5 truths about the importance of women in the shipping industry

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International Women’s day has been celebrated for over a century, and yet the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report shows that the gender gap is widening and that gender parity is over 200 years away. That’s why this year’s theme is #PressforProgress. Why is this important? Because gender parity strongly influences whether economies and societies advance.

In light of this drive for progress, we interviewed Lena Göthberg, a shipping industry thoughtleader, consultant, and podcaster, whose passion for the shipping industry includes advocating for greater diversity and representation of women.

Here are the takeaways from our chat with Lena that illustrate the key role that women (and particularly young women) have to play in the future of the shipping industry.


  1. Women are essential to a viable and robust future for shipping.

Diversity is important not just for diversity’s sake, but because it brings in the skills that move an industry forward. Shipping is no different. As an industry, it’s becoming more complex and more reliant on automation and AI. To be an effective employee in shipping, you don’t need a strong back — you need a strong mind.

As Lena describes it:

“As I am very interested in the paradigm we are currently in, with new technical developments and rapid digitalization. I tend to meet people interested in the same thing, and it’s obvious to me that the young women are bringing in the new knowledge that we need to make ourselves essential for the future, such as 3D printing, blockchain, remote controlled management of vessel  and so on.”

 “The industry has not yet recovered from the financial crisis in 2008, so the industry is still in survival mode. However, this is a time when companies are looking into alternative ways of working, influenced by digitalisation and the age of innovation we are currently in. So, right now, I think the biggest challenge is that there are not enough women in the shipping industry.”


  1. The shipping industry needs to rebrand to fix its recruitment problem.

The shipping industry is being held back by some of the preconceptions about the type of people who work there and how it’s run. These preconceptions can include: male, older, outdated, analog. To recruit the talent it needs, shipping needs to be seen as: diverse, young, adaptive, digital.

 “It’s the same in any industry the shipping industry is competing with all other industries to find the most talented and bright young people, men and women, but I am not sure that we as an industry have been aware of that before. It’s time for the shipping industry to build the brand of an exciting industry with many cool jobs to attract these young people, and then also give them an open and challenging working environment where they can flourish.”

To this end, Lena has created a podcast called Shipping Podcast: Voices from the Maritime Industry. Lena has been running the podcast for 2.5 years, and it has seen 120,000 downloads in 166 countries.

“I wanted more people to know about this industry, which employs so many professionals and knows so much and does so much for the entire world, but hardly gets any recognition at all. I wanted young people to find the podcast when they’re searching for other podcasts and think “Hey, this is interesting, I had no idea that there is such a thing as the maritime industry”.


  1. The number of women in shipping, and their influence, is growing steadily.

Lena has been in the industry for a long time, from being one of a small handful of women to seeing the industry start to balance its gender scale.

“I see women more visible now than when I started in this industry some 25 years ago. At that time, the only women around were those who inherited shipping companies, which meant that I had no real female role models. It was when suddenly, most family-owned shipping companies in Donsö were lead by the first borne, all daughters, that I could see female shipowners in action.” [editor’s note: Donsö is an island in the Gothenburg archipelago with a long and important history for Swedish shipping. And it’s where Stena Line’s founder, Sten A. Olsson, was born]

“I would say that WISTA International [short for the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association], with more than 3,000 members in 40 countries, is a collection of women in the shipping industry that never ceases to surprise me. I have been a member of WISTA Sweden since 2000 and I always say that WISTA is the place where I learn the most about shipping. It’s something about women we are better at building networks and sharing knowledge, there is less concern about prestige, and more a sense of support.”

As far as the prominent female movers and shakers in the industry, they are ascending in numbers and global reach. One prominent example Lena mentions is Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, the CEO of Tototheo Maritime in Cyprus. She has been named one of the most influential people in the maritime industry and has set the theme for her presidency to “Women who move the world.”


  1. You don’t need to be a sailor to be in shipping.

Many of the commonly conceived hurdles to joining the shipping industry actually don’t apply. Mainly: you don’t need experience on a boat. Valid candidates for important roles shipping companies can come from all kinds of educational (and geographic) backgrounds.

“Recruitment has become more like in other industries, you don’t have to have a seagoing background to have a career in the land organisation. There are so few female seafarers only 2% of the worlds’ seafarers so if that is the selection, then there will be very few female managers.”


  1. Give-and-take is needed for balance: women need to claim space, men need to give it.

Lena puts it perfectly:

 “I was told by someone that the problem is that men recruit men and women recruit women and if there aren’t enough female managers, then the road to a diverse working environment is very long.”

 “I think it’s the men that need to invite more women to the table, in the boardrooms, in the management teams and in general. I would hope for men to stop participating in contexts where there it’s “men only”, to say no thank you when invited to those places or to panel discussions where there are only men speaking. It’s 2018 now and it’s not good enough for anyone to try the excuse “we couldn’t find any women” which I have heard so many times.”

 “For the women, it’s time to say yes to every invitation to participate or to speak, occupy more space, be visible and become a role model to everyone in your surroundings. We have an exciting journey in front of us, together with the other maritime professionals.”