Hidden figures

Danish Shipping
For more women at sea
Ensuring diversity in the workplace is important, both to the working environment and bottom line. Therefore, we at Blue Denmark want to recruit, retain and promote employees from the broadest possible pool of qualified persons regardless of gender, age, nationality, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Competitiveness is contingent on the availability of talent.

Danish shipowners employ 16%. women in total (both ashore and at sea. Among seafarers onboard Danish flagged ships 8%. are women, and if we do not include the ferries it is only 2%. of seafarers on Danish flagged ships who are women. This means that unless the shipping companies begin to focus on recruiting and maintaining women, the sector is quite simply losing out on half the talent pool.

With a view to exploring how the industry attracts and retains more women in relation to maritime educational programmes and careers at sea, a taskforce was established in spring 2019. The taskforce consisted of representatives from Danish Shipping’s member companies, professional organisations, legislators and maritime educational institutions, as well as a number of role models.

Their work resulted in the finding that there are three areas of particular importance when it comes to recruitment and retention of women in the maritime sector:

1. The culture – The culture in the workplace and in educational institutions is not always supportive and inclusive of women

2. Career planning – The lack of awareness of and support for career and in-service training opportunities are a barrier to attracting women to the industry

3. Conflict management – There is a need for a clear complaints procedure that gives the perception that complaints are taken seriously.

Based on these three general findings, the taskforce has prepared 10 recommendations for the industry which are described and elaborated upon in the following.

Each recommendation is linked to one or several tools. Because these are highly “malleable” tools, e.g. subject to change, loss of relevance or replacement, they can be found digitally at

01. Set specific targets
If you genuinely want to change the distribution of men and women in the industry, setting specific targets to achieve is necessary.

02. Management should take the lead
Setting targets for more women in the staff pool requires some organisational changes, including behavioural or cultural changes. The idea is to create a common desired culture in the organisation that facilitates its goals, strategies and conduct.

The taskforce recommends that the initiatives and changes that are launched should be anchored in management. If the management team does not set the course and lead the way themselves, change rarely happens. All levels of management in the shipping company should get involved and be made responsible for the cultural change.

03. Support the women
It can be a major transition to join a ship’s crew, especially if it is the first time and you are the only woman among them. Therefore, it can be helpful to focus individually on the female crew member with support, mentoring and other measures that can ensure they have access to any help they require.

04. Clean up language and eliminate prejudices
Language plays a role in defining which gender is being addressed. Therefore, it can be useful to more closely consider how a company communicates in order to switch out highly gender-based expressions with more gender-neutral ones so that no one feels excluded.

It should be stressed, however, that with this recommendation the taskforce is not suggesting that we abolish genders. In this context, gender neutralisation refers exclusively to equality, equal opportunities and reducing the number of obstacles based on gender.

05. Raise awareness of career opportunities
In its dialogue with a number of female role models, the taskforce has found that knowing what career opportunities exist is crucial when women choose their educational track and job.

There are many opportunities to pursue a career in the Blue Denmark, but not all career paths are equally apparent. Similarly, there is also an inadequate level of awareness of opportunities that exist for in-service training.

06. Rethink the recruitment process
The taskforce has worked with proposals on how shipping companies and maritime educational institutions can include the aspect of diversity in their recruitment and hiring processes, as these can often be marked by unconscious preferences and prejudices.

07. Make use of role models
Role models can play a major role in a person’s choice of educational programme and/or workplace, and more generally, how they learn and develop. The importance of role models is accordingly high in relation to ‘progressing’ in life and ensuring that there is someone we can see ourselves in and identify with.

08. Offer in-service training
If seafarers find their life situation or career goals changing, a transition from sea to shore – provided the attachment to the industry can be maintained – may be the solution. Currently, there is no general guidance on how to prepare for a shore based job in terms of competences, which can act as a deterrent for women in particular.

09. Stand up to harassment and bullying
A crucial factor in retaining female personnel at sea is to ensure that the company and its staff have a clear set of values that include a zero-tolerance attitude towards harassment, etc., and that the company takes efforts to ensure a healthy and safe working environment seriously.

10. Manage conflicts properly
While it is important to have an explicit policy stating that harassment and bullying are unacceptable, it is just as important to have a clear procedure in place in the event of conflicts occurring in the workplace. Unresolved conflicts can destroy the dynamic and flow of the workplace and end up costing countless hours of lost productivity from employees as a direct consequence thereof. In addition, unresolved conflicts can lead to good employees leaving the workplace and harming the reputation of the company.

This article is shared by courtesy of Danish Shipping. Each recommendation is linked to one or several tools. They can be found digitally here.

Download the 10 recommendations here.

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