Millenials in the greater sustainability of the maritime industry

Diversity, equity, and inclusionTalent

Considering the shortage of diversity in the maritime industry, Katherine Langworthy, one of finalists of the Future Maritime Leaders essay competition, argues that to solve the imbalance, organizations should attract more young professionals who are going to contribute to a more sustainable world.

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Einstein

Much can be said drawing conclusions between this Einsteinian quote and the reality faced when regarding the long-term sustainability of the maritime industry. In 1992 the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) released initial estimations on the global gender balance within seafaring roles, indicating that a mere 1-2% of representation was female¹. 27 years on, these figures are still widely quoted and circulated by the maritime industry as our ‘current’ state of diversity. As a young female scratching the surface of her maritime career, this indicates that although we understand and frequently discuss the need for change, we have been unable to convert understanding into action to show any shift of the dial towards diversity and inclusivity as a whole, let alone for gender balanced workplace - a concept more alarming than the data itself. On the precipice of a generational-sized skills shortage by as early as 2023², and little on the immediate horizon for sea-parting transformation, it may be time to change the very structure that has built and sustained our industry for millenniums to adapt to the fast paced, digital and socially conscious world we have quickly become. If we neglect this and continue as we have always done, we should not be surprised or wonder why we [the maritime industry] are unprepared for the modern world and unable to address our own sustainability issues that directly affects our growth.

Trade wars, geopolitical tensions, trading patterns and emerging markets, although presenting their own challenges, are not new hurdles that require revolutionary ideas. In fact, when considering our ancient history (maritime trade and exploration dates as far back as 3000-1500BC and potentially even further) we have previously been at the forefront of innovation and progression with indisputable millennia of sustainment. We hold many global ‘firsts’ relating to exploration, trade and finance – for example, the first publicly traded company was the Dutch East India Company³. We’ve even created inventions that are considered the most ‘Influential of the 20th century’, physically altering the progression of the global economy via a shipping container. However, when faced with the simple proposition of inclusivity such as more gender balanced operating model, we remain aground. The industry in general does not foster retention or a well-stocked pipeline of emerging seafarers or marine-disciplined professionals. Part of this is due to a limited inclusion of the other 50% of potential candidates, being women, whereas another component could be that representation of future generations within key decisions and discussion platforms is also lacking. If nothing is done across either of these areas, this shortage will likely continue growing and has the potential to inevitably shape and transform our future. For an industry whose very naissance was to pioneer and explore, we seem to lack the motivation to navigate our journey across these waters, and it remains mostly uncharted by us.

One of the biggest trends that directly impacts our future is that today’s young professionals are motivated by more than just pay checks and promotions. They no longer seek the notion of a lifetime career with one employer and will move if the company climate is misaligned to an internal moral compass. Careers, companies and even entire industries are chosen based on the lifestyle of the employment, attention to livelihood through benefits and policies, and ethical commitments to overall global sustainability. So, when an entire generation is basing employment and business decisions on societal impacts and objectives that stretch beyond financial performance, industries should be driven to understanding key economic drivers that may not conventionally connect to their overall NPAT.

So, what can we do differently? How can we become an industry that can solve our imbalances, remain attractive to all future young professionals and contribute to a sustainable world? Millennials are considered to be wired differently from each generation before us. We have grown up in a fast-paced dynamic world that has fostered a great resilience in navigating change and collaborating with others; we value recognition, mentorship and platforms for expressing our viewpoints. Why not enable those who are inevitably tasked with taking over the helm by developing an environment in which their opinions and strategies can be heard? Many industries have benefited from widening their discussions to a diverse audience – the maritime industry could benefit from those already with experience in collaboration, commitment to inclusion, diversity and global sustainability simply by growing up in today’s society. Similar to those conducted by the United Nations and IMO, a Global Annual General Meeting for Young Maritime Professionals could be a great way to conduct this – after all, we do span across the various continents and come with equally as varying viewpoints. Provide an opportunity for young professionals to get in a room and discuss with their industry leaders on the issues that are relevant to them, such as gender diversity, and discuss strategies on how they can be pioneered, overcome and celebrated. It creates opportunities for networking, mentorship and recognition for change and could easily start with small in-country working groups that can then be scaled globally. At the very least it demonstrates that the change we want to see in the industry tomorrow, is reflected formally today.

The Future Maritime Leaders essay competition 2019 called on students and young professionals within the maritime industry and beyond to add their voice to the debate about the future of the maritime industry. Learn more here.

¹ Bletcher, P. et al, (2003) Women Seafarers: Global Employment Policies and practices, Geneva: International labour Office, p.9

² Maritime Industry Australia Limited Analytics (2018), Seafaring Skills Census, Melbourne

³ Kaiser, K. Young, S.D. (2013) The Blue Line Imperative: What Managing Value Really Means, Jossey-Bass, p.26