Strong links between diversity and good leadership in shipping revealed in DSG 2023 Annual Review


Gender progress is being made in the shore-based shipping industry but a glass ceiling still remains, finds the latest Diversity Study Group (DSG) Annual Review. The report is based on over 2,500 survey responses, spanning 99 nationalities and six continents, from across the maritime sector and conducted in association with 15 shipping organisations, spanning ship owners and managers, classification, technology, ports and marine services.

In 2023, the overall gender split was 52.2% male and 45% female. This is a clear move towards parity from last year when the split was 56.8% male and 41.8% female. Furthermore, female representation in the lowest four of six levels of seniority has now passed the important 30% mark, and this year’s results show an improved gender balance in six of seven categories of job function.

However, female representation remains poor at the leadership level and the proportion of women in technical roles has actually declined. Whilst it is encouraging to see a higher proportion of female team leaders and senior managers, the glass ceiling still exists for now.

The proportion of leadership roles held by people who are White is falling, from 69.5% to 61%, alongside an increase in people identifying as Asian in C-suite or head of department roles from 25% to 31.7%. The results also show an increase in Middle Eastern, Hispanic and other ethnicities in top roles, albeit in small numbers.

In mid-level roles, ethnicities other than White or Asian climbed from 7.7% to 13.2%. However, the figures are not compelling, and anecdotal evidence suggests it remains harder to be an ethnic minority (however that is defined in different location), especially in senior decision-making roles.

The overall proportion of people ‘with a supportive peer group’ remained roughly the same as last year, but with much less variation between people of different identities. This year, more than 80% of every group analysed by the review said they had such a support group around them. The survey results also show correlation between good DEI practices and people feeling secure and valued at work. This includes having robust practices and inclusive policies to avoid discrimination, and building network groups so people don’t feel ‘different’ or unusual.

However, it is clear that respondents have an appetite for further improvement, with 54% responding that their employer could do more to achieve a diverse and inclusive workplace. When given the opportunity to comment on what further action they wanted to see, there was also a marked shift towards calls for action, rather than planning, thinking or talking about it. This possibly reveals impatience from respondents who want to see DEI strategies acted upon.

The evidence continues to grow in two areas showing the importance of effective leadership on DEI. First, there is growing feedback that an organisation’s inclusivity is most visible in the diversity of its leadership. Second, a leadership team’s commitment to action must be visible. Employees have heard leaders talk about DEI and most buy into it. Now they are keener than ever to see it in action.

The findings show a connection between sound DEI policies and good management. If managers can make employees feel more confident, more authentic and more included, they get better results from them. Interestingly, there is also good evidence in the survey that the reverse is also true; that being a good manager also means being an inclusive manager.

Heidi Heseltine (pictured), Founder of the Diversity Study Group, said: “This year’s results reveal a picture of evolving diversity across different levels of seniority, in different fields, and in locations. We can see welcome progress in a number of key areas, such as gender, age and ethnic diversity, where the ‘the waiting room for talent’ at junior and mid-level ranks now seems to be delivering greater diversity at mid-level and management roles. There is no room for complacency though, as progress is limited in other areas, such as the decline in female representation in technical roles, or the lack non-White, non-male representation in leadership roles.

“This year’s results reinforce what we know about the pathway to progress in DEI, which is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for DEI. It is crucial to listen to people at every level and of every type to show where problems might prevent people delivering their best. Top-level DEI priorities are still critical, but any actions must be nuanced.

“We also saw an important link emerge between good people management and good DEI outcomes, underpinning the need for organisations to invest time and resources in developing their employees.”

Heidi also commented on what leaders can learn from the results: “The results seem to show growing impatience for meaningful action from employees, who want to see DEI policies and programmes properly resourced and enforced. This is where leaders need to strike the right balance between listening to people, thinking about what works for their organisation, then committing to delivery. When it comes to this challenge, we couldn’t improve on one of the most succinct answers we received in the survey, which gave us the title of this report: “Listen, act.”

“These insights provide our members with huge value through the ability to assess the progress they are making at a granular level and benchmark against their peers. At a time when it is more important than ever to set out a clear vision for diversity and inclusion in your organisation, to deliver on your DEI strategy, to engage your employees, and to attract and retain talent, the data provided by our annual survey is essential business intelligence for today’s shipping leaders.”

Copies of the DSG’s 2023 Annual Review are available on request. To request a copy, please email