Female Professionals Challenge Industry Perceptions
By Liesl Venter
Women need to be true to themselves, believe in their capabilities and stand tall in an industry still dominated by men. This was a key message during the Women in Breakbulk Breakfast at Breakbulk Middle East, sponsored this year by Bureau Veritas.
“As women in breakbulk, women in maritime – even just as women in general, before we expect other people to validate us, we need to validate ourselves,” said Thelma Williams, currently the sole female marine surveyor in Dubai for Bureau Veritas.
“I tell myself every day that I can do this. I have been part of this industry for 20 years and I have to believe in myself first and foremost before I can expect anyone else to do so.”
She said that while carrying out her job aboard vessels – oftentimes as the only woman on the ship – it was imperative that she tries to carry out her duties not as a man would, but as herself.
“Before the surveying starts, before we check that the vessel is safe or any inspection is done, my task is to make sure that the team on that vessel is comfortable with me. I do not make myself comfortable with them,” she said.
“I am already comfortable with who I am – my skills, my knowledge and my experience. It is not easy for women in our industry, but we are making a difference and we are leading the way.”
But, said Williams, this came with a responsibility.
“Onboard the vessel I lead the conversation to ensure the men are at ease, that they can relax and be comfortable with me being there, knowing that I can do this. That allows me the ability to do my job.”
Williams said that as more women entered the industry and were being empowered, the industry was realising the value of their contributions and that times were changing.
Leslie Meredith, marketing and media director for Breakbulk Events & Media, said it was important for women to support other female professionals in the maritime sector: “We have a lot of highly-placed women on their way up in this industry, and we must support each other.”
Meena Mathews, director for Arabian Ocean Services and representative of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association, or WISTA, said it was the responsibility of every woman in the industry to empower more women.
“It is also important that we be there for each other to support each other as we grow our involvement in the maritime sector.”
Shikha Mishra, marketing executive at Bureau Veritas, said when women were empowered, nations were empowered.
“Platforms such as these are important to allow women in our industry to share the common challenges we face. It allows us to empower ourselves, to support and encourage each other. I believe that the more visible women are in this industry the more we will inspire younger women to consider careers in maritime,” she said.
“There is no denying the important role women play in business today. Women are encouraging, they are flexible and we have the drive for excellence. Women are playing important roles contributing to economies.”