Think careers in Maritime are just for men? Think again. On the inaugural International Day for Women in Maritime, we hear from three Crawford women making a mark on the industry. One thing they all agree on is; perception is one of the biggest challenges they face within a male-dominated maritime industry.
In December last year, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a resolution proclaiming that each year on 18 May, would become a day to promote diversity. The theme this year is: Training-Visibility-Recognition: Supporting a barrier-free working environment.
As part of our broad loss adjusting expertise, Crawford has teams of people around the world that specialise specifically in losses related to the maritime industry.
Senior Marine Surveyor & Loss Adjuster for Crawford Australia, Kerryn Woonings, is the Australian Vice President of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) and said days such as this are critically important.
“Through my work with the WISTA, I see firsthand how basic rights for women – especially those at sea – are often forgotten. Simple things like appropriate fitting PPE for females, allowances for physical differences, and passing up suitably capable females for more physical roles because of a preconceived idea of an inability.
“More seriously, the absence, and frankly ignorance in some circles, for giving women basic protections from physical and mental harm in interactions with male seafarers is a very active concern at the moment. I would love to see a greater awareness for the pivotal role women play in the maritime industry and that our contribution should be valued just as much as with men,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Kerryn has this advice for women thinking about a career in maritime: “Don’t be afraid. You are strong, capable, and valued and that overcomes any adverse opinions you might encounter along the way.
“What I absolutely love about being a Marine Surveyor is that no one hour is the same. I could be writing reports early in the morning, and then be on a ship by mid-morning looking at some cargo that’s taken a spill mid-voyage. In the afternoon, I might be out at a factory trying to work out how a fully crated laser cutting machine has managed to arrive at its destination completely rusted.
“The next day, I could be down south looking at damaged produce, or spending a few hours on a beautiful cruiser trying to resolve a disagreement with two colliding boat owners. I think it’s the variety and challenges that I love the most.”
Kerryn, who is Perth based on Australia’s west coast, explained that one of the biggest challenges is perception: “As women, our qualifications and abilities are questioned all the time. I remember the first time I conducted a solo joint survey. The first thing I was asked was “what qualifications do you have to do this job”?
“There is an automatic assumption that because we are young, and female, and may not have been at sea for 50 years, that we are not competent or resilient enough to do the job. It’s quite the contrary. I’ve found that females in the industry approach their roles with the right amount of empathy and also show great resilience and tenacity in dealing with these difficult situations.”
Laurien Groenendijk, Registered NIVRE – Marine Surveyor at Crawford in The Netherlands, agrees:
“Especially at the ports and warehouses, people don’t expect a female surveyor to turn up. Unfortunately, comments are often made about our gender.”
However, overall, Laurien said her journey has been largely positive: “My experience is that although people in the marine industry are not used to working with a female surveyor, we are fully accepted by principals, colleagues, counter surveyors, insureds both in The Netherlands as well as abroad.”
Sarah Flood, Marine Surveyor & Loss Adjuster, based in Sydney Australia loves her job: “Each day is so varied - it may be a visit to Port Botany for a busted container of cooking oil, a trip out west to an insured’s warehouse to oversee an unload of cheese from a malfunctioning reefer container, or up to Newcastle for fire damaged mining equipment – and practically everything in between! We really do have one of the most varied roles which keeps it interesting.”
When it comes to the gender bias, Sarah said she’s “heard it all!”
“From emails before a site visit reminding me not to wear high heels, to receiving comments from other surveyors on my choice of nail polish. It’s hard not to feel like you’re starting with one hand tied behind your back when some of the very experienced surveyors assume that because I‘m younger and female, this equates to not knowing what I’m talking about. But to be honest, this just makes me more determined to know my stuff - I don’t let it discourage me.”
Sarah believes stories like this need to be told to evoke change.
“I do strongly encourage women to consider a career in maritime if it’s something on their radar. While women are outnumbered, there are all sorts of women’s associations and events where we gather with successful women across the maritime industry and hear their stories, struggles and achievements - it’s inspiring!
“We have a long way to go in an overall sense, but it’s a really great community to be a part of. For us personally here at Crawford, we get endless support and encouragement from our male Crawford colleagues,” Sarah concluded.