2017 December 18
Seafaring occupations have traditionally been considered as "masculine", but there is a trend of increasing involvement of women in the sector. Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) is working for equality for female professionals in the maritime and related industries. The newly elected President of WISTA International Ms. Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, the ex-President Karin Orsel and the President of WISTA Russia Olga Lazovskaya told in an interview with IAA PortNews about achievements in this direction, about new technologies and innovations in the shipping industry and environmental issues.
– Ms Karin, you served as WISTA President during six years and raised WISTA profile, number of NWAs and members significantly during your terms, as well as launched ICS scholarship and opened new horizon to WISTA to apply for consultancy status under IMO and this is yet not the full list of new initiatives generated under your Presidency. Which achievements to your personal view would you outline as most remarkable?
– Actually, I’m a team player and when I look back on my six years term I have reason to believe that we (the WISTA Executive Committee) and I achieved a lot but we still have a long way to go in attracting the new generation to the maritime industry. The agreement between WISTA and the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers, ICS, to set up a Scholarship Program for WISTA was a landmark event. We are happy the scholarship was awarded to ten WISTA members from all over the world. In 2017 WISTA have been awarded the Safety4Sea Sustainability Award for enhancing opportunities and supporting the role of women in the maritime industry on a global level. In addition, the contribution by WISTA to the UNCTAD Review on Maritime Transport. For the first time ever there is a sub chapter in the UNCTAD Review on gender issues. The invitation of WISTA to assist in preparing the relevant chapter of the report demonstrates the recognition of WISTA as professional association in the international shipping community.
For me personal I hope that people will remember me for my positive energy and my passion and compassion for WISTA. I couldn't have done it without the supportive help of some of my WISTA friends who became friends for life.
– What was the most challenging work to implement during your work as President?
Turning this global association into an international business network to help you expand your international business skills, exchange views, learn to do business with other women and educating women on international business practices is an ongoing process. WISTA has many traditions and her own unique character but always strive that we are a NON Political Worldwide Association with a clear and respectful view on topics relevant for our members and industry.
The past years we have been proven that WISTA is so much more than a logo, WISTA is our IDENTITY., It’s in our DNA.
– Ms Despina, which tasks you see as priority at your new role?
– First of all I would like to say what a great honor it is for me to take on this role, especially succeeding a person that I admire, Karin. It is also an honor to be serving an association whose potential I believe in and support.
As a priority I want to continue the promotion of WISTA as a worldwide business network, as this is the core of WISTA. I wish to also put my efforts in our growth, reaching more countries in the world hence expanding our reach.
– During your active role as Secretary you demonstrated pro-active approach. Can you share some new initiatives and ideas you wish to implement at your new role?
– We have a growing role in the shipping industry and it is one we should embrace while we remain true to the values and identity that make us what we are. Our current work remains important, and I think we should ride on its success. Therefore the issues of diversity and women in our industry will remain a top priority on our agenda.
WISTA is made of members that are experienced, well educated, dedicated and a shining example of the greater maritime industry and the organization they also represent, and I would like to put the focus on that and – in the good sense – use this experience. I am particularly interested in WISTA looking at the role of technology. Technology and particularly, digital technology is changing the face of society, and the maritime sector. In the digital world, where start-ups and new ideas abound, there are many women taking a leap of faith in their ability to seize the disruptive opportunities. WISTA is there, as a potential bridge to encourage this to happen in the maritime sector.
– Ms Karin, as CEO at MF Shipping Group you focus on innovative sustainable operations. How do you see market developing in this respect in terms of competition (is innovation a strong competitive advantage in terms of freight rates?
– Innovation and sustainable solutions are a must, there is no doubt about that. Ship Owners together with the industry are working on greener, more environmental friendly vessels with a strong focus on digitization as well.
– Does this mean that these vessels are rewarded by the industry with better freight rates?
– No, that is not the case because the end users - thus we as individuals- are not willing to pay more for our consumer goods and as long as that is the case there is some kind of unbalance.
– Are greener vessels getting the freights that "the older vessels" now transport?
– In some of the segments that might be the case but in other segments this is and will not be the case. Despite not having a clear competitive advantage we still need to take our responsibility and make sure we do more than our best to reduce the CO2 levels.
