Mariners Unite In Houston To Empower Women

Women Offshore Unite Conference
Women Offshore Unite Conference. Photo via WomenOffshore.org

By Jaquelyn Burton, Sheila Maude LaFleur, and Ally Cedeno

For the second time, women who work in the Maritime and Offshore Energy industries, along with their supporters, descended on Houston for the Annual Women Offshore UNITE Conference. This year the theme was Lead to Thrive and was held at Rice University on July 12th. 

One hundred seventy-five professionals from twenty countries, both female and male, many with decades of experience in the offshore and maritime industries, met in person to share experiences.

The IMO sponsored 8 women from developing countries to attend and contribute to the event, providing a global perspective on the challenges experienced and achievements of female seafarers. The collective goal was to inspire and empower women on similar career paths within the industry and to address the difficulties of creating a thriving environment for an inclusive and diverse workforce. 

The event was kicked off with an inspiring keynote by Susan Dio, chairman and president of B.P. America.  She suggested that the most valuable thing that women in the industry can do is to learn to lead like themselves, bringing who they are and their points of view into the room.  She empowered the attendees to set expectations for themselves and define what their values are so they can live by them every day. She recommended the book “The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out Is Good Business” by John Browne, who was the former CEO of B.P. 

Susan Dio also addressed that change is often driven through trade organizations for industries, and by shareholders and stakeholders requirements for companies. “One of the biggest lessons is that we’ve got to keep modernizing and challenging to continue growing.” Organizations need to move along with these changes to remain competitive. One of the ways that we can progress inclusion is when hiring to ensure that selection panels and candidate pools have diverse representation. 

Dr. Shashi Kumar, National Coordinator Maritime Education and Training (MET), U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) also gave a short presentation where he highlighted the need for continued progress in the industry and mentioned that the Ship Operators Cooperative Program (SOCP) has created a free SASH best practices guide that can be found online to aid in developing company-specific policies and guidelines. 

Janelle Daniel, Vice President, Human Resources, Community Relations, & Sustainability at Transocean, spoke about how all kinds of diversity are needed for industries to be sustainable. To unlock the value and lasting benefits, we must ensure that we create a safe and respectful workplace for all. It’s easy to not tolerate bad behavior – it is hard to address the gray areas. To progress further towards inclusion we need to benchmark where we are, set objectives with deadlines for where we want to be, support each other, develop the future talent pipeline, provide relevant and transparent feedback, all while bringing real objective value.

Delfina Govia, Partner, Veritas Total Solutions Told attendees about Innovation, Transformation, and the XX Factor. Understanding why inclusion goes hand in hand with growth, and the business case for committing to inclusion as a means to further innovation. She made a compelling argument for how radical experiments lead to breakthrough strategies, to operational excellence, then to new fundamentals. This can only develop if we bridge siloed information and look at many inclusive points of view to achieve unique solutions and fundamental change.

Serena Webber-Bey, Chief Engineer, Matson shared her career journey from early interests through her time at maritime college. She also shared her excitement to take on her newest position at sea and gave advice during the Q&A session to engineering cadets and third engineers who are just starting their career journey. 

Many intriguing panels and workshops took place during the event and are listed at the end of this article. One that should be highlighted was the panel Men Advocating for Change Offshore. The male panel addressed the difficult conversations that must take place to produce an inclusive working culture. Including clear communications with management, training of personnel in empathy and inclusion, the sponsorship of a spectrum of different candidates by the same manager or on the same project to gain diverse perspectives.

At the closing dinner, remarks were given by Captain Elizabeth Simenstad, Founder of Sea Sisters who discussed her journey from a ship’s agent to a Tug Boat Captain, and how she continues to relentlessly pursue her dream of becoming a ship pilot.

Then Parker Harrison gave insights into her experience becoming a new attorney at a maritime law firm and joining Women In Shipping and Transportation (WISTA) over 15 years ago. She is now the President of WISTA USA and Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Crowley Maritime. She emphasized the importance of women supporting women, as a critical contribution to her success and growth into an industry leader. 

Captain Jaquelyn Burton
Captain Jaquelyn Burton accepts Women Offshore’s Wave Maker Award.

The Wave Maker awards were given out for the first time by Women Offshore. They were awarded to four women who are making waves in the maritime and offshore industries, paving the way for other women and supporting growth within their industries.

The Awardees were Sherri Hickman, Delfina Govia, Janelle Daniel, and Jaquelyn Burton for their incredible contributions to the industry personally and professionally. There were laughs, applause, tears, it was an incredibly moving way to close out the conference. After the awards, there were celebrations, picture taking, sea story sharing, laughing, and connecting. 

The conference overall had many applicable takeaways for the numerous management attendees. The room included great mentors, champions, and sponsors who make up an essential part of the industry and who provide distinct points of view for problem-solving, innovation, and inclusive policy. From the first female Pilots, Captains, Chief Engineers, OIM’s, to women who are working hard to learn and improve their skills every day. During the conference inspiring stories, and difficulties were shared. With attendees resonating together through their experiences, adding to a broader view of the industry. 

Ally Cedeno founded this excellent organization for the women who in her words work “not on land.” It is a great gift to the industry; both the work she puts in behind the scenes to run the mentoring program, and to amplify the voices and stories of the women in the industry.

For further information about  Women Offshore Events, or to become a donor or a part of the Mentorship program visit WomenOffshore.org