12 December 2019

Towards a better quality of employment for highly qualified women in the maritime industry

Despite the fact that the maritime industry remains one of the most important sources of employment and income, it does not create enough jobs for women. The problem of low employment of women in the maritime sector mostly affects women with very high qualifications. This phenomenon is more visible when, taking into considaration the fact that when, women enter the labour market the economies grow. By 2025, global GDP could be supplemented by 12 trillion dollars by closing the gender gap. Paolo Gallo, senior adviser to the chairman of the World Economic Forum in Geneva, said in May 2018 “Women represent 52% of the population, but are still underpaid and employed in jobs below their skills and expertise. However, I am convinced that the future belongs to women. Why? Because they usually have human qualities that will give them an advantage in the jobs of the fourth industrial revolution. Like the ability to cooperate (instead of competing), empathy, creativity, listening and learning.

The issue of women’s presence on the maritime labor market yet has not been studied satisfactorily. The International Labor Organization report shows that data on the women employment  in the maritime sector are very limited and are not well documented. Employment of women, if it is documented at all, rather concerns auxiliary functions, hence women more often receive relatively lower remuneration. The International Federation of Transporters ITF estimates that between 28 and 30 % of cruise ship employees are female seafarers. The percentage of women in the maritime industry is very low and has not changed for years – said Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, rector of the World Maritime University in Malmö. Asked if the maritime industry is doing enough to support women on the road to women’s equality, she said that she did a large study on women seafarers in 2003 when she was the director of one of the departments at ILO and she calculated at that time only 1 -2% of employees in all segments of the maritime industry were women. Unfortunately, up to this day this percentage has only slightly increased.

Highly qualified women dominate in Central and Eastern Europe according to the latest Forbes ranking. Women in Poland and Romanians are leaders in Europe in terms of involvement in professions traditionally dominated by men. Over 1/3 of students at Polish maritime universities are women, and the number of women in maritime fields is increasing every year. However, women who decided to tie their professional future with the maritime sector are the group of seafarers who find it hardest to find themselves in the maritime labor market. The experience of women on the labor market so far is not satisfactory. There are many women who graduate with excellent results, are well qualified and prepared for their profession, and their job applications are systematically rejected. When they do not engage in professional activity, do not share their knowledge, do not get promoted despite appropriate competences, their potential is not fully utilized. It is difficult to understand the situation in which women with the above average qualifications are faced with the situation of accepting a job offer well below their qualifications and financial expectations. As a result, there is a situation in which women resign from taking up professional activity at all. The deactivation of women on the maritime labor market is also caused by the lack of employment, which would also be a guarantee of an adequate social security system. Currently, women who would like to take their maternity leave have a constant problem with the possibility of using the state health service.

Regarding social security systems, the situation could have been different if the companies employing seafarers were registered in Poland and conducted their business here. Then the entrepreneur employing seafarers in Poland, paying contributions in our country could be a factor better using Polish development potential than a shipowner treating Poland only as a reservoir of a relatively cheap workforce intended for the global market. In addition, many employers on the maritime labor market even have two equal candidates for the same job still decide to hire a man. Why? The reasons include the specificity of work at sea associated with several months detachment from the place of residence. Full equality is therefore only theoretical, because in the eyes of employers, family arrangements or childcare make it difficult for women to fulfill the duties of an active officer or captain of a ship.

In the context of forecasts for robotization and automation, there is quite a dramatic situation on the labor market. According to forecasts, half of the existing professions will disappear in the next two decades. How many new ones will be created? Optimists claim that they are certainly at least 1/3 more than those that disappear. The World Economic Forum report even estimates that new jobs will double the number of jobs needed. On the other hand, extreme pessimists announce that the machines will take over the Earth to such an extent that man will become “the useless class”. Work will turn out to be a luxury good and, according to estimates, over 40% of the population will not be able to find any job: they cannot keep pace with the speed of change and growing qualification requirements. One of the most effective solutions will be developing the competences of the future. Mark Keese, OECD, came to the conclusion that the automation of jobs may not favor women to the extent previously thought. According to him, automation shapes specific industries, but its overall impact is similar for men and women. The OECD has summarized the importance of women’s increased participation in STEM, the importance of lifelong learning, and access to and use of technology. He emphasized that flexible working methods cannot be at the expense of lower quality of work. Ensuring gender equality in supporting migrant workers and adapting social security systems to new forms of work is the key. The maritime labor market stimulated by new trends in the field of technology undoubtedly requires appropriate adaptation of training programs for future ship crews, service at seaports or even the creation of completely new futuristic and better quality professions in which women should also specialize. Some names of new or currently designed positions already sound exotic or even cosmic, but we will probably soon have to get used to them, e.g. the profession of the ethical so-called white hacker was invented as an antidote to cyber criminals. It is obvious that these and many other futuristic professions will soon begin to master our work environment.

The labor market, like any other, is subject to trends not only stimulated by new technologies but also by the new ways of thinking. Today, this new way of thinking in the maritime sector  is empowering women in the maritime community. Progress in this matter is close and it can be proved by such projects as the annual joint initiative of the World Maritime University and the International Maritime Organization – IMO promoting the topic of Empowering women in the maritime community. Its element was the last international conference at which possibilities of encouraging women to continue their careers in the maritime and ocean sector were discussed, and it was pointed out that among the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations was, among others empowering women and their professional activation. Also a number of planned new investments in Central and Eastern Europe, in particular in the maritime sector, will be conducive to creating new futuristic and better quality professions.

It should not be forgotten that the maritime industry is a huge industry that has also evolved into spin-off / spin-out companies with many sectors. There are now many sectors in which female seafarers can now find their jobs, not only at sea, but in inland navigation and on land. Some of them are listed below: marine regulatory authorities, port management and pilotage, ship operation management, brokering, ship chartering, marine surveyor, marine lecturer, instructor, and more. Also women’s work at sea with appropriate modification of social security systems, flexibility of employment forms has a chance to undergo positive changes. Several McKinsey reports state that greater flexibility for employers, the ability to work from home, and access to platform economy will increase women’s participation in the workforce. Accenture says in the ‘Getting to Equal 2017′ report that women’s market share will increase once women acquire more digital skills, undertake a continuous education process, and implement career strategies. If, at the same time, companies, governments and academia provide key support for increasing the participation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), improve work flexibility, provide mentoring, we can eliminate the pay gap 36 years earlier in developed markets and 102 years earlier in emerging markets.

The proposals is one in the scope of facing the growing intellectual potential of  human resources the maritime labour market and entities cooperating with it have to change their attitude towards employment, including the creation of the new futuristic profession.

Patrycja Zając

Photo source: Pixabay