25 SEPT 2019

Choose your husband, and if possible, choose your boss. That’s the advice that Katarina Norén, Director General of the Swedish Maritime Administration, gave at the World Maritime University (WMU) Third International Women’s Conference on Empowering Women in the Maritime Community in April this year. 

The conference report has now been published, and it recounts that  Noreen began her presentation by stating that gender equality is a matter of survival because diversity breeds innovation. Even in Sweden, where gender equality is more advanced, with 12 of 22 government ministers being women and where the government has a Minister for Gender Equality, only four percent of those working in the maritime industry are women. Norén admits that Sweden is still far from achieving its gender equality targets. The practical advice that she shared included the following points:

  • Work hard and take on the available opportunities, and make the best of it.
    Choose your husband! I would never choose a husband who would not let me have a career and would not do half the work at home.
    At work, do not identify yourself as a woman, rather identify yourself as a professional.
    • If possible, choose your boss.

Also speaking at the conference was Maphefo Anno-Frempong, CEO of the Transport Education Training Authority, South Africa. She gave her personal testimony that she joined the transport sector by chance and succeeded by dint of faith and belief that one can achieve anything to which one sets one’s heart and mind. “It is because of that belief that I have been able to survive in an environment that did not necessarily embrace me in the beginning. I had to kick some doors open to be embraced, and I am still kicking them, determinedly. I encourage any woman that wants to make a difference in life, let passion and purpose drives you. There is nothing that defies purpose.” 

She concluded her presentation with the following advice:

  • In life, you will never please everyone. Do not try. But, always be driven by integrity, by honesty and by your principles.
    • My advice to other women is do not kick the ladder from under those who are coming behind you. But be kind to yourself and do not take yourself too seriously. But master yourself in the process, and also show up and embrace the journey.
    Invest in others and make progress.
    Above all, just stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before you.

Heike Deggim, Director Maritime Safety Division, IMO, noted that women comprised only about eight percent of delegates at IMO meetings and only 28 percent of the technical officers in the Maritime Safety Division of the IMO Secretariat. While these figures actually represent an upward trend in the participation by women in national delegations at IMO meetings and in the appointment and employment of women in the IMO Secretariat, on board ships and shipping companies, she noted that the situation is still far from the optimal figure of at least 35 percent.

In addition, more than any open discrimination, the biggest obstacle facing the promotion of women is the scarcity of women applicants to advertised positions. Convincing women from a very young age to seek a long-term career in the maritime sector will go a long way to solving many challenges in the industry, including the shortage of seafarers, she said. Deggim offered the following advice to women who wish to pursue leadership positions:

  • One cannot allow oneself to be unsettled by every outlandish remark made. It is better to ignore it and move on.
    One needs to pick the fights one can win. It is no use wasting time and energy on things that are not worth fighting for.
    One does not have to sacrifice a family life in order to move forward with a career in shipping. I brought up two children largely on my own while climbing up the career ladder. I am now blessed with three grandchildren I am very proud of. While that was not always easy, it is doable. One needs the will to succeed and also a good network of family and friends to help out.

As a result of the two-day conference, over 350 participants from more than 70 countries adopted conclusions identifying 17 actions that could be taken to advance gender balance in the maritime and oceans sectors. The conclusions serve as best practice guidance for all stakeholders committed to action focused on increasing gender balance across maritime and ocean industries. In addition to the conclusions, the Conference Report summarizes the most significant outcomes of the Conference by session and speaker.

Since the University was founded in 1983, WMU has been striving for improving gender balance in maritime and ocean-related fields in higher education and research. Female student representation at WMU has improved significantly from three percent in 1983 to 34 percent in 2019 in the MSc program in Maritime Affairs delivered in Malmö, Sweden, and the Class of 2019 in the WMU MSc in International Transport & Logistics program delivered in Shanghai, China, achieved gender parity.


The conference report is available here.


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