(More than) a few good women

August 15, 2018

Sue Terpilowski (pictured) remembers very clearly the point at which she decided to take action on gender equality and female opportunity in shipping. “We held a WISTA event to dip our toe in the water on this topic and I heard young women speaking about the same challenges I had 35 years ago – I hadn’t realised the extent to which so little had changed,” she explains.

Add to that a mounting sense of frustration at the repeated discussion of a ‘skills shortage’ in a shipping jobs market that appeared to be ignoring 51% of the population and she realised there was a job to be done. It was a job that needed a champion and keen to avoid the perception of a personal crusade, Terpilowski tapped up then transport minister John Hayes.

“I envisioned something similar to Women in Science and Engineering and in Women in Finance projects and he got it instantly, he fully understood and was very supportive,” she says. With the support of the Department for Transport, the project benchmarked other initiatives and the pair decided to issue a challenge to shipping in Hayes’ keynote to the 2017 WISTA conference during London Shipping Week.

From there Maritime UK picked up the gauntlet invited her to consult on pathways and projects, resulting in the creation of a Women’s Task Force run in conjunction with the DfT to get industry buy-in on examining diversity and inclusion of women in the shipping industry.

Named as chairman Terpilowski was keen that the Task Force drew in as much talent as possible in order to broaden the skills base, creating an array of six sub groups under the main task force. “It’s crucial not to have a few people trying to dictate to the many, I wanted people in industry to take ownership for the projects. Now we have about 100 all working together.”

The project covers jobs and companies at sea and on land but one of the first barriers to break was the perception of representation created by the skew towards women in marketing, HR and administration roles. Research by recruitment consultant HR Consulting part of Spinnaker Group has found that the industry is over-weighted in these sectors but once these and junior positions are stripped out, representation is ‘pathetic’, according to Terpilowski.
“We are not going to have women progressing to board level if you haven’t got a progression scheme through the company. The attrition rate is extremely high so even where the shipping industry can attract women it isn’t keeping them, let alone making them visible.”  This matters not just for women but also for men because without better recognition, it creates and reinforces the perception of women in certain roles or at levels as the norm.

The Maritime UK Taskforce groups are examining a number of topics; from recruitment processes, remuneration and total packages including the gender pay gap, retention and progression and the use of gender neutral language that can help make people feel more welcome, working with WISTA UK who will be running a number of workshops and talks to compliment the taskforce’s work.

Just under a year on from John Hayes’ challenge to the industry, Martime UK’s Taskforce has published a pledge on equality and invited companies to sign up and is working on a charter for organizations to that want to demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

Terpilowski is pleased with progress so far. “It’s not a talking shop, I’m an action person. We have 70 companies signed up the pledge and we hope they will be out first charter pioneers but we want companies to work at a speed they are comfortable with, it’s not a case of one way is right and another is wrong.”

She believes that if a company makes ‘one small incremental change that’s a success’ but adds that compliance with the charter, which is being developed with DfT will be audited annually and “is not for life, you don’t get to keep the badge”.  A benchmarking survey on industry equality is about to begin, with an interim report set for spring 2019 and the full report due in September the same year. But given the work already done at recruitment level and what we know about the lack of women working at sea, does she expect any surprises?

“We know some of the patterns but it will be interesting to look at professions like legal and accountancy where shipping is only a division of the company and whether there is a wider ethos. I think we’re going to find that the UK ports sector is more diverse than mainstream shipping which might surprise a lot of people so it might throw out some interesting highlights.”

Either way it is a good opportunity for companies to demonstrate what they are doing and Terpilowski sees an industry-wide benefit in properly assessing the problem including the 51% alongside the 49%.  Describing herself as an ‘equalist not a feminist’, she adds that the data suggest that equality is more than a feel-good factor; it makes business sense. In its 2015 report Why Diversity Matters, McKinsey concluded that “greater gender diversity of the senior-executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift. For every 10 percent increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5%.

Further research into over 1,000 companies across 12 countries found the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to enjoy above-average profitability than those in the bottom quartile “The value to the company is shown in the bottom line; diverse companies earn more. You do need a business case, otherwise it’s never going to stand up. We also have to see it from the company point of view, small business have enough to contend with as it is; adding another thing not always welcome.”

WISTA UK probably won’t run direct training courses itself but will hold open events – including one this autumn – with training and education specialists that can work with corporates who want to take the process further.

The campaign is considering other methods too and Terpilowski says she has had conversations with men and women about boycotting conferences that fail to show enough diversity in the make-up of panels and speakers. WISTA UK will also launch a mentoring scheme likely in conjunction with Maritime UK and the Shipping Professional Network in London to concentrate resources.

WISTA UK will be naming a high profile woman be the champion for the mentoring programme, all Terpilowski will say for now is “someone on the edges of the industry but well very respected,” but she adds that for all the need to drive equality, the scheme will be open to men too. “A lot of the issues affecting young women affect young men too. Lots of male colleagues are supportive of this. We don’t want to introduce another bias, even with the best of intentions.”