4 years ago

Women on the board: the reality and the myth


MANY businesses worldwide are still failing to make the most of female talent, according to a report issued on International Women’s Day by the World Economic Forum.

The report, the Corporate Gender Gap, contrasted the fine words of governments and business leaders with the reality. The idea that most corporations have become gender-balanced or women-friendly is a myth, it said. Of 600 companies surveyed across 20 countries, fewer than 5 per cent had women chief executives. Nor has there been an improvement in the pay gap, which is an average 18 per cent lower than for men.

Diversity is becoming not just desirable, but essential in the modern business world, declared the secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Efthimios Mitropoulos, in his keynote speech to the 2009 Annual Conference of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (Wista). He said that there was no intrinsic reason why women should not participate in, and benefit from employment in, the shipping industry.

However, it is true that shipping has historically been regarded as a male preserve. The relevance of sea-going experience to many shore-based jobs within the maritime industry means that the pool of women with these skills is very much lessened, thus reducing the overall representation of women in this sector as a whole.

Mr Mitropoulos said that in the secretariat, three of the six directors were women ‘and that sets the tone for the rest of the organisation’.

Singapore, despite being a maritime hub and a financial and investment centre, interestingly shares somewhat similar circumstances. Although women in Singapore have carved a solid reputation as equals to the men, there remains a psychological need for women to prove themselves in the male-dominated shipping industry, to work harder and be more aggressive to fight for limited resources.

Wista was formed in the UK in 1974 by a group of shipping women in London. It is an international organisation for women in management positions involved in maritime transportation business and related trades worldwide.

The Singapore chapter, the first in Asia, was established in 1998 as a non-profit organisation, to provide a networking forum for women shipping professionals. Members come from a diverse range of specialist fields across the maritime sector, from professionals in bunkering houses, chartering, insurance and P&I Clubs, flag registries, finance, to shipowners, suppliers, lawyers and shipbrokers.

There are now 25 national Wistas worldwide, with more than 1,200 members. In 2009, the three-day Wista Annual Conference was held in London, co-sponsored by IMO, Lloyds Register, Fairplay, TradeWinds, Marshall Islands Registry, Blank Rome, the House of Lords sponsored by Lord Ambrose and the Bahamas Maritime Authority.

This September, the three-day Wista Conference with the title Achieving Sustainability: Paving the Way to Shipping Excellence will be held in Athens from Sept 29 to Oct 1. More details can be found on conferences are important as they provide a platform for mentorship and networking.

Women are set to play their part in the growing maritime industry. Efforts to push forth maritime education and profiling the maritime careers are crucial to attracting more women into the sector and for women in management positions to maximise their potential, for the benefit of their organisations and the maritime sector as a whole.

The writer is president of the Singapore chapter of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association