By Kayla Turner
The Women's International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) began 40 years ago with six women from three different European countries. Today, it has almost 2,000 members in 33 countries with representatives from nearly every sector of the maritime industry.
WISTA hosts meetings around the world that foster networking, camaraderie and professional growth among its members. It is truly “the voice of women in shipping,” and its goals include raising the visibility of its members, advancing their careers, and attracting aspiring young professionals to the industry through the provision of role models and mentors.
To get a clearer picture of the organization’s work, MarEx spoke with the following individuals:
Karin Orsel, President of WISTA International and CEO of MF Shipping Group
Mr. Anil Singh, WISTA International Ambassador and Senior Vice President & Managing Director at DP World in India
Mrs. Tineke Netelenbos, WISTA International Ambassador and President of the Royal Association of Netherlands’ Shipowners
Ms. Mfon Ekong Usoro, WISTA International Ambassador and Secretary General, Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control for the West and Central African Region
Mrs. Joyce Bawa-Mogtari, WISTA International Ambassador and Deputy Minister for Transport in Ghana, and
Mrs. Anna Wypych-Namiotko, WISTA International Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Poland to the IMO.
MarEx: In a male-dominated industry, WISTA has been able to celebrate a successful 40 years. What does the organization mean to the industry?
Mr. Anil Singh: Over the last few years the shipping industry has witnessed a shift in leadership. Although this shift has been relatively slow, there has been a definite evolution in the representation of women. WISTA has provided a platform for accomplished women to exchange knowledge and work experience and promote their overall contributions to the industry. It has helped bring together like-minded individuals and facilitated mentoring and awareness programs that emphasize the various growth opportunities available to women in this erstwhile male-dominated sector. WISTA has organized numerous road shows and events in the last four decades to empower women and foster gender diversity.
Mrs. Joyce Bawa-Mogtari: Congratulations to WISTA! 40 years is a landmark and of course worth celebrating! To women in the shipping industry, WISTA is now a voice and a platform for industry-related trends and information. It advances the cross-fertilization of ideas because it is an international association and draws its members from both public and private entities. For most women in the industry, WISTA presents an opportunity to network, to mentor, to build a positive image for women and to attract a younger generation.
MarEx: Can you elaborate on WISTA’s role in furthering maritime education and mentorship?
Karin Orsel: WISTA supports and mentors women who have chosen an education at a maritime academy or other university. If a student wants a mentor, WISTA will find one. In the U.S., WISTA is an active sponsor and supporter of the annual Women on the Water conference, organized by the Maritime Administration, which attracts over 200 female cadets from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and the six state maritime academies. WISTA members attend and lecture at WOW and other industry events and meet with students interested in industry opportunities.
MarEx: What is the best way to attract young people of both sexes to the industry?
Ms. Mfon Ekong Usoro: The decline in the number of young people entering the industry is symptomatic of problems in the entire society. Millennials are interested in employment that will have a clear career path, high take-home pay, opportunities for training and promotion, high-tech facilities and equipment, and work/life balance. The industry will therefore have to adjust to meet all the above needs in a way that offers sustainable and fulfilling careers.
Mrs. Anna Wypych-Namiotko: Promote the industry as offering not only an education but also an adventure. Both require courage, curiosity, and the ability to think analytically and coordinate multiple tasks. The great satisfaction that comes with a difficult task well done is like a drug. The maritime industry is a very large area with multiple occupations but, frankly speaking, both education and adventure are needed to make them appealing.
MarEx: Can the same practices be used to attract women to the industry?
Ekong Usoro: Generally speaking, yes. But having said that, I hasten to add that more effort, resources and concentration will have to be directed at all the issues associated with gender diversity and inclusion. Companies and governments must adopt policies specifically targeted at women. These measures include equal training opportunities, assurances of safety and security for onboard female crew and officers, protection from sexual harassment, flexibility in working hours, and maternity leave. Most of all, successful women should become champions of female empowerment and strive to produce younger versions of themselves.
Mrs. Tineke Netelenbos: We have a way to go in regard to the young women in the industry. First of all, it has to be made clear that the opportunities for employment ashore following a career at sea are quite extensive. On average, Dutch youngsters in the Netherlands spend seven to eight years of their career at sea. So wanting a family need not be a deterrent. At the same time, career opportunities have expanded significantly. Many young people are not aware of this, and it is a message we need to get across. Also, of course, female officers will need support, and it is a great help if they are not the only women on board.
MarEx: Are there other challenges facing the industry, and what is WISTA’s role in meeting them?
Orsel: Attracting young people into the field is at the top of most executives’ lists. In order to be successful, the industry must embrace more fully the use of social media to excite the next generation and attract their attention to shipping as a career choice. WISTA is addressing this core issue by reaching out to existing and potential members at all levels through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, as well as at industry conferences where our members speak.
WISTA tries to make a difference by encouraging its industry partners and associations to work and address issues together. Over the past 40 years, the employment of women in our industry has increased, both ashore and afloat, as has the number of women in top management and board positions. But there is still a long way to go in many regions of the world, and there is plenty of room for growth and opportunity. Let’s work together to cultivate women as candidates for inclusion everywhere in the best industry in the world! – MarEx
Kayla Turner is the MarEx eNewsletter Editor.