women at sea would be crucial in helping to plug that gap.
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