Embracing Diversity in Maritime Industry

As we are living in a world of competition, where we have to prove not only our skills and potential but, daily, more of our very selves, how are we seafarers, of all generations, genders and colours, prepared to embrace the word ‘diversity’ in the maritime industry in the days to come?

The theme for this year’s essay contest gives us a glimpse of what the maritime industry will face in the next five years. Therefore, to reach the ‘New Vision for the Maritime Sector in 2050’, let us dive deep into how open we, in the diversified maritime industry, are.

As the saying goes, ‘experience is the best teacher’. Having been on board vessels that have been sailing for more than ten years, and with experienced and aged officers and engineers, I would  not deny that this saying is true. Yes, we are all well taught in the theory, and it will always be an absolute, but having a well experienced crewmate on board not only allows us to hear stories of yore but, moreover, is also an experience that will withstand tempest and time. However, as ships and equipment being used in the industry are quickly becoming digital, upgraded training programs are needed for the crew to be flexible in using these technologies. Attracting and seeing the value of Gen Z (the newest generation) and other young employees would be truly advantageous, as they are tech-savvy individuals who can explore and get used to different kinds of technology by themselves, as compared to the older generations. Having a diverse group, with older individuals who are more experienced and younger ones who are more adaptable to digitalisation is beneficial to the maritime industry. After all, evaluation must be based on one’s ability and capability, and most importantly age does not define what applicants or employees can do, or how they behave.

Another element that we should look at is the dominance of male seafarers, both on land and at sea. The emerging presence of the ‘She-farer’ is quite significant over the past years, but the notion of actually belonging in the seagoing industry is still one of many struggles. Talking from my own experience, eyebrows are raised, not only during the submission of our application forms, but during the early days of our careers as we search for shipping companies who allow she-farers aboard their ships, and, through steady and due promotion, we just want to prove ourselves in this male-dominated world. A study shows that only two percent of the world’s total seafarers are women. Ninety-four percent of these are working for flags of convenience, or FOC vessels in the cruise and ferries sectors, which is unfortunately said to be the worst paid and least protected work at sea. But countries and companies that treat men and women equally have better economic growth. Thus, we should also embrace gender equality in the maritime industry. It should be done, not just because it is beneficial, but because … why ever not?

Being from a country which is one of the largest suppliers of seafarers, we may not deny the fact that a vessel will often have multiple nationalities, and that may pose several disadvantages like social isolation, alienation, discrimination, and even language barriers, because of differences in culture. Despite all this, the benefits of allowing diverse nationalities can overcome the disadvantages, because having diverse nationalities in the maritime sector would improve the promotion of ideas and global perspectives, increase productivity, improve employee engagement, reduce employee turnover, give better service, drive innovation, offer a wider range of skills, improve cultural insights, and boost the industry’s reputation.

Despite differences in age, gender and colour, the maritime industry should develop job descriptions that target skill sets and competencies, and should treat all employees equally, regardless of who they are, making them feel that they belong, irrespective of their differences, and not undervalued. Lastly and most importantly, we should not see these differences as a hindrance, but rather think of them as a combination of various skills, minds, and forces that can create a better maritime industry. Thus, we would be able to turn our visions into reality in the next 20 to 30 years, so equal opportunities and treatments are given to all, regardless of their identity, and this in turn would result in a more sustainable, stronger, competent, profitable, and successful profession. Together, let us embrace diversity in the maritime industry.

 Lot M Casquejo, Technical Executive – Synergy Ocean Maritime Inc.