– Ms Despina, being a Joint-CEO at Tototheo Maritime a provider of integrated communications and equipment solutions how do you see the development of digitization and automation process in the maritime sector?
– The pace of change is heating up in the maritime sector. There was a lot of talk about automation and big data two or three years ago, but I think many people may have thought it was just hype, especially when there came all the talk about automation and autonomous ships.
However with the changes that digitization and automation are making across all areas of society we see a new sense of realism in the industry.
Digitization is part of the transformation of the industry. Both digitization and automation (whether in ports, on ships or elsewhere within the industry) is all about realizing economic efficiencies. If it does not make sense then it will not happen, but it is happening.
Another important aspect of the debate about automation is to remember that autonomous ships does not mean unmanned ships. Look at the ship’s engine room as an example. Vessels have unmanned engine rooms these days, but they still need engineers onboard. The solutions that are coming onto the market will firstly empower crews, making them autonomous, long before the global fleet is unmanned.
– Which nationals are the leading manufacturers of new technologies and which are most pro-active consumers?
– Actually, the companies that are pushing the agendas are from across the world. In fact, it is hard to look at a country and pinpoint one over another. Shipping is international and the companies that are pushing ahead with technology developments do so from many different clusters. There are also some leading ship owner customers, just as there are in many industries, but again these are companies with a multinational presence.
– Dear Karin and Despina, shall we see the increase of women in maritime sector with more automation and autopilot vessels as next era of shipping shall enquire less physical manual force from its employees?
– Autonomous vessels and the digitization will lead to completely different skills from our employees than our current education is teaching our seafarers and office staff. The predictions are that today's students / children are learning skills that they will not need in 10 years’ time, Imagine that! Will all of this mean that pro rata the number of females will increase? I doubt if an increase of females is related to digitalization and autonomous vessels only. In general I think that our industry is attracting more and more females but we have to lead by example and make sure that we all get equal opportunities starting with education.
– Of course. First even without the digitization of the industry we have seen a huge increase in women in the industry. And then when you look at the software companies in places like Silicon Valley and other tech clusters you see a much better balance, so yes, of course.
– Ms Karin, during WISTA AGM & Conference 2017 there were a lot of talks devoted to ecological issues. If we look broader on the ecological initiatives taking place worldwide. Do you believe this is largely the effect of ecological concerns within the industry or there is also a certain lobby by distinct manufacturers?
– I believe that our world is changing and that we as individuals are more and more aware of the consequences of our behavior (with respect to plastic, trash, fuels used, starvation, etc.), this results in "demands" from our society and we need to act. Maybe at first re-act but we also see a lot of proactive initiatives now. For example trading on LNG or methanol or wind energy, of course there is a big industry lobby, however the advantages and disadvantages of using the various energy sources is way better analyzed than years ago which means that there is not one solution but multiple options to choose from.
– Olga, tell us about WISTA Russia
– The recent Board meeting of WISTA Russia took place on 22th November 2017 in the Russian Chamber of Shipping. We discussed the achievements of WISTA International of 2017 and scheduled our regional plans for 2018 here in Russia.
We continuously work on enhancing business networking within WISTA Russia and its members internationally. However in 2018 the major effort shall be devoted to enlarge our cooperation with Maritime Academies, to launch WISTA Russia scholarships, mentorship programs for young professionals, and assistance with job referral and successful traineeship programs for female specialists in the maritime sector and related industries.
WISTA is association which unites under its umbrella females at managerial positions, which not only possess high level of expertise but also a distinct spirit of unity and energy to bring efforts for sustainable development of the maritime industry and professional growth of its members.
We believe this spirit shall help us to reach our targets. Another task for 2018 is to design an instruction sheet for relatives of the crew members to be used in case of an accident at sea. Among our members in WISTA Russia we have insurers, maritime lawyers, ship owners with years of practice, and they know well which troubles relatives of crew members often face, especially during first days of unfortunate event. This instruction shall help relatives to have easy access to up-to-date information about the condition and present location of its family member, as well as to guide them upon insurance related matters to get cover in full and due course.
Contributed to IAA PortNews by Vitaly Chernov