Prejudice against women in ship chartering

She-worthy: Women in the Ship Chartering Trade Do those choosing a career at sea face gender bias in this male-centric industry?

Historically, women have played a minority role in the shipping industry in general. Yet, with the evolution of facets such as women’s rights (both citizen and enlisted), globalization, non-traditional families, and tourism in recent decades—specifically in terms of chartering—females are become more and more prevalent in the shipping trade. We felt it was high time to take a look at their roles, if they face prejudice, and – if so, how they work with or surpass them.

In a recent survey, while statistically very few respondents cited getting used to weather and sea conditions and time away from family/loved ones as their biggest challenges, roughly ¾ (73.33%) said that, yes, they felt shipping was more a ‘man’s world’ and they had experienced prejudice as a result. Meanwhile, almost 60% of women surveyed have remained in shipping for 10 years or more! That says something.

How do they face this challenge, and how do they succeed?

Today, we share these women’s thoughts on such topics and examine some of the coping skills, including humor, that have resulted in their current and continued success, along with some savvy advice for women who plan to enter the world of chartering.

Those polled including chartering managers, mates, deckhands, officers, and cruise agents from several countries, including Greece, France, the US, Mexico, Norway, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and Trinidad. What is interesting is that, despite their varied reasons for entering in the shipping industry and the ways in which different cultures perceive women’s roles, over 80% have maintained their shipping careers for 5-10+ years, in spite of the male dominance in the field.

Ekaterina Veras, Head of Foreign Trade Activities and Logistic Department at the Morozko, Ltd. Holding Company in Saint Petersburg, Russia says, “I am very pleased that this issue has attracted some attention. Yes, I have at times encountered feelings of being a minority in the male-dominated world of shipping.” She cites lower wages for women, a need to prove ability (more so than men), and the perception that women with children may be seen as less committed than men as specific hurdles. As to the positives, Veras goes on to add that, “women are able to succeed in almost any profession, including shipping—but, for shipping, they must have an especially strong intrinsic motivation, the desire for success, and involvement in the work… The only ways to counter (prejudice) are by maintaining the highest degree of professionalism, understanding the business processes and issues, and being interested in and focusing on the commercial success of the enterprise.”

Conversely, Federica Maiorano, Shipbroker at Shipping 360, Ltd. in Monte-Carlo, Monaco says that in the past two years she’s been a shipbroker, she has come to believe that there are “more opportunities for women than what it seems. For starters, you are more recognizable than men as there are far fewer female faces around.” She says her main challenge was being taken seriously in her role, but felt this was more based on her young age and inexperience than gender. Maiorano definitely recommends a career in shipping, adding these words of encouragement, “Just because there are more men than women does not mean it's a hostile environment; you will just feel the same level of natural competition any fresh entry encounters at the start of their career.”

The far-reaching chartering industry often necessitates travel among countries and cultures; and, even in a domestic/home port-based operation, often times, there are employees from various places around the globe. A Chartering Manager from Mexico said she faced difficulties on occasion when men didn’t want to “take orders from a woman,” but she countered that by going above and beyond in her duties—a common theme among all respondents. A 2nd Officer from Great Britain said similarly that she encountered hurdles “getting male crew members to listen to me, being younger and a female, especially (those) of different nationalities. In some countries, the foreman or dock workers would not listen to me even though I was the officer in charge.” A Chartering Manager from Great Britain said she initially encountered difficulty breaking into this male-dominated field, but encouraged women to “Do it (anyway) – it’s a fantastic and exciting career!”

Lotta Akre, a Chartering Manager at SCA Logistics in Sundsvall, Sweden states that, despite the fact that it seems men are predominantly out to help other men in the industry and that she’s felt the need to work harder and show more results that men in order to demonstrate her value, she is a proponent of women entering the shipping field, as “it is a great fun business!” She offers by way of advice: “The way I have overcome this (prejudice) is to work harder.”

Mavra Bonatsos, Shipbroker at Marvin Shipping Services Inc. in Athens, Greece has this to share: “As a female shipbroker for the last 19 years, I have encountered prejudice in the industry, the most common of which being the idea that shipping is a men's world—and, thus, it might be very difficult for a woman achieve the same success as a man. I overcame those challenges by working hard, by staying enthusiastic about my profession, and by setting and reaching competitive goals.”

