Is There Gender Imbalance in Maritime Industry?

Women in Maritime

December 13, 2022

By Sue Terpilowski OBE

Is There Gender Imbalance in Maritime Industry?

Women must be seen and heard from the stage at maritime events.

Despite women’s progress in the global workforce over the past decades, gender biases and pay gaps still persist. The situation in the maritime sector is no exception ashore and when it comes to the sea is even more shocking and is nowhere near acceptable. Today, women represent only 1.2% per cent of the global seafarer workforce as per the BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report, most of which are in the cruise sector.

The IMO has recognised that the industry needs to make massive changes and is being proactive in raising the issues and undertaking initiatives to get things moving in the right direction. They launched their inaugural International Day for Women in Maritime this year on 18 May. This year they focused on the theme “Training-Visibility-Recognition: Supporting a barrier-free working environment”.

One of the main ways to attract and retain women in the sector is for it to be more evident that females are welcome and have a key role. That is why I have been a leading voice in stopping our male-dominated conferences and events. So I was delighted when WISTA International and the IMO asked me to work with them on the Maritime Speakers initiative.

For those unfamiliar with WISTA (The Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association), it was formed in 1974 as a global organisation connecting female executives and decision-makers worldwide. WISTA International incorporates 56 countries National WISTA Association (NWA), representing more than 3,800 female professionals from all maritime industry sectors. NWAs provide in-country and regional networking, business and skill-building opportunities, corporate visibility and facilitate industry relationships.

The IMO and WISTA International signed an MoU in 2020, which aimed to set a framework to promote gender diversity and inclusion as vital factors in providing a sustainable future for the shipping industry worldwide. Both agreed that it was vital to promote women’s voices in the shipping industry and increase the number of women speakers. Also, show more diverse role models, eliminate the excuse – “I cannot find a female speaker” and simplify the process of finding speakers. Moreover, it is free to register for speakers and organisers.

So the three of us agreed the way forward was to launch a dedicated website, which is how The Maritime Speakers Bureau came to life.

The website brings forward three parts of the initiative:

  1. It asks for positive commitment by asking people to sign one or more of its four pledges: speakers, event organisers, individuals, employers and sponsors. By signing, they are committing to highlighting where there is a lack of diversity at events and doing what they can to improve things to ensure that maritime events have diversity and inclusion throughout the event.
  2. It has a fully searchable directory of speakers by expertise and country.
  3. Use the power of sponsorship. If your company sponsors a conference or event, make sure that they are ideally a pledge signatory or have a clear diversity policy which they implement. State you will only sponsor an event which commits to having diverse and inclusive speakers and audiences.

Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of IMO, states, “For speakers, this is your opportunity to share your knowledge and experiences in your field of expertise and contribute to helping the audience benefit from diverse thoughts. This important initiative will support inclusive, diverse, richer panels from this free-to-use directory of industry speakers so that audiences can benefit from a range of perspectives that come from having diverse and inclusive viewpoints.”

How the Maritime Speakers Bureau works

Speakers, once registered, can be contacted by the conference and event organisers with their requests via the Speakers Bureau website email system. Speakers are free to accept or decline the invitation to speak. If they decline, they can recommend someone else if they can instead. Conference organisers can search the directory by sectors, subjects and countries.
For conference organisers, it is an opportunity to have inclusive, diverse, richer panels from this free-to-use directory of industry speakers. At the same time, the audience can benefit from a range of perspectives having a conference with diversity.

So my words to you all are it is time to end the tradition of all-male dominated speaking panels, sometimes referred to as ‘manels’. Speakers engage, educate and entertain audiences, as attendees must see themselves represented on stage.


Sue Terpilowski OBE

Sue Terpilowski OBE

Sue Terpilowski OBE

Press Officer, WISTA International and Managing Director of Image Line Communications.

Sue Terpilowski started Image Line Communications more than 34 years ago. Sue is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) FCILT, their Public Affairs and Policy Chair and the Vice Chair of their Ports, Maritime and Waterways Sector Group.

Sue is one of the two authors of the report for the WESS Pillar II project for the EU on increasing the number of women in the maritime sector and producing the accompanying marketing campaign and support materials.


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