Top Indian fleet owners have been hiring women in key roles to run ships for many years now, but a recent guideline issued by India’s maritime administration will give it a further fillip and also nudge those who have shied away from recruiting women in a highly male-dominated profession.

Director-General of Shipping Amitabh Kumar speaks to Businessline regarding the strategy to promote women participation in Seafaring workforce

We need to attract more and more women into the workforce and the same is true for the shipping industry also. For the shipping industry the problem is bigger, women have not been participating in the shipping industry. Either the industry never encouraged women to participate or the job requirements were projected to be so tough that women opted out of this industry.
Globally, the percentage of women in seafaring is around 3 per cent, but in our country, it is less than 1 per cent. So, we are much below the global average and this needs to be corrected. This is a wrong course to take, and this needs a definite course correction.
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Four-pronged strategy:

We need a four-pronged strategy for that. We first need to encourage women to join maritime training, and that is possible only when we communicate more with women. We need to inform them that this is one industry where it is possible for women to participate. Once we manage to get them into the maritime training institutes, then the second strategy is to retain them in this industry. We know that retention of both men and women in the industry is heavily dependent on providing on job sea-board training berths. This is another area where employers’ bias comes into play, and there is a need for a detailed strategy on providing ship-board berths for women candidates, so that those who have entered the industry are retained.
The third strategy relates to refocusing, because there will be a stage in a woman’s career when she will have to take a break for maternity or other purposes. And once she takes a break from maternity, then the industry needs to provide her alternative career options for those 12, 18 or 24-odd months that she would not be in a position to go on a vessel.

And, the fourth strategy is to facilitate her role as a leader in the maritime industry.

If we take care of all these four stages with a definite strategy, I see no reason why participation of women in this industry cannot be increased. Again, this cannot be done only by policy; this needs detailed deliberations within and outside the industry.

There are enough options for everyone in the larger maritime community…lawyers, financiers, classification societies, government training institutes, recruiters and ship managers. All these require men and women who are educated and experienced. If there is a line of communication between all these segments of the maritime sector, then a proper career path can be designed for women. Once we design a proper career path for women, more and more women will come forward, and they can be retained, retrained and their skills utilised by the maritime community.

Promoting women seafarers:

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I’m afraid we have not done enough but some small steps have been taken to encourage women. Some scholarships have been launched by the Maritime Training Trust. It’s a small amount and doesn’t take care of all their requirements, but it is a step shown by the Maritime Training Trust. Now, other trusts, unions and large companies need to follow suit and make sure that some kind of encouragement is given to women to allow them to join in larger numbers.

In terms of ship-board training, we don’t have a comprehensive strategy to retain them once they have entered this field. We have been talking to a lot of employers and basically prodding them to take more and more women, and give more and more berths to women. There is still some reluctance but some have come forward. In the last three years, data suggest that almost everyone has at least got the first ship-board berth for women.

Guidelines to be implemented:

We intend to make the guideline compulsory for all Indian vessels. We will also request the recruitment and placement service (RPS) providers to communicate this guideline to other shipowners who have been employing Indians.

 Re-focusing part:

In terms of refocus, there is a complete gap. You need to have a strategy for accommodating women when they tend to take rest for a few years; we need to find shore-based employment for them during this period when we cannot ask them to go on-board. It may be possible for them to work in a related field on shore during this period, and if they remain connected to the shipping industry, then the gap that is felt today will not be there.