Driving progress in gender diversity

Globally, women are estimated to make up just 2% of the maritime workforce, according to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). However, they make up an even smaller 1.2% of the global seafarer workforce according to the BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report. Ironically, this latter figure indicates a positive trend in the maritime industry’s gender balance given that it is a 45.8% increase compared to the 2015 report.

The maritime industry has historically been a male dominated one, a trend which the IMO – a United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping – is attempting to address through its Women in Maritime programme. The programme supports the participation of women in both shore-based and sea-going posts.

In 2021, the IMO and the Women in Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA International) launched a new survey to examine the proportion and distribution of women working in the maritime sector. The results of this survey have yet to be released although it is expected that it will reveal that progress in terms of gender representation – particularly as far as shore positions in the maritime industry are concerned – has been made.

An IMO priority is to help UN member states achieve the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular Goal 5 to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. The IMO’s gender and capacity-building programme has supported access to maritime training and employment opportunities for women in the maritime sector.

One company that is bucking the trend with a significantly higher proportion of women employees is African Marine Solutions (AMSOL), the leading employer of seafarers in the region and a market leader in specialist marine services. According to Clare Gomes, Strategic Planning and Communications Executive at AMSOL, the company has improved its representation of women from 8% in 2016 to 15% in 2021. “Women make up 33% of our EXCO team, 35% of our shore-based staff and 7.5% of our seafarers. Our aim is for women to make up 22% of our total workforce by 2025.”

So successful has the company’s gender programme been that in 2019 it was awarded joint second place with Accenture in the Gender Mainstreaming Awards. Despite the progress AMSOL has made towards achieving gender diversity, Gomes concedes that there are still significant challenges to overcome before women are more equitably represented.

Gomes, who is also the chairperson of the South African chapter of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA), says that whilst progress has been made in the last few years with regards to the number of women in the South African maritime sector, particularly in government organisations such as Transnet National Ports Authority and the South African Maritime Safety Authority, it has been slow for a number of reasons, including perceptions that women themselves hold about barriers to entry in the technical maritime industry as well as higher value placed on specific leadership styles.

“At AMSOL we are making a concerted effort to address this and some progress is being made. In support of our seagoing talent pipeline, we currently have 14 engineering and deck cadets – these are seagoing trainees at junior officer level – and of this group, 9 are women.”

In the last 18 months, she adds, AMSOL has employed women in a variety of diverse roles including at sea (deck, catering and engine crew); warehouse and logistics; strategic sourcing; HR/Crewing; legal; nautical; and Safety, Health, Environment & Quality. “As the economy recovers and our business grows, we will be able to employ talent in all parts of the business, including women who are already making an impact across the industry,” says Gomes.

While AMSOL is making a concerted effort to improve gender equality, more needs to be done from an industry perspective, says Lineo Monoana, a Nautical Superintendent at AMSOL who is responsible for a fleet of 16 vessels.

“We need more education and increased awareness around employment opportunities for women in the sector,” she says. “Jobs in the maritime industry are not restricted to working on ships or cruise liners but also include maritime lawyers, accountants and bookkeepers, SHEQ specialists, administrators, engineers, crewing and logistics specialists, HR specialists, payroll administrators and warehouse, procurement and logistics specialists, amongst others. The options are literally endless.”

Monoana is proof that women in the maritime industry need not be restricted by the proverbial glass ceiling. She started her Diploma in Maritime Studies in 2009, followed by a cadetship on a ship in 2011 during which time she was the only female on board. She spent six years working on ships before being promoted to Nautical Superintendent. Her recent projects involved registering a new ship recently acquired by AMSOL to the South African Ships’ Registry. This included certification, the logistics of getting the ship to South Africa, crew and training as well as transitioning the ship to AMSOL’s approved systems.

Her day-to-day responsibilities include creating manuals for vessels, procedures regulations and policies regarding ship navigation.

“My career has allowed me to travel extensively taking me to, amongst other countries, Columbia, Ecuador, Mexico, Togo, Ghana and Greece,” she reveals.

With a vision to be a CEO in the maritime industry, Monoana says she is passionate about growing and improving the industry, including making it a more attractive career choice for women.

The maritime industry, she explains, is still male dominated. In order for this to change the industry – both public and private – needs to work together, to grow the percentage of women in the sector.

“The public and private sectors need to work collectively to grow the representation of women. We need a solution for the maritime industry in South Africa, one which highlights every aspect of the maritime industry from cargo ships, to the fishing industry, to rescue ships,” says Monoana.

For the maritime industry to make sustainable changes as far as gender equality is concerned requires a deliberate approach which is supported by both men and women, policy and practices, points out Gomes. “Opening the industry up to more women in positions of influence is not only the right thing to do but given the many demands on business to drive economic recovery in the sector, will ensure competitive advantage” she concludes.