Women in shipping

On the 8th of March we celebrate International Women’s Day by appreciating the long path women have gone to advance in society, politics, economics. We honour the powerful, high-achieving women who lead, encourage, inspire.

But it is also time to discuss the problems we still face on the way to equal rights and opportunities. Glass ceilings that hinder women rise beyond a certain level in their career, gender pay gap… According to Eurostat data, women in Spain working in the private sector, for example, are paid 19% less than their male counterparts. In the UK, women overall earn up to 14% less than men. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report reveals that the gender parity can be achieved in not less than 200 years. But this does not mean we just sit and wait for a change.

This year’s International Women’s Day goes under a theme #PressforProgress, calling to raise awareness, motivate and unite colleagues and friends to think, act and be active. Port.Today joins this movement and today we discuss the gender issues in shipping with Laura Ferrario Barber, Tramp Operations Manager at Transcoma Shipping in Tarragona, Board member and ex-President of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) in Spain.

Port.Today: Mrs. Barber, once I came across a remark that the shipping industry is “a boy’s club”. Do you agree? In general, do you observe a problem of gender inequality in shipping?

Laura Ferrario Barber: A boy’s club? (smiling) Well, traditionally, the shipping industry has been monopolized by men. Fortunately, today it is moving towards equality and the number of women is gradually growing, however we still have a long way to go. Nowadays, only 20% of the workers in shipping are women and this percentage decreases drastically, as we look at higher positions with more responsibility.

Luckily, I have never felt any discrimination due to my gender, but I am aware of the companies or persons who still value their employees by criteria other than their productivity or contribution to the business project. In my opinion, this bad practice leads to the only result: it damages the one who practices it.

The salaries gap is our sad reality, of which we should talk openly and take measures. Same job – same salary, seems an obvious concept, we will say it as many times as will be necessary for it to become clear and turn into a reality.

Port.Today: In what way WISTA can help women in shipping?

Laura Ferrario Barber: WISTA is a global organisation connecting more than 3000 female executives and decision makers around the world. It aims to facilitate the exchange of contacts, information and experiences among its members while promote and facilitate the education of its associates. WISTA members have access to an incredibly diverse network of executives in the shipping and trading field on whom they can call for referrals, connections, advice or business collaborations.

Port.Today: WISTA came to Spain 11 years ago and today it embraces 75 women. Could you tell us more about WISTA Spain?

Laura Ferrario Barber: In WISTA Spain we are a small group but very well blended, if I may say so. We understand and help each other always whenever possible.

I am from Tarragona, the city where we have 4 WISTA members. The largest group is in Madrid with a third part of our members. It is followed by Catalonia, Valencia and Galicia with about 15% of total members registered in each. Also, we have representatives from Andalusia, Canary Islands, the Basque Country, Asturias and Balearics.

Our professional profile is extremely diverse. We have representatives of almost all professions of the industry: surveyors, shipowners, cargo owners, brokers, many lawyers, representatives of P&I, public services, educational sphere… and I would like to especially mark Macarena Gil, who joined us recently, the first female pilot in Spanish ports.

Every year we organize one annual meeting, which consists of one training day and our annual conference on the next day. Additionally, we try to meet 2 or 3 times a year at some local events. For instance, this March WISTA unites in Valencia to take part in the International Paella Contest.

Port.Today: Could you elaborate on some particular example of WISTA Spain activity?

Laura Ferrario Barber: First of all, I would like to mention the latest meetings organized by WISTA Spain. In November 2017, we met in Madrid for an incredibly interesting session, where 4 specialists of the highest level from an oil company simulated a trading day in their office.  Earlier, in May 2017, we held our annual meeting in Madrid, where we invited WISTA members of the Mediterranean countries to take part in the seminar session. We welcomed almost 100 delegates from different states. The speakers included Carlos Salinas, Partner at MA Abogados law company, Mané Calvo, CEO of Grupo Calvo, Nuria Obiols, Captain of the Tarragona port and Macarena Gil Capitán, the first female pilot in the history of the ports of Spain.

Apart from these meetings, we constantly communicate exchanging information, pitching questions, to which some of us can offer an answer, and always, where possible, sharing business among the members.

Port.Today: Do you see the lack of publicity of the shipping industry? Does it need a broader promotion at schools, among the young people, in order to attract more girls into it?

Laura Ferrario Barber: Yes, I agree that our industry is largely unknown, most people come to this profession accidentally or by chance. Its wider promotion, approaching people day by day, could bring more people into the sector, men as well as women, thus improving the professional qualification in general.

Port.Today: You have been in shipping for 20 years, dedicating all your career to the industry. I’m sure you have encountered marvelous women on your way. Could you tell us about someone whose career or personality you admire most?

Laura Ferrario Barber: Due to my work, I lived in New Orleans (USA) for 2 years, where I got acquainted with and joined WISTA New Orleans, a very active group, which regularly organized various activities connected with shipping, from visits to terminals and local companies, to trainings, professional discussions… Those two years have turned to be extremely beneficial for me, I’ve learnt a lot and got very much involved in the Association’s work.

Upon my return to Spain, I kept participating in the annual meetings of WISTA International, together with other Spanish women. And every year we used to regret not to be officially represented, until in 2007, we managed to officially establish WISTA Spain with 13 founding members. So, we are 75 today, it is wonderful to see our National Association growing in number and in quality of the members.

I have served as WISTA Spain Treasurer, then as its President and now I am a Board Member. For me, it is always an honour to represent WISTA and collaborate with it, whatever responsibility I take in the organization.

Of course, on my way I was lucky to encounter a lot of remarkable people, men and women, from whom I have learnt a lot. Of these, I would like to highlight Kathleen Plemer, Partner at Chaffe McCall, whose merit, among many others, consists of making simple the complicated and turn the routine into the extraordinary.

Julia Louppova:
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