Celebrating International Women’s Day: Women in Shipping & Technology

Women in leadership roles are spearheading business change, resulting in significant commercial and creative benefits. What progress are the shipping and tech industries making on getting more women involved in these sectors as career paths?

ZN WIS Compass Blog

Diversity in corporate leadership roles is now increasingly recognised for the significant commercial, creative and employee engagement benefits it can have for an organisation. Considerable progress continues to be made on representation at the C-Suite level.

In 2020, the number of women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high – but still represented just 7.4% of companies.

It’s clear that more needs to be done to get women involved in key industries, including shipping and technology. How can we encourage and retain more women in these industries? To mark International Women’s Day 2021, we convened several key women who are all pushing for more female representation in shipping and tech.

Shaping the world’s operations

Shipping and technology both share a significant role in our global economy and supply chain. It’s thought that global maritime trade accounts for some USD14 trillion, while technology could account for as much as 4% of world GDP by 2026.

There is also a positive correlation between women being involved in these industries and commercial performance. Findings from a 19-year study found that the number of women in executive positions directly correlated to an increase in profitability by as much as 19%. According to Tine Willumsen, CEO of Above and Beyond Group, investment is precisely what’s missing.

“The main thing that I see that’s lacking across all industries is investment. Lots of tools, lots of training […] It’s really becoming important when we’re talking about gender diversity to put your money where your mouth is.”

So, the commercial and economic case for diversity is becoming clearer. But how can we create long-lasting change that makes these sectors attractive career destinations for women?

Read more: Collaboration, Unification & Digitalisation

Sourcing the solutions

Like any widespread challenge, there’s no one solution. Instead, involving more women in shipping and tech requires a multifaceted, and often corporate-level approach.

Signe Hjorth Hansen, Agile Coach at Nuuday and Women in Tech Board Member says that, amongst other initiatives an organisation can undertake, the most vital is cultivating and retaining an inclusive culture.

“One can ask themselves, ‘does our company culture and work environment appeal to women or other groups that we want to attract to create a diverse workforce?’”

The work environment is important for employee retention as well. Signe highlights that some 50% of women in their mid-30s already working in technology leave the industry, oftentimes citing the work environment as their reason for doing so.

Recruitment and retention appear to be key areas for development when it comes to building a greater female workforce. Mette Urhammer, ZeroNorth’s People Partner says that simple changes in how we approach the talent process could help.

“A lot of industries are still very conservative in the way they’re approaching the candidates […] If you don’t have the knowledge of a certain industry, you don’t know where to look. If you can reach out across industries, and show how skills and experience can be complementary to other sectors, you can actually attract a larger pool of women.”

Creating spaces for women to discuss key issues and foster wider conversation within these sectors is also important.

Speaking about the origins of Women in Shipping, Denmark, Claire Bausager says the lack of female representation and connection pushed her to create a network for herself and others: “I’ve seen how great men are at helping each other up the corporate ladder, and I felt behind in my career without having women to support and without having women support me.”

Discover more: We’re looking for great thinkers and explorers

Wider challenges impacting the workplace

The complex challenge of involving more women in shipping and technology is raising other questions about more in-depth, structural changes required to level the playing field. For Tine, this is referred to as the “triple transformation” — namely work, society and family.

“If you’re not also trying to move the structural barriers in society, and the mindset of society […] even at a family level that your mother or father are equally inspiring the son or the daughter to be ambitious. […] triple transformation all around will make a difference to pretty much all workplaces.” 

The IMO and WISTA recently launched their first Women in Maritime survey, aimed at building a greater understanding of the challenges faced by women in the shipping industry. The survey is open to professionals from IMO Member States, IGOs, NGOs, and public and private companies and hopes to build data on female involvement and disparity in the shipping sector.

For International Women's Day we brought together extraordinary women from the fields of shipping and tech to discuss how women can make an impact, and the opportunities, initiatives and solutions to encourage more women into maritime and technological careers. We followed this by a live Q&A discussion with our amazing panelists.