Ports and the wider maritime industry they enable are key pillars of the global economy – they are the life blood of international trade, supporting complex supply chains and delivering an everimproving standard of living.
As an island nation the UK has depended on our ports for centuries to transport goods to and from all over the world.
Yet, despite its importance and success, the maritime industry still falls short in a critical area. Namely the number of women employed in the industry. The International Transport Workers’ Federation estimates that globally only 2% of seafarers are women. The figure for UK seafarers is 3% and the shore-based figures are not much better. 100 years on from women winning the vote in the UK, this is shockingly low.
As both a woman and the Maritime Minister, I firmly believe that this must change. Our industry is too important to not meet its full potential, to underperform or simply get by, rather than reach its optimal performance. Gender equality is a business imperative.
Research shows that more diverse businesses are more productive, profitable and resilient... employing women leads to economic growth.
Research shows that more diverse businesses are more productive, profitable and resilient - the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has shown that employing women leads to economic growth and greater access to education for women and girls also contributes to a higher growth.
Additional research by McKinsey and Co. carried out every year for the last decade has shown that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have above average financial returns. In the UK, greater gender diversity at senior executive level showed the biggest uplift in performance in their dataset, with every 10% improvement in gender diversity equating to a 3.5% increase in earnings before interest and taxes.
There are challenges ahead for the maritime sector. In the coming years, decades and beyond, the industry will need to deal with challenges posed by technology, changing economic patterns and potential disruption to current
This is about more than just opening roles to women; this is about companies taking real actions to address the gender imbalance in order to actively support and celebrate gender diversity.
To do this, it makes sense for the maritime sector to draw on all the talent available to it, male and female. The maritime industry is already stepping up to the challenge of increasing the number of women it employs through Maritime UK’s Women in Maritime Taskforce.
This is about more than just opening roles to women; this is about companies taking real actions to address the gender imbalance and creating corporate cultures that actively support and celebrate gender diversity throughout the industry as a whole.
I was delighted to speak at the reception hosted by ABP on 10 September and launch the Women in Maritime Charter. The Charter asks organisations to go through a process of understanding their current positions, set their own targets for gender diversity and record their progress. To support them, the Taskforce will share knowledge on how they can improve the gender balance in their organisation and will provide a culture survey to help target activity where it will be most effective. Celebrating successes is also an important part of the work of the Taskforce, with plans to reward good work in this area.
I know ABP is working hard to attract talent into the industry through their apprenticeship programme and that a good number of those apprentices are women, having had the pleasure of meeting some of them. I have been encouraged by the enthusiasm of ABP and others in the industry to get involved in working to attract talent to the industry and fundamentally to attract and retain more women.
In July, for the second year in a row, national newspapers reported on research showing that progress on gender diversity is stalling at some of the UK’s biggest companies. I am keen to be able to hold up the maritime industry as a beacon of progress on gender diversity. To be able to say that, although we started to address this after many other industries, we are doing it well and tackling it properly with momentum and drive. Let’s turn the fantastic show of intent in the signing of the pledge into positive action and progress through the Charter.
In an event held in Whitehall and hosted by ABP on 10 September, over a hundred senior representatives of the UK’s maritime industries joined together to celebrate the launch of the Women in Maritime Charter.
The Charter, authored by members of the Women in Maritime Taskforce, calls on signatories to take positive actions to drive better gender balance, particularly in leadership roles. The attendees were comprised of members of the ports, shipping, engineering and journalism industries, as well as ministers and members of wider Government.
ABP’s Chief Executive Officer, Henrik Pedersen, spoke to the audience about the benefits better gender balance can bring to businesses and outlined ABP’s three guiding principles in its approach to diversity: Recruit; Respect; Reward. He also explained what Britain’s largest ports operator is doing to deliver against diversity goals and outlined elements of the company’s Gender Diversity Commitment.
He said, “Business-wise I simply believe that we have a much stronger company when different voices are listened to. I have personally witnessed in the past twenty years that diversity is better for business.”
The Shipping Minister Nusrat Ghani MP then gave an address where she spoke of the importance of building on the good work of the taskforce and maintaining momentum to drive real change.
“It is my greatest wish to hold up the maritime industry as a shining beacon of progress on gender diversity,” she said, “Today, we moved a step closer to that vision. Now, we look forward to seeing the industry move beyond intent and into action.”
In the final speech of the evening, Julie Lithgow, Director of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers, and Chair of the Charter sub-group, paid tribute to her colleagues on the taskforce for their hard work and urged business leaders to take the next necessary steps to provide a “following wind” of support for women in the industry.
The event was bookended by two short films created by ABP, which showcased the roles that women already play within the company, but also calling on more to consider a rewarding career in maritime, particularly in senior leadership roles.