Report sheds light on key challenges for women at sea

Report sheds light on key challenges for women at sea — 2023-04-27

Maritime and Ports

A study conducted by the All Aboard Alliance has revealed 15 key pain points for women at sea. The research is the first to emerge from the Diversity@Sea workstream, which seeks to investigate how to make a career at sea more diverse, inclusive, and appealing to a broader pool of talent.

The 15 main issues have been divided into four categories, the first being the difficulty of succeeding professionally at sea for women (being perceived as less competent than male coworkers, not having equal access to training or tasks onboard, and having to outperform male peers to get respected or promoted).

Another category identified involves how social relations onboard can be especially challenging for women at sea (feeling isolated or unsupported because of their gender, the concern of gossip or rumours, or power abuse or sexual harassment and sexual misconduct onboard).

The third category of pain points relates to systemic employment challenges at sea (service contracts at sea being too long, lack of family planning options such as maternity leave or sea-shore rotation programmes, resulting in many women having to choose between a career at sea OR starting a family, in turn pushing women seafarer to find employment elsewhere, and finally, many companies still not willing to recruit women seafarers). 

The final category relates to the physical conditions onboard (lack of access to female sanitary products onboard or lack of access to adequately fitted Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as boiler suites, fire gloves etc., or lack of access to designated women’s changing rooms and bathrooms onboard).

The challenges were identified from an analysis of interviews with 115 women seafarers from all ranks and geographies serving onboard vessels. The majority of the interviewees (59%) were women with the rank of one stripe.

When asked about their preferred ratio of women colleagues onboard, the women seafarers interviewed had vastly different preferences. Responses ranged from 10% to 75% and from 1 to 10 women, respectively, while one in five women seafarers had no preferred gender ratio. Multiple of the women interviewed emphasised the importance of having women senior officers onboard.

The All Aboard Alliance was established by the international not-for-profit organisation Global Maritime Forum in 2022 May, together with senior leaders from across the maritime industry, and supported by founding knowledge partners, Swiss Re Institute and Diversity Study Group (DSG).

It is now embarking on the next step of co-designing relevant measures and solutions to address each of the 15 key pain points. The next step of the project is the pilot phase, which will be launched later this year. In this phase, selected vessels from the All Aboard Alliance members with higher-than-average numbers of women officers and crew members onboard will test the co-designed measures and solutions in an action-research approach. The goal is to identify which of the proposed solutions will be most impactful in addressing the 15 key pain points identified by women seafarers.

The Global Maritime Forum and the All Aboard Alliance hope this report will help spread awareness of the major challenges experienced by women at sea and that many will join us on our mission to identify adequate and sustainable solutions for each of the 15 critical pain points. A career at sea must be more inclusive to become attractive to women seafarers and everyone interested in pursuing a career at sea,” organisations said in the report.