Women in shipping – Pros and Cons


Table of Contents


Women currently make up only 1.2% of the maritime workforce. This presents an incredible opportunity for growth, diversity, and empowerment within the maritime industry which will not only enhance the workforce but also enrich the very essence of maritime culture.

Its very important to have diversity in any industry, as diversity of perspective and thought is a significant advantage women bring to the maritime industry. 

Women in shipping, akin to their counterparts in various industries, present a blend of advantages and challenges.

Let’s explore the pros and cons.

Women in shipping – Pros:

Diversity of Perspective and Thought

Having women in shipping brings diversity of perspective and thought, which can lead to more innovative solutions, improved workplace conditions, enhanced risk management practices, effective crisis management strategies, and better decision-making processes.

Their attention to detail and emphasis on holistic safety considerations can contribute to a safer working environment for all employees.

Embracing diversity of perspective by promoting gender diversity in maritime industries can lead to a more resilient, innovative, and socially responsible sector.

By valuing and harnessing the unique contributions of women, maritime companies can position themselves for long-term success in an evolving global marketplace.

Diverse Talent Acquisition:

Encouraging greater participation of women in the shipping industry facilitates diverse talent acquisition, enhances access to skilled workers, and potentially mitigates labour shortages.

Inducting women into shipping can significantly lead to diverse talent acquisition in many ways, such as increased recruitment pool, better global market access, enhanced skills diversification, greater retention and employee engagement, finer innovation and creativity and improved reputation of companies.

Fostering gender diversity across the shipping sector enables companies to unleash the complete potential of their workforce. This drives innovation, fuels growth, and establishes them as frontrunners in the global maritime industry.

Cultivating a Thriving Company Culture:

Promoting gender diversity within the company culture fosters inclusivity and reduces occurrences of discrimination or harassment.

By actively advocating for gender diversity, shipping companies can expand opportunities for women’s professional development and career progression.

Introducing women into traditionally male-dominated sectors like shipping promotes diversity and inclusivity, contributing to a more balanced workforce.

As the number of women in shipping increases, it helps combat instances of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

This integration challenges attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate gender-based discrimination, ultimately creating a safer and more respectful work environment for all employees.

By embracing gender diversity, shipping companies advance equality and cultivate a culture of positivity and support.

This inclusive approach attracts and retains top talent and drives innovation, positioning shipping companies for long-term success in the competitive global market.

Enhanced Communication skills:

Women often exhibit strong communication skills that significantly improve collaboration and teamwork within shipping companies.

Their communication styles, often distinct from men’s, prioritize consensus-building, active listening, and relationship-building, fostering more efficient communication and collaboration among team members.

Moreover, women typically possess heightened emotional intelligence, enabling them to navigate interpersonal dynamics adeptly.

This leads to enhanced conflict resolution, stronger team unity, and deeper connections with colleagues and clients.

Overall, women’s communication prowess strengthens relationships with clients and business partners in customer-centric positions.

Their effective communication, rapport-building skills, and issue-resolution capabilities contribute significantly to heightened customer satisfaction and loyalty within the shipping industry.

Elevated Customer Relations and Problem-Solving:

Women bring unique insights to customer relations, enhancing satisfaction by understanding diverse needs. In shipping, where trust is vital, women excel in building long-term partnerships and fostering loyalty through personal connections.

Their attention to detail ensures operational accuracy, reducing errors and bolstering reputation. Women’s collaborative problem-solving resolves issues effectively, fostering innovation and loyalty.

Integrating women in customer roles promotes inclusivity, reflects a diverse customer base, and instils company confidence. This diverse workforce fosters a comfortable environment for customers, enhancing trust and loyalty in the shipping industry.

Women in shipping – Cons:

Low representation:

The shipping industry has a history of being predominantly male-dominated, presenting significant challenges for women aspiring to enter and progress within the sector.

The perception of shipping as male-centric can deter women from pursuing careers, fuelled by stereotypes and biases suggesting limited opportunities for success.

The lack of visible female role models(which is changing now) exacerbates this challenge, hindering women’s ability to envision advancement in maritime careers.

Recruiting and retaining female talent remain ongoing hurdles for shipping companies due to factors such as unconscious bias, insufficient outreach to diverse talent pools, and inadequate support for women in the workforce. Hostile workplace cultures and instances of gender discrimination further impede women’s progress in the industry.

Safety concern:

Safety concerns for women in shipping, especially in physically demanding roles or isolated locations, are paramount. Women in positions like deckhands or cargo handlers face risks related to heavy lifting, machinery operation, and hazardous environments.

In isolated or remote settings such as vessels or port facilities, women may encounter security risks like theft, vandalism, or assault.

Harassment, discrimination, and gender-based violence are persistent threats to women in the shipping industry, both onboard and onshore.

