About sexism in the workplace Why do we have very few women in the maritime industry?


By Rohey Samba My very beautiful cousin with the very funny name came upon me with her angelic face drawn to the ground in a sad countenance. She had encountered her first bout of sexism at her office and she was sad and confused. The duty manager had asked her to give an evaluation of the current situation at her workstation, and after making a candid analysis of it, and naively praising her own supervisor for the exceptional job he was doing to ensure that their unit’s targets were being met, the manager had insensitively surmised her assessment with the derogatory statement, “You know, your evaluation is not too bad. However, because you are a woman, you are bound to be very emotional in making your assessments. For one, I would not say the same thing about ‘Diww’. He is simply doing the job he is paid to do. Full stop!” My cousin was shell-shocked and very annoyed, no doubt, upon hearing Mr Manager. You are a woman. You are emotional. These are terms many dudes take for granted, and are comfortable saying to women at large. The ‘you are emotional’ bit is fairly benign but very distasteful and belittling to women generally. It’s like Donald Trump calling all black men ‘lazy’, and ‘ only good as sex machines’ and so forth. Black American men were very riled up by those statements, right? Well, it was a small dose of the same drug women are injected every day of their lives. Sexism is heart wrenching and very stressful for the one who experiences it first-hand. Human beings, male and female, yearn to have the correct temperament to overcome this particular form of discrimination at the workplace at some point in their lives… especially women. As human beings, we are calmed, agitated or excited by individuals, situations and working environments. It is normal. Very normal that at a moment’s notice, any one’s temperament can change. What sets us apart from the crowd is our level of composure and professionalism in handling everyone we work with, with respect, dignity and fairness irrespective of their gender, affiliations or beliefs. Observing Cousin X’s face, which would make men swoon at a distance and women hate her guts for being so beautiful, I told her offhandedly, ‘Welcome to the real world: The world where you are inherently inferior because of your gender and expectations about your gender roles. Welcome to the world, where you need to prove yourself twice before you are considered at the same level as the next man; where it is not okay to show you are sad, unhappy or gleefully excited because you are bound to be called ’emotional’ as a woman; where your competence is always questioned, your ill health caricatured behind your back and your universal right to look and feel good, ridiculed.’ If the truth is to be told, her duty manager is an immature dude, who cannot man up to accept the praise for another man. I did not tell Cousin X this though. It would not help her in any way, if I berate her boss and not call a spade, a spade. I believe that young women must be told the truth about the ways of the world to avoid romanticising their personal growth as working/professional women. Yes, Mr Manager demonstrated high level insecurity in responding to random praise by a junior officer of her own supervisor, which he should have encouraged heartily under the worst of conditions. But that should teach Cousin X to rein it in the next time and watch her guard when talking about a supervisor to another supervisor in her workplace. Any workplace. Either due to jealousy or because Mr Manager had felt threatened by the other guy’s competence as specified by my cousin, his sexist strait was brought to the fore to divert from his attitudinal deviant behaviour of ‘blame and shame’ culture that we have in many of our organisations nowadays. His reaction revealed that he would have been so much happier if my cousin had disparaged Diww. Which fortunately Cousin X did not do. It is a paradox of ideas that we are moving into a phase of economic and social development in both private and public sectors by managing individual knowledge to create value. With such wide range of conflicting interests in all sectors of society, approaching this phase is quite daunting and practically impossible without involving women, who constitute more than 50% of the population of the world. Building on this, many institutions in our country suffer from this conscious discipline of side lining and belittling women in every sphere of work life. Sexism, indeed, is a conscious discipline that appears to permeate every level of society, especially in our work places. Following the loss of Hillary Clinton in the US presidential elections, my very enlightened male friend and colleague, wrote to me on Facebook Messenger: “It is delusional to believe that Americans were going to vote a woman president! Every gender has its natural place in their societal set up, be it human, lower animals or insects. Whatever the outcome, Trump’s leadership would bring, Americans prefer that to voting Hillary! It did not mean though that Trump will bring them any good.” I was pissed off. I was pissed off that Hillary lost. But I was more pissed off that Donald Duck won! Thus I gave him an unprofessional and very candid reply, which unfortunately I would not feature in this article because it is not the purpose of this write-up to debate about the merits and demerits of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Needless to say, it was a page-long reply about ‘women’s natural place’ I wrote back to him that I am sure caught him off guard for he mellowed to my own tune immediately afterwards and we reverted back to my defined ‘normal’ – a utopian nirvana, where men and women are judged on their substance, not structure. To begin with, and I won’t beat about the bush with this one, the reason we have very few women in the maritime industry is obvious. The men don’t want us, women, there. It is a boy’s club. Whilst gender activists may call for the gender neutral term seafarer for all they want, the term seaman remains the most used term ever, even with the promulgation of the term seafarer by the International Convention on the Standards for Training Certification & Watch keeping (STCW 95) and the Maritime Labour Convention 2000 among others. Ladies are not given the same level of training, yet their competence is continually questioned, especially in third world countries like ours where we struggle to get cadetship training on board ships owned by good shipping companies. Where women secure placement as cadets in shipping companies, there are usually no measures in place to guarantee their protections against the male seafarers/superiors on board ship. Rapes, molestations and other sexually deviant behaviours, which result in slut shaming of female cadets are not unheard of. Thus I conclude by noting that women seafarers are not given a level playing field, yet their credentials are steadily quizzed. The ship, which is a machine like any other, is made to seem so complex, it is perplexing. This may seem strange in this day and age, of the ‘knowledge economy’ but it is a simple fact. With less than 2% of female seafarers in the maritime industry as a whole, who can blame men? The historic adoption of the World Maritime University equal opportunities policy culminated in one revolutionary idea: that success of the maritime industry is inextricably linked with equality between men and women, and that women are an untapped resource in the field of maritime studies and employment. It called on national and international actors to fully involve women in maritime affairs and to ensure that all efforts are consistent with the principles of gender equality. This inclusive policy provided the framework for women’s full participation in the maritime field. Since its adoption, many women have been given the chance to excel and shine, at least academically in maritime affairs; with women topping the academic distinctions consistently for the past decade at the highest echelon of learning in the maritime world, that is, The World Maritime University (WMU); for WMU indeed is the Harvard of learning in the maritime industry. But unlike the men who graduate from this illustrious university, these women who finish in the top echelons of their respective specialisations such as: Maritime Law and Policy, Maritime Education & Training, Maritime Safety & Environment Management, Shipping & Port Management, are virtually sidelined and ignored when they return to their ports or maritime administrations; remaining the most brilliant, yet, untapped resources in their institutions. The insistence on competence, which cannot be seriously gauged due to lack of a specialised training strategies and plans of too many institutions for the female seafarer intakes make the very difficult task for most women to complete the necessary sea board training in order to reach the very top of their vocation. This is pertinent because the sea job as alluded to earlier is one of the least protected of jobs for women. This is the sad fact.]]>