Where are the women in the maritime sector?

Elpi Petraki reveals the work Wista International is carrying out to improve diversity in the industry

Where are the women in the maritime sector?
WISTA and its partners are collaborating on various initiatives to increase the number of women working in the global maritime industry

By Jon Ingleton |

Women represent just 1.28 per cent of the global seafarer workforce, with most of those in the cruise and passenger ferry sectors, according to a 2021 report from Bimco and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). While that figure is a big improvement on years gone by, there is clearly scope for greater representation of women in the industry.

The Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA International) has been connecting female executives since it was established in 1974. Now, its network of more than 3,800 professionals in the maritime, trading and logistics industries aims to support and empower women already working in the sector, and attract more to the industry.

“We’re working with the industry to provide women with equal opportunities for safe employment at sea and for industry roles ashore,” says Elpi Petraki, chartering and operations manager for Greek shipping firm ENEA Management, who was appointed as the new president of WISTA International in late 2022. “We want to see more women in leadership positions and for employers to actively support women’s career progression and ambitions.”

WISTA’s focus is on collaborating with universities and academies to grow female participation and retention in the industries; with legislators like the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to build industry standards and metrics; with operators to implement best practice; and with industry associations and partners globally to support career development.

“We already work with a wide range of partners and industry stakeholders to raise awareness and create a more inclusive and equitable maritime industry, but we’re also looking at launching more initiatives,” says Petraki.

One example is the project between WISTA, Anglo-Eastern, the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network and the ICS to produce a Diversity Handbook, the second edition of which was published in October 2022 (see wistainternational.com/the-diversity-handbook).

WISTA also continues to offer women professional development opportunities, for example through further education, role-specific training courses or attendance at industry events.

“Most importantly, we’re ensuring WISTA is part of the conversation,” says Petraki. “In 2019 we secured Consultative Status at the IMO and in 2020 signed a memorandum of understanding with the IMO to promote greater diversity and inclusion in the maritime sector through enhanced co-operation activities. As such, we’re an active participant at IMO’s Technical Cooperation Committee and we’re playing an increasing role at other technical committees on human element, maritime environmental protection and maritime safety.”

WISTA has a regional presence too, with representation in 56 countries – these local entities are responsible for relationships with national shipowners and operators. “WISTA already has members and support from more than 15 cruise lines globally, from the smaller boutique brands to the larger, well-known cruise and ferries companies, especially in Europe and the USA,” says Petraki.

So, what would Petraki like to see from shipowners? “They need to have specific actions and deliverables in place around what they are doing to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels of their organisation, to empower and support the promotion of women and ensure fair and inclusive recruitment practices,” she says.

“They should have policies and processes in place which support women through all stages of their lives and careers. There is a bias against women, and whether it is conscious or not, it still exists. 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.”

Training and education are also very important, she adds. “This can be providing support to help people progress in their careers, but also to promote diversity and change behaviours. It’s important for employees to understand a company’s position and policies but also why diversity is important.”

Supporting diversity

Cruise and ferry operators can help raise awareness of the benefits and importance of diversity and inclusion across the maritime industry in several ways. They include:

•  Encouraging employees to join their national WISTA association where they will have access to a range of training courses, events and development opportunities.

•  Signing the WISTA International Inclusion Pledge at wistainternational.com/pledge.

•  Encouraging female employees to sign up to the IMO and WISTA Maritime Speakers Bureau, which is a database of women in the industry who are available to speak on a wide range of industry topics. As an extension of this, there are also two pledges that can be signed by speakers and organisations – the Speakers Pledge and Sponsors Pledge – pledging to only be involved in events which are diverse and inclusive – at maritimespeakers.com/sponsors-pledge and maritimespeakers.com/speakers-pledge-signatories.

•  Joining global WISTA conferences and events. Not only is WISTA present at all major maritime events around the world where it often organises standalone conferences and sessions, but it also hosts its own events globally. Examples of these include the WISTA Atlantic conference in Portugal and the WISTA International AGM scheduled in Uruguay in October.

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door. 

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