Maritime industry takes steps to address ‘critical shortage’ of women in the sector

In the Liverpool city region the sector is worth almost £4bn a year, encompasses more than 30 sub-sectors and employs 28,000 people – but nowhere near enough of them are women. Tony McDonough reports

Maritime
Helen Kelly from Lloyds List addresses the International Maritime Forum in Liverpool. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

In business terms, the maritime sector is hugely diverse… but in gender terms, not so much.

In the Liverpool city region the sector is worth almost £4bn a year, encompasses more than 30 sub-sectors and employs 28,000 people. But nowhere near enough of them are women.

This is particularly true of the more traditional areas of maritime such as ports and shipping which still project a rough and ready ‘this is no place for a woman’ image.

The issue was on the agenda at the International Maritime Forum held as part of the International Business Festival at Exhibition Centre Liverpool where a mainly female panel from the maritime industry discussed the issue in more detail.

Low-paying roles

Helen Kelly, Europe editor-in-chief at Lloyd’s List, talked about recent research into the role of women in maritime across the world revealing that only 2-3% of seafarers were women.

“Men are also keeping the top jobs with women often siloed into low-paying roles,” she added. “Just 0.17% of women sampled in the survey had secured a place in executive leadership teams.”

She pointed out that other research had shown that more progressive firms that did work towards a gender balance were more successful than those that didn’t, with the loss to the UK overall in GDP contribution well over £100bn a year.

Distinguished career

Other panel members took the issue out of the abstract to offer real-life examples. Sarah Thomas enjoyed a successful and distinguished career with the Royal Navy, including working as a navigating officer on a Type 42 Destroyer, and is now in a senior role at Chevron Global Security.

She told those at the forum: “When I was 14 I went in to the Royal Navy recruitment office in Liverpool and told them I wanted to be an engineer. The man there said to me ‘well sweetheart, you don’t want to do that as it means you won’t have very nice nails’.”

Sarah did add that in the years since the Royal Navy had embraced diversity and was now way ahead of the private sector on the issue. 

Her experience in the careers office was more than two decades ago and it would be easy to think that such overt sexism was now a rarity. Sadly not, added Helen Kelly, who told how, in the last couple of weeks, a male delegate at a similar event had said that women still belonged at home and in the kitchen.

New taskforce

The backdrop to the seminar was a major new initiative by industry body Maritime UK, which has established a Women in Maritime taskforce to address what it describes as a “critical shortage” of women in the industry. Mersey Maritime will play a key role in the project.

Ben Murray, director of Maritime UK and the only man on the six-strong panel, said everyone involved was keen to ensure the taskforce was not just a talking shop but a real catalyst for change in the maritime industry.

“In two years’ time we want to look at the data to see what has worked and not worked – and hold ourselves to account,” he said. “And we will be creating a charter which will be published later this year.

“Our aim is to produce a series of recommendations for Government and industry.”

Women in Maritime
Kirsty MacDonald, a business development executive at Liverpool John Moores University. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke was in the audience at the session and said: “Here in Merseyside we are seeing women that are helping to drive the maritime sector forward.

“Two years ago this kind of event would probably not have happened. Now we have real momentum and that is tremendously exciting.”

Career choices

Also on the panel was Nicola Good, executive editor of FairPlay, Camilla Carlbom Flinn, chairman of Carlbom Shipping, Chief Officer, Susan Cloggie-Holden, of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Kirsty MacDonald, a business development executive at Liverpool John Moores University, a member of Mersey Maritime.

Kirsty said one crucial aspect of the lack of gender diversity in maritime was the shortage of girls who aspired to technical or engineering careers. She explained: “Engineering contributes 26% of the UK’s entire GDP.

“There are 87,000 graduate engineering opportunities in the UK and we are producing 46,000 graduates – but only 15% of them are female. Not enough girls are being steered towards STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects in schools.”

She said work was being done to address this and she praised the work of Liverpool Girl Geeks, a social enterprise which runs programmes to encourage more girls to consider careers in tech.

But she added: “There is still not enough understanding of the plethora of opportunities that are available in tech and engineering. If we can’t persuade girls to choose technical subjects at GCSE level then we have lost them.”

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