Traditionally, any type of maritime job has always been male-dominated from the industry very beginnings. Much of this has to do with the way that women historically faced discrimination across many different work environments that did not emphasize a caretaker type of role. Although we have come a long way in the last hundred years as more women step into male-dominated industries, there is still a very small percentage of women in the global shipping industry. In fact, only one percent of seafarers in the world are women.
While some of this has to do with the fact that many people, especially young women, are unaware of the myriad of opportunities available in maritime jobs, it also has a bit to do with some common myths that surround the idea of women in shipping. We’ve debunked these myths to help encourage greater numbers of women to apply for maritime jobs and help implement changes like using eco-friendly packaging or identifying ways to make shipping processes more efficient.
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Old sailor superstition has long held the idea that women on board a ship will bring bad luck, but this myth clearly has no actual evidence to back up the claim. Much like the way people used to think that seeing a black cat was a bad omen, women on ships bringing bad luck has little to do with reality and more to do with a level of discrimination amongst an industry dominated by men. Of course, while many men in the industry today realize that this is simply an old sailor’s tale, there are some who still cling to the belief that hiring a female employee may lead the ship astray.
Historically, the reason behind women being seen as bad luck on boats had to do with the idea that having a woman on board would upset the sea gods, bringing bad weather and difficult conditions. However, we recognize now that the sea is not controlled by an unseen otherworldly force, and our modern technology can predict and track dangerous weather rendering this myth completely false. But, this myth was just one of many in the olden days of seafaring, along with beliefs like sailing on a Friday would bring trouble, whistling on the ship would cause a storm and saying “goodbye” or “drowned” while sailing would inevitably lead to a fatal trip.
Because the shipping industry involves a lot of dangerous and heavy equipment and materials, it is sometimes believed that having female employees on board can pose a risk to the safety of them and others. There are several reasons behind this myth, one being that women are seen as a distraction. However, in today’s world, men and women work together in a huge array of professions without being hindered by attraction or distraction. Women are also thought of as safety hazards because there are some aspects to the job that require manual labor, and it’s believed that women will not be able to handle the task they’ve been given, therefore putting everyone at risk. While women’s physical abilities may not be suited to every labor-intensive task, there are far more responsibilities to working on a ship that women are more than capable of completing carefully and successfully.
Many companies feared that hiring female employees would lead to low retention rates because of the idea that all of these women are going to leave their positions to have children and raise a family. Some shipping companies have become much more sensitive to this issue, offering female employees plenty of maternity leave and accepting them back into their positions when they are ready to return to work, but some are still using this form of discrimination to keep fewer women from entering the industry.
It has been proposed in many different industries that if companies want to keep their female employee retention rates high, they should consider offering more attractive maternity leave benefits to keep their employees happy and willing to return to work. Many fathers feel a similar way when leaving for long periods of time on shipping jobs, so offering paternity leave benefits may also increase overall retention. Though some people believe that female seafarers spend less time in the industry than their male counterparts, a study conducted in 2000 by the International Labor Organization found that the length of employment for men and women was about the same.
Although we’ve touched on this myth a bit already, the idea that women will distract men while on board is really discrediting a lot of professional male seafarers. Though there used to be much stronger gender divides in the working world, that has changed vastly, and both genders are able to work side-by-side in many different environments from close quarters like on ships to shared offices. While this myth may harm women’s ability to enter the shipping industry, it also hurts the perception of men as though they have no control over their actions and desires. Women can add a lot of value to the shipping industry, whether they are working just as hard as the men on board or trying to bring new innovations to the industry.
Some male seafarers believe that women are not capable of living and working in a shipping environment for a number of reasons. It is sometimes believed that women are too emotional and will not be able to handle spending long chunks of time away at sea, while others believe that women are not tough enough to handle the conditions. However, this type of thinking has been proven false by the women who have had the guts to become involved in this male-dominated industry and work their way to upper-level positions like an engineer or even captain, demonstrating that women are more than capable of handling sea life.
When more women enter the shipping industry, it begins to normalize the idea that female employees are not, in fact, bad luck and can handle many of the tasks traditionally designated for men. There’s a push within the industry to encourage more women to become involved and help diversify the field and bring about new ideas and changes.
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