We recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Chief Mate Ally Cedeno, founder of the influential and inspiring organization Women Offshore. In addition to getting an MBA degree and actively sailing offshore Ally has built an important and valuable online resource for an industry in which women comprise a small but growing minority.
What is the bottleneck for reducing the gender gap offshore and at sea?
At Women Offshore, we focus on three bottlenecks for reducing the gender gap on the water: industry exposure, career growth, and personal isolation.
First, we showcase opportunities to work on the water by shining a light on female talent in operations, celebrating their accomplishments and how they overcome challenges. Because of these features, outsiders are exposed to the maritime and offshore energy industries to see that there are opportunities for women to work on the water.
Many women have contacted us to learn more and find out how they can pursue similar career paths. After a feature is published, I also enjoy hearing from female talent already working on the water, who are inspired by the features to continue making waves. In industries where women are hidden, sharing our stories has a profound impact on how a woman sees the industry and how she views her own career.
Second, career growth can be a daunting challenge for anyone. As a woman who worked on the water for 10 years, I was often unsure on where I wanted my career to go. There were also times when I needed guidance, both personally as well as professionally. I wanted someone to ask questions to, specifically a female role-model, who could understand what it is like to be the only woman on board.
Women Offshore shares resources online to encourage career progression and offers a virtual mentoring program, where women looking for guidance can be paired or added to a group with experienced female seafarers. For example, in our mentoring program is a Pilot Loop, lead by Captain Amanda Wallace, who mentors, alongside maritime pilots, female mates looking to become pilots. Through this loop, female talent sets career goals to make it to the pinnacle of the industry.
Working on board as the only woman can be a very isolating experience. This is something that I have known in my own career and have observed in interviews with women around the world. Unfortunately, bias, prejudice, and abuse towards women exist in all bodies of water and each can push women away from a long-term career. At Women Offshore, we connect our community both online and in person to offer support, understanding, and resources in overcoming isolation. This was a focus at our first conference, UNITE, hosted at Transocean’s headquarters in Houston, Texas. Women from around the world were in attendance; countries represented included Australia, Angola, Netherlands, Canada, and the US. It was a pleasure meeting and learning from our worldwide community.
What are the benefits for offshore or shipping companies that hire more women?
To be sustainable, it is important for companies to target all talent. A disappearing gender gap on the water is a win for everyone. Diverse teams are known as productive, innovative, and creative. I once heard, “a competitive sports team does not assign its starting line-up from half of its roster, so why would a leading company only hire from half the population?” Hiring more female talent should be a sustainability goal of all companies.
Is your Mentorship program a new concept or is it modeled after something you’ve participated in?
It’s not exactly a new concept, however, I have never participated in anything like it either. I designed it to be a program that benefits a woman emerging into the industry. Whether she is a hawsepiper or an academy grad, she fills out a form based on her career aspirations and is paired with an experienced female seafarer to offer guidance on achieving her career goals.
What is your primary goal for WomenOffshore.org?
At Women Offshore, our values are to empower and connect female seafarers around the world, as the resource for women who work on the water. In everything we do, our goal is to meet individual needs, especially for those who near the confidence gap thinking that they do not belong on the water. I want Women Offshore to be utilized to step over that confidence gap, knowing that women can thrive in the maritime and offshore energy industries.
As the spouse of a ship’s officer, what resources are there for me to both support my wife and advance my own career at sea?
At WomenOffshore.org, we keep the site completely open, knowing that it is important for men to read our stories. We have also heard from several men that they find the resources that we share to be helpful. Sharing our stories on social media, reading the site to understand the various challenges women face, and taking interest in our resources are all ways to support women who work on the water while furthering one’s own career.
I worked offshore when gCaptain was started and my wife was working overseas, but we found either resistance or apathy from corporate over the idea of using social media to connect with a diverse group of mariners. Has this changed in 2018?
The use of social media has changed immensely over the last decade, with many companies running their own social media campaigns to recruit and showcase what it is like working at sea. We enjoy interacting with these companies on social media to get a glimpse into careers that are offered, especially when they profile their own female talent on the water.
Do you find the women you profile or do they mostly find you?
It’s a little of both. Many women have reached out and there have been some stories that have been found while browsing social media. Our most popular feature is about a female pilot in Houston, Captain Sherri Hickman, who was assigned to navigate an ATB. Her daughter, a 3rd mate, worked on that vessel and happened to be onboard at the time. In an industry where women only make up 2%, it was inspiring to see a mother-daughter duo working together.
The topics on your website have an excellent “topics” section that ranges from powerful women of history to health and wellness offshore but some of the hard topics of today – like the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workforce – is that by necessity or design?
I designed Women Offshore to be the place I always needed. I wanted it to be an avenue for seeking answers in navigating one’s career, understanding challenges, and finding female role models. At Women Offshore, we write about the challenges because there are many lessons learned within these challenges that can be passed on as tools for women emerging into the industry. Our community is made up of female talent that is highly skilled and experienced, some with decades of experience on the water, who pass on knowledge to propel the next generation of female seafarers.
How do you differ from an organization like WISTA?
Women Offshore is a niche organization dedicated to supporting women who work on the water in both the maritime and offshore energy industries. Our community is mostly made up of female talent on the water. Some of our mentors are women who have gone on to shoreside roles and are even a part of WISTA and have come to Women Offshore to offer support to those currently working at sea.
Besides WISTA, what are the smaller organizations and individuals who are making a major impact in womens’ issues offshore and at sea today?
There are quite a few bloggers and social media influencers, who are making a major impact on the water. For example, Seasisters.org is run by a group of female seafarers. They share some of the challenges of working on the water, including what it is like being a mom offshore. Someone else making an impact in the maritime industry is Captain Lindsay Price, a tugboat captain in Houston, Texas. Captain Price has spent much of her career as a mentor to women in maritime. Captain Kate McCue of Celebrity Cruises is also someone I greatly admire. Through her Instagram feed, she inspires many to seek a career at sea.
Your website promotes an organization called SeafarerHelp. Can you tell us more about this organization?
SeafarerHelp is a branch of the International Seafarer’s Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN). It is a free, confidential, multilingual hotline for seafarers and their families. Lines stay open 24 hours a day, all year long. SeafarerHelp can guide a seafarer, as well as his or her family, through any challenge. Women Offshore recognizes SeafarerHelp as an important resource for supporting a seafarer’s well-being, so we share it on both our site and in our mentoring program.
I assume the best way for women to support each other is to join organizations like yours and WISTA. What can men do to help?
I am glad you asked this. Men play an important role in reducing the gender gap on the water. I have worked with many talented men offshore, who create inclusive environments to work in. When I designed Women Offshore, I made it a priority that these men and more who support a diverse workforce could be involved. I appreciate that there have been quite a few men who have showed support since the beginning. Some have joined our organization and others have written on the site. At Women Offshore, we look for everyone’s involvement, regardless of gender. If there is a man reading this who wants to be involved, please share with them that they can join here to receive our newsletter.