14 MAR 2021 

On International Women’s Day, the global maritime industry paid tribute to the female seafarers and professionals who help world trade. But much work remains to be done: the International Transport Workers’ Federation reports that just one percent of the 1.6 million seafarers covered by its collective bargaining agreements are female, and the International Chamber of Shipping notes that women are underrepresented in the board room as well.

“International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity for everyone in the maritime sector to ask: ‘Are we doing enough to make our industry more diverse?'” said International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Kitack Lim in a statement. “We have seen time and again that having women in all roles, particularly in leadership creates a more prosperous and dynamic workforce. Moving forward, we must embrace these principles to ensure a sustainable recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to shape a fairer future for all.”

In a recent report on diversity in the maritime sector, the ICS detailed the longstanding obstacles for women who wish to work at sea. The belief that women are “bad luck” on board still persists in many corners of the business, and women often face skepticism of their ability to perform the hard physical work traditionally found in the deck department. “In many cases, women graduate with excellent results from [maritime training academies] but see their job applications being turned down,” wrote ICS. Women are also disproportionately affected by gender-based violence (in general, not only in shipping), and female seafarers often find themselves working without female shipmates on an otherwise all-male crew.

To address these concerns, ICS recommends that maritime firms take measures to actively promote and encourage gender diversity, including:

  • prioritizing measures related to diversity and inclusion in their business plans;
    • notifying manning agencies of their corporate diversity and inclusion policy;
    • introducing flexible working patterns;
    • ensuring suitable onboard accommodation for women seafarers;
    • providing ergonomically suitable PPE that meets the needs of all seafarers; and
    • involving trade unions or employee groups by reaching an agreed joint strategy

ICS also highlighted the importance of mentorship for female seafarers and maritime professionals who are working their way up the ranks. Mentorship is an essential part of career development, and explicitly prioritizing mentorship for women in maritime may help overcome barriers.

In recognition of this priority, IMO has launched an online hashtag campaign  – #MyMaritimeMentor – to recognize the work of inspiring mentors in the maritime industry. IMO is also working with WISTA International to gather data for its first “Women in Maritime” survey to assess the participation of women in the maritime sector.

Women have also been an essential part of the workforce that has kept trade moving during the COVID-19 pandemic, noted WISTA International.

“The recognition of the vital roles women play in the maritime world have been thrown into even greater perspective by the global pandemic. The importance of the contribution everyone plays in the shipping world, the ports sector and the wider maritime industry cannot be undervalued – and women are an integral part of the solutions that the global economy needs as the slow recovery continues,” said Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, President of WISTA.


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