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Role of women in shipping and avoiding disparities – Executive Insights – Jillian Carson-Jackson

Executive Insights is a series by Shipping and Freight Resource that provides insights and thoughtful analysis about the industry..

This series features selected individuals from the industry and is aimed at enriching the knowledge of the readers with what is happening in the shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, and supply chain industry..

Executive Insights also gives you a chance to pick the brains of these industry veterans, leaders, and enablers..

In this edition of Executive Insights, we caught up with Jillian Carson-Jackson – President of Nautical Institute and Maritime Extraordinaire, on her views on the role of women in maritime and shipping and some of the ways in which they can enhance their roles further and avoid disparities and inequality..


SFR : Madame President, welcome to Executive Insights.. Maritime Technical Advisor, Simulation Trainer, IALA expert for VTS, Aids to Navigation (AtoN) and E-navigation, Fellow of both the Royal Institute of Navigation and the Nautical Institute, Presenter, Chairperson, Trainer – wow, is there anything that I have missed out..?? ?

Can you give us a brief about your journey, where and how it began and what was your inspiration..??

JC-J : Inspiration – that is a good question.  I guess my main inspiration is adventure – I have always loved to do different things, from getting my first outboard motor at the age of nine to explore the islands of Georgian Bay, to joining the Canadian Coast Guard College, everything about water and navigation has inspired me in so many different ways.

Jillian Carson-Jackson - Executive Insights - Shipping and Freight ResourceAs a Navigation Officer Cadet at the CCGC I learned to love the maritime industry.  At the same time, I began to realise the incredible gender imbalance in this industry. I had never really thought about it before, but being in a minority, it really hit home.

I remember my first sea phase, where there was active backlash about having females onboard.

My cabin mate and I received anonymous press clippings on our bunks as to why women shouldn’t be onboard vessels. Someone went into my cabin and took my umbrella, which was thrown overboard (it was bad luck?).

My boyfriend sent me flowers for my birthday which I never received (again, they went overboard – more bad luck?). Still, I loved the work – and it was my first experience with ice breaking. I would go on to spend as much time as I could on ice-breakers – both in the Canadian Arctic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.


SFR : What is the role of the Nautical Institute in the realm of Shipping and Maritime..??

JC-J : The Nautical Institute has always been about focusing on the maritime professional. As a membership organisation, we provide a focus for individual growth through education and training, sharing of best practice, and looking to the future of the industry.

The vision of the NI is to provide inspiration, knowledge and leadership to maritime professionals around the world.  And we really do work to this vision! The five year strategic plan focuses on four key area: Membership and Branches, Information and publications, Research and Relationships and Qualifications.

Supporting our members is at the heart of the NI – really, the members of the NI ARE the NI.  Each member gains so much through active engagement with our local branches. The branches provide a focus to engage with other maritime professionals and to ‘think global, act local’ and gather ideas, share experiences, develop best practice and influence the activity of the Institute and beyond.

Members of the NI have an opportunity to have our voices heard locally, regionally and at the international level. This includes our ongoing active involvement at the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities – IALA, and the International Maritime Organization – the IMO. The NI is the voice for the maritime professional in the world.


SFR : How has the role of technology influenced and changed the landscape for vessel operations and in maritime navigation..??

JC-J : Technology in the maritime industry is nothing new – in fact the ever changing technical aspects of this industry is one of my ongoing inspirations!  The digitalisation of the maritime industry continues to have implications that encompass ship and shore.  What we need to do is to ensure that we critically analyse the developments within the industry to ensure they are supporting, and not hindering, the growth of the industry.

We have seen developments of the centuries, moving through industry to industry – where we now sit within the concept of industry 4.0 which is characterized by developments in knowledge, information and technology; the processes for interactions, and looking at not only the ‘big picture’ but where we, as humanity, fit – asserting rights, interests, limits and needs.

We need to of course address the challenge of keeping the human in the loop – recognising what the technology does well, and what humans do well, and collaborating, not competing, to support safe and effective outcomes.

The OECD Learning Compass 2030 presents three key skills identified for the future:

  • cognitive and meta-cognitive skills, which include critical thinking, creative thinking, learning-to-learn and self-regulation
  • social and emotional skills, which include empathy, responsibility and collaboration
  • practical and physical skills, which include using new information and communication technology devices

The one constant we know is that there is no constant – to breach the virtual frontier we need to embrace the challenges and address the myths, learn that we will never stop learning…

One of my favourite ‘technology’ quotes from Piet Hein rephrased by me is ‘To avoid the disaster of technology being master, humans and machines must collaborate faster’.

Executive Insights - Shipping and Freight Resource - Jillian Carson-Jackson
Image : Nautilus International

SFR : What do you think are some of the main issues for many of the maritime disasters with ships running aground, breaking up, containers falling off ships or even the Ever Given disaster.. Should ship captains be personally responsible for these incidents..??

JC-J : There is a concerning trend that has been happening now for decades – the criminalisation of the maritime professional. There are several incidents including the Hebei Spirit from 2007, Tasman Spirit in 2003, the recent Wakashio and many others where the seafarer is being criminalised. Rahul Varma noted ‘A civilian’s mistake is a mistake, but a Seafarer’s mistake is a crime’.

The prevalence of criminalisation of seafarers led to The Nautical Institute implementing an access program to support specialist legal fees insurance cover.

I think that, rather than asking if captains, and others in the maritime profession ‘should’ be held responsible for incidents we need to look at the reasons behind ‘why’ the incident came about.  To truly evolve as an industry, we need to be willing to learn from what goes wrong, resolve the issues and implement mitigation measures.  The fear of criminalisation undermines safety reporting, which creates a vicious cycle where the issues are not reported, so there is no opportunity to improve.

