Earlier on this year, Maritime UK announced a ‘Women in Maritime’ task force, which aimed to bring together leading figures in the maritime sector (with support from the UK government) to decide on practical steps to increase the presence of women in maritime roles. The aim of the task force is to “address fairness, equality and inclusion within the maritime sector”. This includes the shipping, ports, marine, and superyacht industry.
When the task force was announced, the Chair of Maritime UK, David Dingle, detailed the slightly shocking statistics of women in the industry. “Of the 14,350 officers in our country, only three per cent are women. Only four per cent of our technical officers are women. Of the 6,500 engine officers, only one per cent are women. It means that talented women could be missing out on careers in which they could best use those talents.”
Carol Beaumont, head of business development for UKSA attended the first meeting, which was held in late February, and spoke to SuperyachtNews about the task force and explained the focus. “First of all, it’s about knowing where we are as an industry, benchmarking the gender split between different roles and subsectors,” she explained.
“First of all, it’s about knowing where we are as an industry, benchmarking the gender split between different roles and subsectors.”
The task force identified key areas that needed to be addressed: recruitment, retention, progression and remuneration. In addition to the different streams reflecting these concentrated areas, the task force is also exploring the idea of developing regional groups in order to make their efforts focused and effective.
Sarah Dhanda, chief officer of membership & services for British Marine, was also present at the meeting. She revealed that Ms Nasrat Ghani MP, the new Maritime Minister, was in attendance to deliver a short presentation. “She is really championing women in non-traditional industries, so it works really nicely to go with the task force,” says Dhanda. “As we’ve got this push for women in maritime, it’s brilliant to have a female Minister.”
Dhanda highlighted that, although this is a task force for women in maritime in general, there are differences between the various elements of the sector. “If you look at shipping, then the three per cent is almost exclusively employed in HR and admin, as you don’t tend to get many crew on merchant vessels that are women. If you look at leisure marine and superyachts, we have lots women who are employed, but they don’t tend to be on deck. And this is the same for crew in the cruise industry, where there is lots of women but all on the admin or hospitality side, rather than the engineering or operational aspects.” It’s for this reason that the task force hopes to have different ‘subsets’ for each area of maritime, attuned to the characteristics and differences of each sector.
In addition to the importance of encouraging more women to see maritime as a career choice, the task force also hoped to understand the motives of women leaving the industry. “We talked about, having got women in the sector, how do we keep them?” recalls Dhanda. “That’s twofold. It’s how do we keep them when they start families and want to come back into work? And, what can we do when they’ve been at sea and they want a land-based career? It’s about concentrating on how we can ensure that those career pathways are clear for women.” It is common in all industries, not just the maritime sector, that when women temporarily leave work in order to start a family, they return to their roles but do not tend to progress. This may be for a multitude of reasons, but Dhanda believes that understanding the processes involved in returning to work, and the possible restrictions that they encounter, is key to improving this process for women.
Beaumont explains that at UKSA (as an institution that sees many new entrants into the maritime sector) they are attuned to the importance of highlighting women in various roles in the market. “The most significant way that we can change attitudes in the industry is training, and promoting exceptionally high quality female graduates from our courses into industry,” she remarks. She cites simple, yet powerful, measures that can hugely influence the mind-sets of women candidates for maritime careers, such as marketing material that features images of female professionals.
“The most significant way that we can change attitudes in the industry is training, and promoting exceptionally high quality female graduates from our courses into industry.”
The group also discussed the possibility of creating a charter for the industry. Beaumont refers to the Women in Finance initiative from HM Treasury, where financial service providers pledged to implement industry changes that promoted gender diversity. The task force hope to create a similar initiative for the maritime industry, and plans to present a number of policies that could be adopted at senior level. Each member has committed to implementing changes in their own organisation, but there are still discussions around the methodologies for these changes. “There’s a conversation about whether you make hard targets; for example, do you aim for a particular gender split in certain roles in our industry? Or, do you make it more voluntary and softer?” says Beaumont. “From our point of view, it’s about winning hearts and minds and influencing over time.”
A conclusive outcome of the task force is the commitment to implementing real change. “We all agreed that what we didn’t want it to be was a talking shop. We actually want to get on and do something,” concludes Dhanda.
With the next meeting on the horizon, all of those who attended are dedicated to making sure that all voices are heard, with each session being as productive as possible. “As with all of these things, it’s what the members really make it,” adds Beaumont. “Our role as task force members to step up and make some big commitments, and inspire others to do the same.”
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