Collaboration is key for a more equitable, sustainable shipping industry

GCaptain
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January 3, 2023

More than a watchword, the term ‘collaboration’ ran throughout the recent WISTA International AGM in Geneva, highlighting the fact that only by working together can we hope to bring about the real change our industry needs.

Clearly, any change which involves multiple stakeholders demands movement and compromise on the part of some, if not all of those involved. Given the complexity of global supply chains, we cannot underestimate the scale of the challenges which lie ahead. Decarbonisation, digitalisation, the integration of new technologies, how to attract and retain talent, how to improve diversity, and the security of our supply chains: all of these themes will remain priorities for industry as we move into the new year; and all of them include complex challenges best solved through cooperation. 

As an organisation, WISTA has always placed great emphasis on the importance of collaboration to achieve change. It has worked with several industry partners on a range of projects and initiatives that have been designed not only to improve diversity and achieve gender equality across the maritime industries, but also to educate and promote sustainability and innovation.

In January 2020, WISTA International and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to work together to promote gender diversity and inclusion as vital factors in securing a sustainable future for the shipping industry. Since then, this partnership has gone from strength to strength and has contributed to several high-profile initiatives

Most recently, WISTA and the IMO launched the Maritime Speakers Bureau, a database of women who are available to speak on a wide range of industry topics. The Speakers Bureau encourages women to put themselves forward for speaking opportunities and makes it easier for conference organisers to find female industry representatives to speak at their events – there is now no excuse for all-male panels or speaker programmes at events. By providing women with a voice at events, the Maritime Speakers Bureau will drive greater power to inspire, engage, educate and share our experience with both seasoned maritime professionals and aspiring seafarers worldwide. 

Another key deliverable over the last 12 months was the IMO–WISTA Women in Maritime survey 2021, with results published on 18 May 2022 to coincide with the inaugural IMO International Day for Women in Maritime. This report offered unprecedented insight into gender diversity across the sector for the first time and set a benchmark for progress. Its findings, however, painted a mixed picture. Women now make up over a third of the workforce in shipping companies and that is a promising sign, but their relative lack of representation at sea – where women account for just 2% of the total crewing workforce – proves that there is still a long way to go.

For more women to pursue a career at sea, it is essential that they feel represented in the industry. Launched on 8 March, the Maritime SheEO Leadership Accelerator Programme – a collaboration between WISTA, the IMO and Maritime SheEO – is designed to provide management knowledge and skills to help women in shipping move into leadership roles. The programme aims to help establish a network of female executives to facilitate mutual support while giving young women and girls the confidence to embark on a shipping or seafaring career of their own. 

However, according to the results of the public survey which looked at discrimination on-board, and were published in the second edition of the Gender Diversity handbook, more needs to be done to provide a comfortable on-board environment for everyone. Jointly conducted by WISTA, Anglo Eastern, ISWAN and the International Chamber of Shipping, the survey uncovered the extent of the harassment women face at sea, highlighting the attitude and behavioural changes needed to combat gender discrimination at its root.

In addition to offering the industry a necessary wake-up call regarding gender equity, the results of the survey served as a reminder of the importance of transparency and collaboration in tackling the shipping’s most pressing challenges. This applies not only to challenges surrounding diversity and inclusion but also those related to decarbonisation, digitalisation and cyber security.

Thinking about the year ahead, I believe that greater transparency along with enhanced collaboration will be critical to steering the industry towards a more equitable, sustainable future. As leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure the industry progresses, but enabling others to become the experienced, skilled and empowered individuals who are ready to take the reins is also key. 

In my first full year as WISTA International president, I intend to continue building on the progressive approach WISTA International has established and to redouble efforts to collaborate with other organisations, so we can continue to raise awareness and maintain momentum in promoting diversity and inclusion throughout shipping. 

Now is the time to take stock and think about what we can do, both as individuals and collectively, to continue to drive change and tackle the challenges we face head on.

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