As we have seen highlighted during Covid-19, criminalisation is part of the more holistic issue which is that seafarers today continue to deprived of basic rights and respect within society.  The prevalence of reports in social media is a double edged sword – more people are aware of issues, yet there are more ‘arm chair’ navigators and lawyers passing judgement before the facts are known.

As noted in the Marine Insight article, ‘Instead of going for a blame game of acquisition to Vessel Owner and Master, due diligence has to be exercised in trying ascertain the root cause and before passing the verdict in the media.’


SFR : How do you see the role of women in maritime and shipping and some of the ways in which they can enhance their roles further and avoid disparities and inequality..??

JC-J : Diversity and Inclusion are critical to a vibrant industry.  Through the centuries the maritime industry has seen diversity within its crews – international crews, speaking different languages with different cultural norms brings a richness to the industry.

Diversity includes gender diversity, and it seems that the maritime industry continues to find this challenging.  The question isn’t about what women can do to enhance their roles, it is about what the industry can do to support diversity, equality and inclusion.  The fact that, in 2021, we continue to have discussions on the role and place of women in this industry is very disheartening.  But I do try to see it also as a positive measure.  As a global society women continue to suffer injustice – from not being able to attend school to having significantly lower pay scales.  This led the UN to specifically call out the need to empower women and girls in their UN Strategic Development Goal 5.

While women are making inroads in many industries, there are a still too many where we need to see much more progress – these include the construction industry (10.3%), the mining industry (6.9%) and the maritime industry (2%).

Over the years we have seen a concerted effort to support women in maritime, and I was pleased to release the NI’s Diversity and Inclusion Pledge when I took on the role of President.  I believe in visible leadership.  If others can see women in leadership roles, they can believe it is possible, and they feel positive for the future.  ‘See it, believe it, be it’.  This takes a conscious effort, though.  There is so much guidance on diverse and inclusive work environments.

As a start, here are 5 measures that can be taken to really support full diversity, equality and inclusion:

  1. Consider bias – your own, and your organisational culture. Understanding bias and building awareness can have proven results when focusing on diversity and inclusion.
  2. Review how you recruit – what language is being used? Is it inclusive or exclusive?
  3. Review policies – including pay policies – to be sure they are inclusive and provide equal opportunities and equal pay scales. It isn’t enough to say – all people in X position get the same pay, consider who the people are in those positions.
  4. Provide safe work places – this may seem so straight forward, but what is ‘safe’? Think of PPE – it isn’t ‘one size fits all’, and ill fitting PPE can be a hazard.  Realise that psychological safety is part of a safe workplace, which includes supporting diversity and inclusion.
  5. Focus on diversity in panels for events and conferences – even with all the awareness I still see too many conferences where it is obvious there has been no thought given to the diversity of the panels. Make it a point to review the initial panel composition – if it is all male, predominantly one culture, then take the time to look further.


SFR : What are your thoughts on the issues affecting the seafarers which still seems to be going on in terms of COVID-19 and are there any immediate measures that can be followed to overcome these issues..

JC-J : Seafarers continue to be true COVID-Warriors.  As we move to a post-pandemic world, a ‘COVID-normal’ approach, we have a chance to learn lessons from the past two years towards a stronger, more resilient shipping industry.

Seafarers are the human capital of the industry, and we need to recognise this.  The intangible assets and qualities that improve the lives of seafarers will improve their performance with overall benefit to the industry. During COVID we have seen the industry reach beyond our own maritime echo chamber into mainstream media.  The world is not yet fully aware of the scope and breadth of the industry, but they are more aware of the role of the seafarer in their daily lives – linking the goods on the shelves to the ships in the ocean is a stretch, but we are getting there! #noshippingnoshopping

Some practical measures to support seafarers could include:

  1. Recognition as ‘key workers’ – the latest information on the IMO website (as of Oct 2021) shows 62 of the 174 member states of the IMO have formally recognised seafarers as key workers. In addition the recognition, what does the status of ‘key worker’ really mean? This needs to be clearly stated. While there is no legal definition of ‘key worker’ the IMO circular indicates that a key worker designation would facilitate safe and unhindered movement for embarking and disembarking vessels, and supporting travel and movement of seafarers for crew changes.
  2. Vaccinations – this is a pretty basic step. There are a number of focus measures to provide vaccines for seafarers, as key workers.  Yet there are ongoing concerns of which vaccine?  With different nations accepting (and not accepting) different vaccines, and the global nature of the industry, there is need to not only provide the vaccines, but to also ensure global acceptance of the vaccines provided.
  3. Facilitating shore leave – including visits to seafarer welfare centres. Throughout the pandemic this has remained difficult, with individual countries, localities and ports having quickly changing requirements.  Again, with ‘key worker’ status, it would be hoped that reports of seafarers being unable to leave their vessels for months on end will become a thing of the past.
  4. Creating ‘green lanes’ and ‘hub ports’ for crew change – we know that crew change is logistically challenging at the best of times. During a global pandemic it became almost impossible.  It is getting a bit better, but can we learn lessons from the past?  The identification of crew change hub ports, with seafarer residential facilities shore side (which could provide quarantine options) and access to international flights could help reduce some of the complexity.  In addition, when in transit, seafarers should have ‘green lanes’ for fast tracking through security, provision of seafarer lounges to manage fatigue and support through globally recognised electronic documentation.

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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..



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