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Completely white and just one in four women: Shipping bosses need to reflect the real world

Diversity is more than just a fashionable cause; customers and suppliers expect it, and potential employees now demand it

The business case for diversity, equity inclusion and belonging is undeniable. Statistics from numerous sources prove the gains that businesses can make with a broader employee base

ONE HUNDRED per cent white and only a quarter women; such are the demographics of executive-level management at the nine sizeable shipping companies who participated in a survey of shore-based maritime employees.

The picture is a little more promising at head of department level, where 22% identified as Asian and 5% as Hispanic/Latino. But only 14% were female, a smaller percentage than higher up the ladder.

It’s quite clear that when it comes to diversity, shipping — to put it politely — still has some way to go.

Astute leaders understand that a diverse and inclusive workforce is a critical component in meeting business challenges of the future. Building and sustaining that workforce has to be a fundamental part of business and risk management strategy.

It’s important to achieve an employee base that capitalises on existing talent but also diversifies into higher-level digital, cognitive, emotional and social skills and awareness.

The business case for diversity, equity inclusion and belonging is undeniable. Statistics from numerous sources — including McKinsey, Deloitte and HBR — prove the gains that businesses can make with a diverse employee base.

Innovation, creativity and financial performance are all demonstrably better in sustainable diverse and inclusive work cultures. Employee engagement and loyalty also increases.

Environmental, Social and Governance reporting is increasingly focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion.

A recent Diversity Study Group panel discussion with leaders from across the shipping industry openly acknowledged that diversity is a key factor for them when considering the ‘E’ and the ‘S’ in ESG, and indeed actively helpful in meeting environmental challenges.

Suppliers and customers are more frequently seeking partnerships that echo their own commitment to diversity and inclusion in the communities their businesses operate. This will without doubt become a factor in the maritime and shipping sector. 

If you are not ready by the time you are asked to demonstrate what you are doing in this regard, you will miss out.

Diverse and inclusive workplaces are high on the priority list of upcoming generations.  They are looking for progressive employers who place a high value on their employees.

They want to work in workplaces where everyone feels they belong, is given the ability to share perspectives, feels safe in speaking up and able to make a valued contribution whichever role, department or level of seniority they may occupy.

Not only that, but our future employees will be assessing organisations based on the levels of diversity demonstrated at all levels throughout the business. They want to see role models in action.

Success requires executive leadership to drive diversity and inclusion throughout organisations with a robust strategy, clear measurable objectives and defined accountability.

It requires the allocation of resources and investment in our people which, beyond salaries and bonuses, is not something that the shipping and maritime sector is known to do.

However, human capital investments are critical, as is allocating the time to ensure an effective diversity strategy is implemented and maintained.

The journey is not straightforward, nor is it quick, and without senior management taking the lead, the outcome is likely to be poor, resulting in failed initiatives which would be highly detrimental to existing employee bases.

Truly diverse organisations are able to demonstrate diversity throughout, from the board room to trainee level, from corporate services through to commercial and technical, operations and IT.

Diversity in its true context refers to a diverse representation of people with respect to gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, education, disability and socio-economic backgrounds, among others.

There is no quick fix. Sustainable progress is dependent upon inspirational leadership committed to the business transformation required. They must act not only for the sake of their organisation’s future but also for that of the industry as a whole.

Don’t forget there is a global war for talent; if we cannot capture the attention of that talent, and inspire it to join us and to help shape our industry’s future, that future looks bleak.

Heidi Heseltine is chief executive of Halcyon Recruitment and co-founder of the Diversity Study Group which was established in 2018 to support the shipping and maritime industry’s need for greater diversity and inclusion.

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