Photo by Gregg Yan for Seafarer Asia
Women comprise only two percent of all the seafarers. Despite the rapid advancement of gender equality in the workplace, in the maritime industry, the glass ceiling still exists.
But there is hope, Maritime stakeholders are creating more programs and campaigns to address this issue, and we look forward to sailing seas where gender truly does not matter. In the meantime, we continue to celebrate the strength of women, especially in time for the International Women’s Month 2020.
We have gathered stories of leadership and inspiration from exemplary women seafarers circumnavigating the world. Let us get to know their individual insights, journeys, and successes in a male-dominated profession.
We all know that seafaring is a man’s world. Every year, many women like me try to enter it and break boundaries. These boundaries are set by society to cage our true potential and to challenge our belief in ourselves.
For me, being a lady seafarer means breaking glass ceilings, being the best in both worlds, and peacefully co-existing with my male counterparts. As a female seafarer, I want to inspire those who want to take the road less traveled, bridging both worlds: the land and the sea.
In our society today where strife, confusion and inadequacies are prevalent, being the best seafarer, man or woman is relevant. Why? Because we are inspiration, fortitude, and balance personified. – Janine H. Elican, OIC-NW, M/V Golden Shui
Living in an environment where men greatly outnumber the women, it takes a lot of courage and discipline to stay in the maritime field. We women need courage to continue despite all odds and the discipline to avoid fights between crew.
Having a smooth and harmonious relationship with the crew members and being one in their happiness onboard, even if you are a woman, is liberating. Going to different countries and learning their cultures are the bonuses of this job. But at the end of the day, finishing a contract without any experience of harassment and emotional breakdown is very fulfilling as it also means I’m going to be home again – safe and sound. That’s why I consider finishing my second contract my biggest achievement.
It will be a life cycle, I know, but I will make sure that I will finish every contract I take on. I will not let my gender be a hindrance to my aspirations in life. – Nellyvette Claire B. Dela Cruz, Cadet, M/V Georg Maersk
The first time onboard was the hardest. I felt like I was standing on the brink; at the boundaries of what I want to do, what I can do, and what I’m afraid to do. I didn’t know when or how I was going to take the next step. That was when I realized that when we look at the vast ocean of possibilities and opportunities, we may suddenly start to feel small. And as we start to figure out what we really want, we start to learn and grow. We’ll look back and things will no longer be the same.
I am a Chief Officer now but that’s not what brought me to my realization. It is my journey. The long path, from my time as a cadette to who I am now ,truly empowered me. My journey made me realize that no matter what happens, no matter how far away I seem to be from where I want to be, I should never stop believing that I will make it. So to aspiring women seafarers out there, we should always have faith in God and in ourselves. We should dream dreams we’ll cherish because we work hard for it, whatever it is that we choose. – Thaddea Pearl M. Hangad, Chief Officer, MT Chelsea
For a female officer, the key issue is balancing authority and approachability. This is where your personal leadership design should come in.
I like to encourage two-way communication with my juniors. For instance, I do not immediately alter course while navigating in areas with heavy traffic. I allow my watchkeeper to give suggestions, and allow him leeway to act, while I make sure we minimize chances of navigation error. These discussions also contribute to my decision making. When I take control of the vessel, that is when I show my authority. If I order ‘hard starboard’ then the ship’s rudder must be hard-to-starboard. I must lead in a style appropriate to the situation, not because I am a female officer, but because I am a deck officer who wants to achieve a goal onboard: zero accident, zero incident. – Laarni Grace R. Pangilinan, Second Officer, Paramount Hatteras
Studies show that women tend to be compassionate but headstrong leaders, especially if they are working in a male-dominated industry. This I have experienced myself, having worked and interacted with the very few women in the maritime industry. I started my career from the bottom and risen through the ranks in the last seven years. This helped me realize that not all leaders are good: some are just appointed. Some do just their job and nothing more, and some go beyond themselves.
I still have limited experience as a deck officer, but I try to make it a point to be very rational. I know the feeling of fatigue, stress and pressure, which is why when I supervise work onboard, I channel it through the eyes of someone who has done it before, putting myself in the situation rather than just being someone standing in uniform and holding a radio. However, this also has minor setbacks because some would think that just because I am a lady officer means they can get away with shortcuts or inefficient practices. If I witness something wrong or out of protocol, I very firmly correct it at my capacity as an officer at that instance, regardless of age or rank. Otherwise, I would let the captain step in. – Majella Angelie Parreno-Albances, Third Officer, Wallem Shipmanagement
As a female seafarer, I would say that my biggest achievement on board was being able to earn the respect of my captain, officers, and fellow crew. Because I am a woman. I was judged, criticized, discouraged; they even doubted my skills. I had to break through the stigma of women having certain limits. I performed my duties beyond expectations and even got involved with the heavy jobs. I requested my chief mate to include me in cargo hold cleaning, chipping of rust, and other deck maintenance. As a future officer, I also assisted the Officer-Of-The-Watch on the bridge during navigation and maneuvering. With these, I have proven that women are more than you expect them to be. We have no limits. We do not have to live by the expectations of the society. We should always be more than that. We are always more than that. – Ina Marie B. Rubio, Cadet, IVS Gleneagles
As we continue to sail through the waves of the changing times, we are closer to a generation where men and women stand on equal footing – no one is stronger, no one is more privileged, no one is oppressed. But as of now, the challenge is still up for the taking. We need more power in the industry and we can only be just as powerful as we are meant to be, if we play with all the cards we are dealt with. Snappy salutes to the brave women of the seas! Happy International Women’s Month!
It’s time to shatter glass ceilings.
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Elijah Jose Barrios
Elijah Jose Barrios is a 24-year old Third Officer, Teacher, and Course Developer. He advocates for child literacy and youth empowerment through his involvement in different organizations. He considers himself an appreciator of any form of art and usually puts all his realizations into writing.