COVID-19 may have opened more doors for women in maritime sector

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The President of the Singapore Shipping Association, Caroline Yang (pictured), has called for women to be increasingly supportive of fellow women and to open doors for them “when the opportunity arises” as one of the measures to increase gender equality in the maritime industry.

Ms Yang, who is also the CEO of Singapore-based shipping company Hong Lam Marine, was speaking as a panellist on Capital Link’s webinar on Wednesday, entitled Women in Maritime – The Shipping Agenda and the Mechanisms for Change.

The debate, moderated by Nicola Good, Head of Brand and External Relations for Marine and Offshore at Lloyd’s Register, looked at whether there had been improvements in gender equality in the industry and how these changes might be measured, along with examining whether virtual ways of working since COVID-19 had opened up more opportunities for women.

Ms Good told the panel: “Career interruptions and caring responsibilities can hinder career progression but there is no shortage of capable women.”

She said that as a less visible industry the problem of gender equality could be heightened, and it was sometimes caught on the back foot when it came to securing entry level talent and retaining its recruits.

Panellist Lois K Zabrocky, President and CEO, International Seaways said she felt progress had been made in the last three decades “although it is never quite enough” while Christa Volpicelli, MD, Global Transportation Group, Citi said though she had never felt that her career had suffered because she was a woman, she acknowledged that “more efforts are definitely required”.

“I think it is incumbent upon all of us as leaders of the organisations we are in to call for transparency and effort to change to drive to see more women in senior management positions, which they are quite capable of, and deserving of, she said.

Another panellist, Cecilia Österman, Senior Lecturer in Marine Science at Linnaeus University in Sweden, who started in the industry 30 years ago as an apprentice engineer, said: “I am a little bit upset that we are still having this conversation – we are a bunch of busy women having to discuss our worth. We still have some work to do, but we are getting there.”

This was agreed by Dora Mace-Kokota, Partner, Stephenson Harwood, who said the legal sector was a bit different with more women entering the law profession, though there were less women in senior roles.

Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, Co-CEO, Tototheo Maritime, and President, WISTA International said being involved in WISTA had opened her eyes to how women were seen in the industry adding: “I think we have made leaps but we also have a very long way to go.”

She said despite the impact of COVID-19, WISTA International was committed to ensuring gains made in the last few years would continue and it had a grown its number of associations worldwide and its membership. It is also planning an international speakers bureau to make women more accessible to speak at conferences and was also involved in a study to see how COVID-19 has impacted women in maritime.

Panellists discussed how digital tools were altering traditional corporate practices and these were opening up more opportunities for women.

Caroline Yang said: “COVID-19 has completely put to rest the myth that working from home is not possible. It is possible and it does not affect your productivity. So, I think one of the good things to come out of this pandemic is that almost anyone can work from home effectively and hopefully this is another step for women remaining in the workforce, whatever industry they are in. I do believe that opportunities are going to be opened and will continue to open as we progress further with this digitalisation of the maritime sector.”