Development Issues in Shipping: Women, the Under-Represented Human Resource

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015
Momoko Kitada, Erin Williams and Lisa Loloma Froholdt (eds.)Maritime Women: Global LeadershipWMU Studies in Maritime Affairs310.1007/978-3-662-45385-8_19

Sustainable Development Issues in Shipping: Women, the Under-Represented Human Resource

Colin J. Stevenson 

C J Maritime Training and Consultancy, Lee-on-the-Solent, UK



Colin J. Stevenson


This paper questions why there are relatively low numbers of women in the shipping industry, at a time when there is still a critical shortage of seafarers in general. This should provide an ideal opportunity for more women to enter the industry. The reasons why this is apparently not the case, are examined. For the purpose of this paper, the main reference is to the shortage of officers in the deep-sea trades. Received wisdom is that the industry is still not suitable for women, with the stereotype of a seafarer being male, when other industries have moved on from this perception. This gender stereotyping, together with widespread discrimination in many sections of the seagoing industry, is a broad concern. Several aspects of the role of a seafarer are examined, amongst which will be the satisfaction of human needs as applied to women, the attitude of employers to women, and barriers that might be an impediment to choosing this career. Also suggested is the possibility that, because of insufficient information about the opportunities, women’s perceptions might in themselves be creating an imaginary barrier. The final part of the paper makes some suggestions that might be implemented as a means of increasing women at sea and addressing the imbalance of genders on board ship.

AttitudesBarriersCareerHuman needsStereotypingWomen

1 Introduction

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Labour Organization (ILO), have both passed resolutions supporting promoting women in the maritime sector. Resolution 14 of the IMO’s International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers 1978 (IMO 2011) and a resolution adopted by the ILO at its International Labour Conference 2006, refer (ILO 2006).

IMO and ILO can implement the international conventions, but they have no authority to impose regulations relating to employment, beyond the requirement by the applicable conventions for the qualifications on board.

References to “the maritime industry” often imply that this comprises a single entity, rather than a number of national and international companies competing commercially in international trade. These companies also compete for seafarers internationally, in a pool that is insufficient to supply the numbers required to man all ships. This makes regulating the industry, beyond international convention, impossible.

This paper is directed predominantly toward the problem of why there are so few women at sea on foreign-going vessels and how the numbers might be increased. The discussion applies mainly to the shortage of women officers in the deep-sea trades. The cruise industry employs a significant number of women at sea, but these are mainly service providers for passengers, hairdressers, shopkeepers, etc. The contention here is that women on foreign-going vessels are faced with challenges that would not apply to the service providers on cruise ships. The offshore industry does not have the same shortfall of officers, as it is attractive to foreign-going officers, mainly because of higher salaries and better leave allowances. As the offshore industry has grown, so the movement from deep sea to offshore, has exacerbated the shortage on foreign-going vessels.

It is a recognised fact that there is a considerable shortfall of officers at sea, as shown by successive updates to the BIMCO/ISF Manpower Study (BIMCO and ISF 2010). The low numbers of women at sea are difficult to explain at a time when the manpower shortage opens up greater opportunities to take up a seafaring career. It would appear to be the ideal time for a young woman to go to sea, with shipping/manning companies finding it more and more difficult to attract suitable candidates to the career. On-board conditions are now very good, with single en-suite accommodation, air conditioning and the availability of regular communication with family and friends via the internet.

This paper examines the possible issues and barriers that might be impacting upon the comparatively low numbers of women at sea today, and the consequential loss of this valuable human resource.

By investigating what would attract women to the career, and what would satisfy their needs, and by understanding the actual and perceived barriers, it might be possible to provide an employment package that would attract greater numbers of women. The provision of a more attractive working environment can only aid in the recruitment and retention of women.

2 Current Awareness

The industry has still not learnt the lessons of the past. In the maritime industry, when freight rates are low, the first action of many employers is to stop training, relying on poaching trained officers from others. This has always been the way but, with the current shortage of trained seafarers and fewer people entering the industry, it has become more difficult to rely on attracting trained seafarers from others. It is also difficult to identify alternative sources of seafarers, although current wisdom predicts that Africa might become the next major source of seafarer supply.

The lack of women at sea has not gone unnoticed. The Seafarers International Research Centre’s (SIRC) Symposium of 2003 in Cardiff, presented some research findings that addressed these problems in several papers, in particular the article of Thomas (2004). This paper is based upon research into just this very topic, the lack of numbers of women seafarers. There are several quotes in her paper that illustrate the negative mind-set of some, possibly many, shipping companies to employing women on ships. However, there are some very positive comments to counterbalance this negativity. In the same year, the ILO published a study, again highlighting the shortage of women at sea (Belcher et al. 2003). The problem is also recognised in the Philippines, as shown by an article in Transnav (Magramo and Eler 2012).

Research published in 1999 examined officer retention in the maritime industry (Stevenson 1999). An extensive questionnaire was the primary data collection vehicle and a total of 809 usable returns were received. The number of women completing the questionnaire was negligible, so it was impossible to extract any meaningful results from the data. The suggestion here is that a similar research project, aimed specifically at women at sea and to those considering a career at sea, might help understanding of women’s needs for a career.

In spite of the recognition of the problem, and the IMO and ILO resolutions, the number of women attracted to a seafaring career remains very low. What is even more remarkable is the lack of meaningful research examining this issue. The problem has been identified, but little has been put in place to improve the situation.

3 Satisfaction of Human Needs

In the shipping industry, the shipowner is profit-motivated and the seafarer is satisfaction motivated, and it is the balancing of these two apparently contradictory factors, that must be achieved to aid recruitment and to improve retention. According to Roy (1990), in his work on social observations and needs theories, there is a close association between satisfaction and social harmony and this is an imperative to the efficiency and safe running of a ship. It is therefore necessary to identify those factors that are of the greatest importance to those at sea. Failure to understand these factors will not assist in improving the numbers of women attracted to the industry. This applies not only to their job satisfaction, but that of the satisfaction of their human needs. Is it possible that one of the main reasons that women do not choose a seafaring career, is the perception that their needs might not be met in the male-dominated environment that is shipboard life?

Most modern proponents of Needs Theories have based their initial thinking upon the Step Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow 1970). Moving from the lowest step, Survival Needs, through Safety Needs, Belongingness and Love Needs, Esteem Needs to the top step, Self-Actualisation, his proposition was that the lower step, or need, must be first satisfied before moving on to the next step.

In a review of many studies, Wahba and Bridwell (1976), came to the conclusion that there is no clear evidence that human needs can be classified in five distinct categories, or that these categories are structured in a specific hierarchy. They do agree that there is some evidence for the existence of possibly two types of needs, namely maintenance and growth needs. The former include Maslow’s first two steps and the latter, his top three steps.

Hertzberg (1966) in his research enumerated ‘Motivators’ and ‘Hygiene’ factors, stating that satisfaction of these is necessary to provide complete job satisfaction. There is some similarity between this theory and that of Maslow, with his step hierarchy of needs. More recent researchers have found, as with Maslow, that there is broad agreement on the existence of these factors, but that they vary from person to person and group to group. In the context here, there might be a wide variance between genders.

Galtung (1990) indicated that there is a clear difference between material satisfiers and non-material satisfiers which, if carried over to the ship and the seafarer, could be on the one hand for example, the difference between provision of leisure facilities, and on the other the choice of sailing with seafarers from one’s own country of origin or domicile, or as a woman sailing with other women.

Mitchell (1990

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