Breaking barriers: how women in maritime are overcoming gender bias

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we consider a few major milestones in the cruise industry

Breaking barriers: how women in maritime are overcoming gender bias


IMO, among other organisations, is encouraging diversity in the maritime industry

By Alice Chambers |

Did you know that women only make up 1.2 per cent of the global seafarer workforce? That’s the case, according to the 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report from BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping. However, the maritime industry, and specifically the cruise sector, has been working hard to recognise the gender imbalance across its shoreside and shipboard teams, and find ways to recruit, train and retain more women in the sector.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has identified that 24,059 women are currently serving as seafarers around the world, which is a 45.8 per cent increase compared to 2015. But it’s not enough and female recruitment programmes such as IMO’s Women in Maritime initiative aims to enhance the contribution of women as key maritime stakeholders:

“Shipping is going through a transformation, tackling climate change through decarbonization and undergoing digitalization and automation at a rapid rate,” said Kitack Lim, general secretary at IMO, in a statement for International Women’s Day. “This transformation needs the best talent – and that means embracing diversity and ensuring that any barriers to participation are broken down. In maritime and across all sectors, working environments must be enabling, supportive and inclusive of diverse participation by all, without hindrance.

“IMO is strongly committed to helping its Member States achieve the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 5, which is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

Similarly, the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA International), which is made up of more than 3,800 professionals in the maritime, trading and logistics industries, is offering support to women already working in the sector. It is also investing in initiatives to attract more women to the industry.

“There is a bias against women, and whether it is conscious or not, it still exists,” said Elpi Petraki, president of WISTA International in our Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. “There needs to be policies in place which eliminate this mindset, encourage equal opportunities for all and provide support when it is needed. Companies can also look at how to help women, and men, achieve greater work-life balance, for example, which is particularly important for seafarers who can spend long periods of time at sea.”

Cruise brand are also making a conscious effort to close the gender gap by recruiting and promoting female employees.

Celebrity Cruises, for example, is focused on improving diversity and gender balance onboard its ships. The brand has long been a champion of female mariners and appointed its first female captain, Kate McCue, as commanding officer of Celebrity Summit in 2015. McCue was the first American woman to be named captain of a large cruise ship and is now captain of Celebrity Beyond. She uses her following on social media to promote women working in the maritime industry

The line also celebrated its first all-female bridge and officer team made up of 26 women representing 16 different countries, led by McCue, on International Women’s Day 2020.

Celebrity Cruises’ president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo provides an overview of how the brand is working with its parent company Royal Caribbean Group to recruit and train more women in the bridge and engine rooms onboard its ship in our Spring/Summer 2023 issue. “We’ll continue to find great women who want to be part of the great journey Celebrity is on,” she says.

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean Group’s Silversea Cruises brand appointed its first female president and CEO in January 2023. Barbara Muckermann, who was formerly the line’s chief operating officer, shares more in the cover story of our Spring/Summer 2023 issue, saying:  “The cruise industry has evolved and today we have perhaps more female CEOs than at any time in our history. I hope my story will inspire many more women to consider a career in the maritime industry.”

Several other brands are also promoting women to senior positions. For example, Cindy D’Aoust became president of American Queen Voyages in September 2022 and is working to increase diversity and equality in the river cruise brand. Furthermore, Captain Serena Melani has been appointed as master of Explora Journeys’ new Explora I, becoming the first Italian female cruise ship captain.

It is important to celebrate the steps that the industry as a whole is taking to make a change in recognising the positive impact women have in the cruise and wider maritime sector. But it is also clear that while passenger ship operators are making good progress, they still need to continue to invest in training and diversity programmes to further close the gender gap in future.

You can read more about the work by WISTA International, Celebrity Cruises, Silversea Cruises and American Queen Voyages in our Spring/Summer issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. Subscribe to the Cruise & Ferry suite of magazines here.

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