News 10 Aug, 2023

Resetting the Balance - Waypoints Issue 04

There has been steady improvement in the gender imbalance of a still male-dominated shipping industry, but now is no time for complacency writes Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) President Elpi Petraki.

Elpi Petraki
(President, WISTA International)

Organisations across a wide variety of industries are finding that actively working to create more balanced gender diversity across an organisation is one of the most effective ways to get straight to the heart of its ESG (environmental, social and governance) concerns. ESG is thankfully now considered much more than a management buzzword, and of the social elements that form the S in ESG, gender diversity is a significant area of improvement and opportunity. 

The first point I always make about gender in the shipping and wider maritime industries is that improving female take-up of roles, especially senior roles, is not about being ‘fairer’ or more balanced for the sake of it. Studies conducted all over the world covering a multitude of industries have proved time and again that organisations with a more even balance of genders across all levels and roles perform more efficiently, are more innovative and profitable. 

For example, the international management consultancy McKinsey reported in 2019 that: 

‘The magnitude of investment flow suggests that ESG is much more than a fad or a feel-good exercise. The overwhelming weight of accumulated research finds that companies that pay attention to ESG concerns do not experience a drag on value creation—in fact, quite the opposite. A strong ESG proposition correlates with higher equity returns, from both a tilt and momentum perspective. Better performance in ESG also corresponds with a reduction in downside risk, as evidenced, among other ways, by lower loan and credit default swap spreads and higher credit ratings.’ 


To know where you need to go tomorrow though, you must first know where you are today, and an important part of my role as WISTA International’s new President will be to benchmark our progress towards full gender inclusivity in maritime. With this in mind, last year WISTA International partnered with the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) to produce the first Women in Maritime survey.

The results from the survey, which were released during the IMO’s first International Day for Women in Maritime, revealed that women account for only 29% of the overall workforce in the general industry and 20% of the workforce of national maritime authorities in Member States.

The report also highlighted great variation among individual sub-sectors. According to data gathered from Member States, search and rescue teams in national maritime authorities account for significantly fewer women staff (just 10%) as compared to female diplomats (33%) and training staff (30%). Industry data shows that women seafarers make up just 2% of the crewing workforce and are predominately found in the cruise sector, while in shipowning companies they made up 34% of the workforce.

IMO and WISTA intend to produce future Women in Maritime survey reports to measure progress and serve as guidance for the appropriate allocation of resources and capacity building by various stakeholders. Other initiatives under the IMO-WISTA MoU include the recently launched Maritime Speakers Bureau which is a database of female experts in a wide range of maritime subjects who are available for speaking engagements which will contribute towards more diverse panels at maritime conferences and beyond, as well as a Leadership Accelerator Program providing women in maritime with the training, mentoring and network to build the skills required to assume leadership roles within the sector.
Formed in 1974, WISTA is an international networking organisation whose mission is to attract and support women, at the management level, in the maritime, trading and logistics sectors. Over the last five years, WISTA membership has continued to grow and today there are about 4,000 WISTA members worldwide and 56 National WISTA Associations (NWA). While guided by WISTA International, NWAs provide in-country and regional support to members, including business and skill-building opportunities, corporate visibility, and facilitating relationships within the industry.

West’s long-established relationship with WISTA involves West’s female staff being encouraged to be members of their respective NWAs, and there are very active clusters of West-employed WISTA members in the Greek, Hong Kong and UK West offices. Both West and WISTA are strong on relationship-building, and with this in mind West has also supported WISTA events as a headline sponsor and is a WISTA UK corporate member.

I’ve been working in an official capacity to improve the female take-up of roles in the maritime industry for over a decade, but it surprises me that, in the light of these growing ESG considerations, only once in that time has a company approached me for a recommendation for a senior role that they would prefer to go to a female applicant. Only one company proactively seeking to improve diversity (at senior management or board level), by approaching a body like WISTA that can help them do so, is a strong indicator that this battle is far from won.


Elpi Petraki
(President, WISTA International)

Elpi Petraki, is President of WISTA International, Second Vice President at the Hellenic Shortsea Shipowners Association (HSSA), an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers and a member of the board of the Hellenic Maritime Museum. Elpi is also the Operations, Chartering & Business Development Manager for ENEA Management Inc., a Greek shipping company that manages a fleet of small sized, clean and specialised tankers. She is a wellknown personality in shipping, both in Greece and internationally.

Waypoints Issue 04

Waypoints Issue 04

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