Unique health and hygiene challenges, including access to sanitary facilities and reproductive health services, confront women in maritime environments.

Extended periods in isolated or confined environments can impact mental well-being, leading to feelings of loneliness or stress. 

Workplace Culture:

The shipping industry’s historically male-dominated nature has indeed influenced its workplace culture, which can often be unwelcoming or hostile to women.

Gender bias and discrimination are prevalent in such settings, evident in unequal pay, limited advancement opportunities, exclusion from decision-making, and workplace microaggressions.

Women in shipping frequently confront a hostile work atmosphere characterized by harassment, intimidation, or exclusionary behaviour, posing substantial barriers to their professional success and well-being.

These challenges can lead to anxiety, heightened stress, and decreased job satisfaction.

The scarcity of women in leadership positions and visible roles within the shipping industry can contribute to feelings of isolation and marginalization among female employees.

Without representation at the top levels of organizations, women may struggle to see paths for advancement or feel undervalued and overlooked.

Moreover, stereotypes regarding gender roles influence how women are perceived and treated, undermining their confidence and credibility. Establishing rapport with male colleagues can be challenging, as women encounter resistance, scepticism, or dismissiveness, making it difficult to collaborate effectively and gain respect within the organization. 

Gender bias:

 In the shipping industry, gender bias poses significant challenges for women, affecting their experiences and opportunities across various domains. Recruitment and hiring processes are susceptible to unconscious biases, often leading to the underrepresentation of women in certain roles.

Career advancement is hindered by barriers to promotion, mentorship, and leadership opportunities, driven by stereotypes about women’s capabilities and commitment.

Moreover, women in shipping frequently encounter pay inequity compared to their male counterparts despite similar qualifications and experience. Gender bias perpetuates disparities in pay and benefits, exacerbating inequalities within the workforce. Leadership positions remain predominantly male-dominated, reflecting biases about leadership qualities and gender roles, which marginalize women in decision-making roles.

Additionally, gender bias influences the allocation of work assignments and opportunities for career development, with women often overlooked for challenging projects based on assumptions about their abilities.

Addressing these biases is crucial for fostering a more equitable and inclusive environment in the shipping industry, enabling women to fully realize their potential and contribute effectively to the sector’s growth and success.

Work-life balance:

Balancing work and family responsibilities poses a significant challenge for women in the shipping industry, as in many male-dominated sectors.

The demanding nature of shipping, characterized by long hours, irregular shifts, and extended absences from home, especially in maritime roles, creates hurdles for women striving to maintain a healthy work-life balance, while fulfilling family duties.

The inherent rigidity of shipping operations, with tight schedules, unpredictable weather, and global time zone disparities, restricts the feasibility of flexible work arrangements. Negotiating for flexible hours or remote work to accommodate family needs often leads to conflicts between professional and personal life spheres.

Women in shipping who are parents or caregivers face added complexities in juggling professional responsibilities with caregiving duties. Extended periods away from home disrupt family routines, strain relationships, and amplify stress, particularly for those caring for children, elderly relatives, or dependents.

This challenge can impede women’s career advancement within the shipping industry, as concerns about extensive travel or time away from home may deter them from pursuing certain roles, limiting their earning potential and progression.

Access to supportive networks and resources for working parents, including childcare services, parental leave policies, and flexible work arrangements, varies widely within the shipping sector.

Consequently, women often struggle to find adequate support systems to manage their work and family responsibilities effectively. 


While there are certainly many challenges to address, increasing the representation of women in the shipping industry can lead to numerous benefits, including a more diverse and inclusive workforce, improved decision-making, and better overall performance for shipping companies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the role of women in shipping?

Women in the shipping industry hold a wide range of roles, including ship captains, navigators, engineers, cargo handlers, maritime lawyers, port managers, and other administrative positions.

What are the challenges and problems faced by women seafarers?

Women in shipping often face challenges such as gender discrimination, limited career advancement opportunities, safety concerns, work-life balance issues, and access to support networks and resources.

What resources are available for women interested in pursuing careers in the shipping industry?

Resources for women in shipping include professional associations, online forums, training programs, scholarships, mentorship opportunities, and industry-specific publications.

How can women in the shipping industry support each other and build a strong professional network?

Women can support each other by sharing experiences, offering mentorship and guidance, collaborating on projects, participating in professional organizations and events, and advocating for each other’s advancement within the industry.

What initiatives are in place to support women’s participation and advancement in the shipping industry?

 Various initiatives aim to support women in shipping, including mentorship programs, networking opportunities, advocacy for gender equality policies, and organizations dedicated to promoting women’s roles in maritime sectors and celebrating the achievements of women in shipping (see IMO’s gender programme Women in Maritime).



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