Elpi Petraki: It’s time to put diversity, equity and inclusion at the top of the maritime agenda

Actions speak louder than words, and WISTA International is ready to go above and beyond to ensure that the shipping sector rectifies its historic gender imbalance and creates a more diverse industry.

As Elpi Petraki, President of WISTA International, tells GOLD, it’s time to put diversity, equity, and inclusion at the top of the maritime agenda.

Both your parents were involved in the shipping industry, so was it a foregone conclusion that you would follow in their footsteps?

No, I wouldn’t necessarily say so. However, the maritime world has always interested me, and, coming from a family that is involved in shipping and being raised in that environment, I began to see how fascinating a career in shipping could be. It hasn’t been easy and I’ve faced the same challenges that many women continue to face, particularly when it came to having children and raising a family. I’ve had to work hard but I had great support and was given a very flexible timetable, which was very helpful.

Are there specific issues that you intend to address directly during your presidency of WISTA International? What are they and why are they important to you?

One of the main issues we are looking at just now is behavioural change and how we can start to change people’s mindsets in terms of acceptable behaviours – both onshore and onboard vessels – and their treatment of, and attitudes towards, others. It is essential that we create an environment that is welcoming and safe for everyone. WISTA has achieved a lot over the last few years and I plan to continue that momentum and make real, tangible changes to the way we work and to people’s working lives.

One of WISTA’s main goals has always been to promote more women into leadership positions in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. To what extent has that goal been achieved so far? Is there still a long way to go?

Shipping has come a long way and we can see that it is changing. However, there is still a lot more that needs to be done and the speed of change varies dramatically depending on which part of the world you are in. We need to be sure that it is not only words but real action too. I’d like to see more women move into managerial positions and this is something that WISTA will continue to support and promote. We are working on several projects and we aim to extend WISTA’s reach from both an industry and geographical perspective.

Attracting more people to the industry is an important priority for WISTA. We need to attract more women to the seafaring profession but, to do that, we first need to change people’s mindsets and ensure that the right procedures and processes are in place to support women in the majority of workplaces.

According to the BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report, women make up only 1.2% of the worldwide seafarer workforce. Do you believe that the industry is doing enough to encourage women to join the industry and to support those who do?

Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of discussion around this and it is starting to gain a lot of traction. Talking is always a good start but we need quicker action. If we want to encourage more women to consider a career at sea, then we need to provide the right environment for them on board. There is a huge demand for new talent on board, so shipping companies cannot afford to overlook 50% of the population. Onboard technology is also changing how a vessel operates: the work is less physical and the desired skillset is changing. It’s important to recognise that the skills themselves are gender-neutral.

What is your advice to young women who may be considering a career in shipping?

Not to hesitate and to make the most of all the opportunities available to them. A career in shipping can be very rewarding; every day is different, it’s an exciting and often fast-paced environment where you can learn something new every day. It’s an industry that can take you all over the world and, while you need to be prepared to work hard, it has a diverse range of roles so there is something for everyone.

Do you feel that the focus on issues such as decarbonisation, sustainability, digitalisation, etc., has pushed back the agenda as regards promoting diversity and inclusion in the maritime sector?

No, I don’t believe this is the case. As a theme, diversity, and inclusion in the maritime sector is finally getting the attention we have been seeking for many years and it is now considered one of the top priorities – alongside decarbonisation, sustainability, and digitalisation, etc. In fact, these focus areas are also creating new roles and opportunities which are helping to level the playing field as both men and women have the desired skills and experience.

This interview first appeared in the May edition of GOLD magazine. Click here to view it.

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