A new study released from the Global Maritime Forum and the All Aboard Alliance finds 15 key “pain points” for women at sea after the initiative’s members completed interviews with 115 anonymous women seafarers from all ranks. The report contains a wide spectrum of perspectives from women seafarers who address the challenges they experience at sea, from ill-fitting safety gear to slower career progression, and harassment.

The study covers women of all ranks, from captains to deck hands, and in many types of ships, with most of the women interviewed being from Asia (63%) and Europe (25%).

The report breaks down the issues reported into four broad categories ranging from difficulties to succeed professionally at sea, challenges of social relationships onboard, employment challenges at sea, and the physical conditions onboard.

In the next phase of the project, to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2023, selected vessels from within the All Aboard Alliance, with higher-than-average numbers of women officers and crew members onboard, will test the co-designed measures and solutions in an action-research approach.

“We need to make life at sea more inclusive to women seafarers. But now that we have a better understanding of what the pain points are, we can work together to address them. We do not want them to leave their careers at sea because we need them – and we need many more,” says Su Yin Anand, Head of Shipping at South32 and Co-Chair of the All Aboard Alliance.

On average, women at sea amount to less than 2% of the total seafarer population.

“These issues must be addressed. First of all, because it is the right thing to do. Secondly, because the maritime industry is changing rapidly, and more advanced skills are needed – ones which require us to holistically look at the full talent pipeline to identify the best candidates – for the maritime sector to thrive and grow,” says Mikael Skov, Co-Chair of the All Aboard Alliance, and CEO of Tanker operator Hafnia, which in 2022 launched its Maritime Cultural Lab aboard four of its vessels, with crew matrixes consisting of at least 50% women – to learn more about the cultural nuances and impact of a more diverse crew.

It is important to note that many of the key pain points identified in this study such as bullying and harassment, feelings of isolation, and long contracts keeping seafarers from their families for many months, are also considered as pain points for many male colleagues.

“The study provides us with the direction we need to develop adequate measures to find solutions to each of these challenges, and none the least, to decide which of the measures to test in the pilot project later this year. The maritime industry needs female seafarers, and it is important that we work collectively to develop and test ways to make work life onboard more inclusive for everyone,” says Susanne Justesen (PhD), Project Director, Human Sustainability at Global Maritime Forum and author of the report.