Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow

SeafarersDiversity, equity, and inclusionTalent

International Women’s Day has been celebrated on 8 March since 1975. At Global Maritime Forum, we want to mark this day by celebrating all that has been achieved on gender equality across the maritime industry since 1975, but also highlight that there is still a long way to go. To commemorate International Women’s Day 2022 and this year’s theme #BreakTheBias, we asked a female CEO and two female Third Officers about their experience of being a woman in the maritime industry in 2022.

The maritime industry is heavily dominated by male employees and especially by male leaders. But as shown in the latest BIMCO and ICS Seafarer Workforce Report, more women are entering into the industry, and into leadership positions, both onshore and offshore. We are seeing more and more companies across the industry ramping up their efforts to attract more diverse employees. As explained by Founder and CEO Isabelle Rickmers from the maritime digital job marketplace TURTLE: “Being a female executive in shipping was something more unusual some years ago; until very recently, there was no urge to change this homogenous, male structure and I could feel that perception ‘being a stranger’ clearly. That has fortunately changed.”

Despite more women entering the industry, many are still experiencing having to break biases and that being a woman often makes it more difficult. When TURTLE asked their female seafarers, 76% of them found that getting a job in maritime was more difficult when being a woman. Burcu Erdoğan, Third Officer on a container vessel, has experienced this first-hand: “When I was still a student in college in 2015, the main issue was to find a good company to start our internship. But some companies were directly saying to female students’ faces that they are not hiring women. This is where we felt the difference for the first time. The number of companies we could apply for was the quota left by our male friends. Only some of us were able to enter the industry, and oftentimes they would become the first woman cadet hired by that company.”

Third Officer Kübra Basiacik, currently serving on an LPG tanker, agrees with her colleague when she explains: “Unfortunately, today there are still companies that do not hire women because they think women are not suitable for this job. However, since I started as a cadet in 2015, it is getting better every year as people are getting used to working with women”.


From left to right: CEO Isabelle Rickmers, Third Officer Kübra Basiacik, Third Officer Burcu Erdoğan (Image credit: TURTLE)

The gap between the numbers of female and male employees is most evident at sea – where less than 2% of seafarers are female. Even if the numbers are improving, the pace needs to increase if the industry is to make seafaring a more attractive career choice for younger generations across the world.

The situation is also getting better when it comes to more senior roles. TURTLE’s database of 25,000 seafarers shows that 11% of their female candidates were registered as holding a senior rank. The percentage is not as high as amongst their male colleagues, where 31% in their database hold a senior rank, but it is promising to see more and more female senior officers emerge.

One of the primary challenges reported when it comes to #BreakingTheBias is that women in the industry often experience having to do better than male colleagues. As Third Officer Burcu describes: “Each time I go to a vessel, my main concern is how people’s attitudes will be. Will I prove myself and be a part of the vessel’s team or not?” Third Officer Kübra agrees, explaining that one of her biggest challenges as a female seafarer is that she constantly needs to prove herself and that she is good at her job – also as a woman.

Despite these challenges, more companies are making targeted efforts in not only hiring more women, but also making their workplaces more inclusive and equitable for female colleagues. As reported by Heidi Heseltine, Co-Founder of Diversity Study Group: “Diversity, equity, and inclusion have been steadily gaining momentum within the shipping and maritime industry over recent years but coming into 2022, the pace of change is increasing significantly.” This is a positive change, but for an industry looking at a talent shortage of close to 90,000 seafarers by 2026, it is continuously crucial to be able to attract and retain employees from a more diverse talent pool. If maritime wants to be a strong, innovative, and progressive industry that we can all be proud of, we need to attract many more women to the industry.

Isabelle Rickmers, a #BreakTheBias role model, supports this approach: “I strongly believe in the value of mixed teams, as they simply perform better, and they create an exciting, inspiring company culture. At TURTLE, we have a fully diversified team with 50/50 men and women from eight different nationalities, and we see ourselves as a role model and a driver for the maritime industry.

”Women should not be expected to do better than their male colleagues to gain the respect of their peers. They should not feel the pressure to “fit the mold.” The remaining conservative structures and systems in the maritime industry can be reimagined to make the maritime industry more attractive to both men and women. Or as stated by Third Officer Burcu: “Women or men, we all need to make each other’s life easier on board, showing some support, understanding, empathy, and most importantly respect.”