Shipping is one of those very few industries which has the lowest number of women workforce. Blame it on the traditional mind set of the “male dominated” industry or the lack of awareness, the paltry number of female seafarers clearly states that very little has been done to encourage women for taking seafaring careers.
In this article, a female seafarer who is sailing on commercial vessels and is part of the maritime system, explains some of the main reasons as to why many female candidates are refraining from entering the industry or are looking for other career options.
1. Lack of awareness and information: It is not untrue that unlike other career options, careers in the maritime industry are not very well known to many young women. Students generally opt for main stream careers such as IT, computer science, electronics or medicine. This is because they have little knowledge or are not aware of the prosperous careers that they can make in the maritime field. Besides schools take very less initiative to facilitate discussions about the various maritime career options available.
It is necessary to improve career awareness and preparedness. The schools can provide career guidance and address young women on careers in the maritime world, making them aware of the bright career prospects. Educators can also help students to translate awareness into pursuit of seafaring as a career. In order to attract women in the industry, institutions of higher education should have policies to help women understand and know about maritime careers in a better. Career related magazines can be a source of information and newsletters from the maritime industry can be used as a medium to promote and highlight seafaring as a potential career for female (as well as male).
2. Male dominated industry: Shipping has historically been a male dominated industry and that tradition runs long. One of the reasons as to why women have never taken this career option very seriously is this fact. There is little encouragement to face the very male dominated and competitive career path due to a lack of female role models. Besides one of the biggest challenges for women in this field is combating perceptions that such jobs are meant only for men and require a skill set more associated with them. Many women fear to enter the man’s world as they believe that they might face physical harassments and violence or severe verbal abuse as well as low levels of support from co-workers.
But this is not the true story. Company hiring women seafarers have strict policies to protect and safeguard their rights and identity. They have many complaint procedures. With more number of aspiring women seafarers this obstacle can be easily eliminated. We must find a way to make women feel that their gender does not govern how they perform in a working environment and thus make it easier for women to pursue and achieve their dreams.
3. No or less support: Women generally do not receive adequate support (Both from family and society) to choose seafaring as their career. Educators often do not provide the necessary skills and support to help young women climb the shipping sector ladder. Women are also deprived of family support which is very essential and crucial for them to establish their own identity in such a sector where women count is very limited.
Parents must be made aware of this field so as to motivate and encourage their daughters who are willing to make a difference. Lack of support is one of the reasons why women become upset, disappointed, and eventually step back from taking seafaring as a career. This is also the reason they are not seen as decision makers. These changes can definitely make merchant navy more acceptable by women.
4. Less Acceptance By Companies: The difficulty of getting access to jobs and professional development in the maritime industry is also a reason for less women seafarers in the maritime sector. Lack of workplace support keeps women out of this career. Aspiring female seafarers perceive little chance of advancing in their field. Many women feel that they will be subjected to difficulties such as performance pressures or face a hard time moving up in the company.
Company should take initiative to allow for an equal representation of women in the maritime industry and give them equal opportunities. There are many companies who are not willing to hire women seafarers. Each and every shipping companies should have facilities and amenities so as to facilitate the dwelling of a women seafarer. Due to lack of career opportunities women back out and start looking for other jobs and develop a negative mind-set about job opportunities and career prospects in the maritime industry. Equal opportunities has come a long way, but still has further to go. Companies should alleviate the gender gap and promote gender equality and empower women. Only when we eliminate workplace sexual discrimination can we put these issues behind us.
5. Social Cultural and Practical Obstacles: Many women are not allowed to choose shipping as a career because of the long stay at sea. Finding a balance between demands of work and family has been a common issue. Staying away from family and friends for so long is not easy for women as well as men. Being on-board for several months might not satisfy the social role of a woman, making it not a very attractive field for women. This also has a lot to do with our social setup that believes that children must be brought up by women alone. The belief that even men would prefer not to marry a woman who spends months on the ship is disapproval for women who wish to step in the shipping industry. Women also face parental disapproval as they are not aware of the maternity rights and benefits which make them think that shipping is not an ideal career their daughters. Thus social pressure and traditional social responsibility stops women from pursuing such a career and forces them to choose land based jobs. Society must have the common recognition of the importance of the utilisation of the women work force.
6. Lack of workshops and seminars: The absence of organisations and regional networks is yet another reason for less women seafarers. Such organisations can conduct workshops and seminars to help young women exchange their views with experienced women seafarers and to help them develop a strong presence in the maritime sector. Other options that these organisations can provide are mentoring and sponsorship. They can create support groups and help in enhancing career preparation. This will push more women seafarers in this industry.
7. Job security: Most of the private shipping companies provide contractual employment and do not have remarkable retirement benefits. Just like male seafarers, this is a concern for many women seafarers who look for job stability and retirement benefits like pension. Majority of the women prefer jobs with a stable source of income and a planned retired life. This is also a reason as to why women hesitate to join this industry.
Maritime industry offers great employment opportunities for male and female seafarers alike. However, employment equality has been a problem haunting the industry for quite sometime now. Unless some drastic steps are taken to bring awareness among prospective female seafarers and to enhance policies supporting their welfare, the numbers will continue to dwindle.
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