Similar to Akre and Bonatsos, when women surveyed were asked, overall, how they overcame feelings of prejudice, over 75% replied that they “just did their job well.” The majority of these respondents also cited the following:

  • — Do your job to the best of your ability.
  • — Know your stuff; learn as much as you can about your role and its duties.
  • — Be yourself, and be true to yourself.
  • — Communicate well and efficiently.
  • — Treat others how you would like to be treated.
  • — Maintain a passion for and perseverance in your career path.

In addition to adhering to the above, most chose to overlook or ignore prejudice, and instead focused on their career goals, networked with both men and women, and maintained professionalism at all times. Whether they entered the shipping industry due to a passion for boats or the sea, by heritage, or by education, one theme is predominant: Love what you do, and do it well; stick with it, and you will succeed.

The spry and petite Becky Jordan, Head Chef on US chartered working boats, where she is often the only female on board offers, “Be professional at all times. Treat others with respect, and expect the same. Humor is always welcome at sea, so long as all maintain degrees of professionalism. Of course, I’m the one who feeds these gents (laughs), so I may experience less prejudice than other women in the industry.” And, you can bet that, as Maiorano mentions above, that Jordan and her resume’ stand out from the male-dominated crowd when it comes to hiring charter crew.

Roughly 18% those surveyed offered additional comments that will benefit females new to or entering the industry. A Head of Chartering from Greece suggests, “During your work day, forget you are a woman.” A 3rd Mate from Washington says that while “you will meet road blocks that are just there for women, you can overcome them! Find an ally, and do your job better than anyone else.” A Marine HR Coordinator from Australia offers: “Do your best, find a mentor, and love what you do. Never dumb yourself down to soothe male egos.” A 2nd Officer from Great Britain echoes this saying, “Put 110% effort into everything, and do your job as best you can; be careful of people trying to stereotype you.” Others input includes: “Don’t fear prejudice; go with your passions. Work hard at doing a good job, and you will be highly regarded and valued” and “Do your best all day, every day. Laugh at the sexist jokes.”

As a whole, what stands out is that the majority of those polled recommended shipping as a fantastic, “she-worthy” career for women. A Chartering Manager from Greece notes that, “Every woman who likes to work in a continuously changing environment can be successful in the shipping industry.” Seasoned shipbroker Mavra (quoted above) adds: “Women who decide to pursue a shipping career must remain highly motivated and be well-prepared to face various difficulties under pressure, in order to prove that we, too, are capable of surviving in this highly competitive field. A woman must commit fully to the choice of this career, decide not to give up on her dreams, and then, everyday, set new personal targets and strive to accomplish them!

Joanne Chen, MICS Senior Executive at Huanya Ship Management Co., Ltd., Shanghai, China finds a balance of sorts: “Women possess a certain beauty. Perhaps that is part of why we call ships “she” and “her,” – to achieve the balance of yin (male) and yang (female) in a predominantly male industry. Meanwhile, today, women with the desire to learn the trade, I find, will be respected and treated with respect. Be confident, professional, and accumulate chartering experiences. You will be successful, too!”

Adds the Chartering Manager from Mexico: “Go for it! There is a lot of room to grow in the industry… the fact that we might not have a maritime background doesn't have to be an impediment to becoming a great charterer, operator, or even Captain.”

As women become increasingly active in less traditional, formerly male-dominated careers, the world is becoming more equitable. While there are still fewer women than men in chartering, we believe it is important to encourage women to pursue a shipping career if that is their passion. At OpenSea, we pride ourselves is in being equal opportunity, that is to say, equally convenient for all chartering professionals, avoiding gender differences. Let us help you find the ship or cargo that best suits your requirements.

As mentioned above, we monitor global freight market trends continually. As such, we welcome your input, and invite you to take part in our upcoming survey - Past and Future of Ship Chartering.

Ship chartering is easy with us

Just place your open inquiries and find suitable positions.
Get started for free.