We need to talk about female seafarers #DiversityShip

For years I’ve been utterly curious about something; why don’t we succeed in recruiting and retaining more female seafarers onboard the world’s ships? 
At several seminars and conferences I’ve attended both in Europe, U.S. and Asia, I’ve listened to numerous discussions on how hard this is. And heard companies sharing their experiences and explaining how they’ve been trying so hard to recruit female cadets. But “it didn’t work, unfortunately”. And so I asked this stupid question; well, how long did you try? Well, for quite a few it appears they’d tried a couple of times, but it just didn’t work. So they’ve given up. To me, the obvious question is; well – did you really WANT to succeed? People said the same about women in business earlier, you know….! Now look at what’s going on in our industry – women in all functions, levels and segments.

The perceived difficulties and barriers of raising the ratio of female seafarers just doesn’t make sense in my mind. If you do it as due to the “CSR” and political correctness perspective, I can understand it. You can’t just half-heartedly try if you don’t really believe in it. But if you do it based on an understanding of seeing an untapped potential of valuable resources, I’d claim that the potential for success should be so much better with the latter view. 

I mean, when we found oil of the coast of Norway, we didn’t exactly have the solutions straight away. There was invested heaps of money, time, trying and failing, before it worked out, right? And when various nations wanted to plant a flag on the Moon; same story.. If you really want something, you invest in it. You try and fail, learn from experts or build expertise. You don’t just give up after a few setbacks, do you? 

So to the companies out there who wanted to hire female seafarers but failed; how about talking to other companies that succeeded in recruiting girls, and learn from them. Talk to seasoned male and female seafarers to tap into their insights. And the industry could easily join forces and come up with a best practice model – which we’re normally really good at – so that each company won’t have to make the same mistakes (like recruiting only 1 female seafarer per vessel). Right?

And we also need to start talking about a huge load of unconscious bias in our industry. As when we start finding generic reasons outside our own influence that “explains” the lack of female seafarers. 

I have a few examples; “The thing is that it’s also a huge investment training cadets, and you know, then the girls get pregnant and go back on shore anyway”. “You know what it’s like – they won’t spend time away from their family, so it’s just not possible for us, you know…”. 

Hmmmm, I thought – I know many girls who stay long periods away from home, especially from the Asian and Eastern European countries. Think about all the girls who work hard as aupairs in Western countries, the Middle East or Singapore , or in factories in Taiwan. With a much lower pay, often no rights and they maybe don’t get to see their kids more than once or twice per year. So I still don’t get this, that shouldn’t be hindering them…

“Well, but anyway”, some claim – “there’s just so much hard work onboard a ship, such as cleaning the hull tanks, and women simply can’t manage that. So you know, this makes it impossible.” Or “It’s just too dangerous for girls”, “Some jobs are just not meant for women”.

And there I sat, thinking to myself; one of my best friends just spent a year in Mali with the UN forces. I know women who has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains, crossed the Antarctic, sailed across the Atlantic sea in the roughest weather, and worked on huge oil rigs in the harsh Northern sea. Tough, strong, dedicated, and solution oriented. Also, I’m thinking; normally if we really want to achieve something, we only see opportunities and resolve the practical hinders. Why is this so difficult – when it’s basically about the key basic focus of us needing to recruit and retain the best people to our industry to stay competitive? 

I just don’t get it… Maybe you could enlighten me, and explain what you think. Which are the key obstacles and opportunities- what can we do to help the industry solving this bottleneck that keeps 50% of the best talents away from going to sea? Let’s crush some silos and glass walls!

Cheers from me, onboard the M/V Koningdam between Fort Lauderdale and the Bahamas – with 300 female industry executives gathered for the WISTA International AGM.

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