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OP-ED Women in Shipping

You have not heard from me in over a week, as I have spent the last week in Sweden in advance of the Women's International Shipping and Trading Association's ("WISTA") International Conference & AGM in Stockholm, Sweden which was held September 14-16. In advance of the trip, I asked one of the Conference organizers (thank you Lena Gothberg!) to assist me in arranging business development visits in Sweden. It was this process of arranging these meetings with strangers that led me to what can best be described as an epiphany--with women reaching out and grabbing the most coveted jobs in the world, we need to work harder to support each other in making inroads in this male dominated industry.

It first helps to consider the reasons behind the fact that this is a male dominated industry. There is certainly a lack of women as merchant mariners. Life onboard is tough for anyone--something that breaks even the most stoic individuals. I've been told that women feel out of place on ships primarily because of the nature of the job which may require quite a lot of manual labor. And since women are often looked as the “weaker-sex”, some are skeptical of whether a woman has what it takes to endure such harsh conditions. However, I do not think these are the main reasons as to why there are so few female merchant mariners.
090609 8312 300x225 Reasons Behind the Lack of Women Officers in Maritime Industry
Since the beginning of mankind, whether we want to recognize it or not, there has been one cardinal rule: men will earn and women will take care of the house. Though we have come "a long way baby" to quote an old 70s commercial, the idea of women leaving their homes for months at a time while trying to manage a family is something not many can relate to. Many men find it intimidating and frustrating when a women leaves home for so many months to go away on a job. Even if a woman continues to sail after marriage, chances are, she will give up her post at sea when she starts a family. The situation is so different for women who work shoreside, as they see their children in the morning on their way to school or day care and again at the end of the day. With a job as a merchant mariner, not being able to see their children for months on end may be simply too much of a sacrifice for a woman.
women at sea Reasons Behind the Lack of Women Officers in Maritime Industry
I think it will be a while before we see women venturing out at sea without any hesitation and fear or choosing life out a sea for their entire working lives. Though times are changing and many companies are hiring women crew, I believe it will take longer for husbands to actually appreciate their wives' chosen profession to sail and travel around the world. For those of us that work shoreside, we still have the "pull of sea", which can, on occasions, be baffling to our life partners. We receive that late night phone call (invariably on a holiday) from a Captain seeking assistance. Our clients and working partners are typically in another country, which requires us to travel extensively. We may be called away on an emergency basis to attend to a ship casualty or other emergency, missing children's birthdays, school plays and other important life events. These and many other variables, I think, are at the root of why women do not choose this profession. In my case, the profession chose me and I am happy it did.

The WISTA Conference discussed issues related to mentoring and supporting our fellow women in shipping. This is a welcome "call to arms", as given the difficulties I have very briefly highlighted above for women in this industry. It will take our working together to increase our numbers in the industry. I believe my hosts in Sweden gave this a running start--now more of us need to consider assisting our fellow sisters in this endeavor. Thank you WISTA Sweden--let's hope this is the beginning of more support for each other.

If you wish to reach me, you may email me at miamipandi@comcast.net or motero@houckanderson.com.

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