Lena Göthberg: A Force for Sea Change

Women in Shipping

Lena Göthberg describes herself as a: “Shipping business woman and podcast host & producer” but she’s much more than that – one could easily describe her as a mentor, innovator, entrepreneur, journalist, strategist and analyst to name a few attributes. KNect365 sat down with Göthberg to try and get some words of wisdom on what’s happening right now in the shipping industry with digital challenges as well as what’s she learned from meeting (and in some cases mentoring) hundreds of women in the shipping industry through WISTA (Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association), a global networking and support group for women in shipping.

“Don’t delegate digital transformation to the young generation (or even worse the IT department)”

KNect365: “There is a lot of talk about how shipping needs to have a digital strategy – your recent blog post for us for example “Why the Shipping Community Needs a Change of Mindset”. I am wondering if shipping is making some of the same assumptions I have seen other industries make – that they have the correct digital strategy when they don’t, or if shipping even knows what a digital strategy is.”

Lena Göthberg: “A digital strategy is business development, it’s also a new mindset and I haven’t seen many who have started a digital transformation in the shipping industry yet, which requires a willingness to question fundamental aspects of how you do business – that is where it starts.”

KNect365: “What are some mistakes you’re encountering with shipping management in their attempts to start digital strategies?”

Lena Göthberg: “Senior management should look at every area of the business and see what impact digital can have, it’s a matter of feeling it in your body, not delegating to the young generation or even worse the IT department.”

“There are barriers, and we need to tear them down”

KNect365: “I have come across several articles and studies about why so few women work at sea. The stats that: ‘Currently, only two per cent of the world’s seafarers are female and of these women 94 per cent work either on cruise ships or passenger ferries.’ I get it. But why all this attention to trying to get more women on ships now?”

Lena Göthberg: “It’s a combination of things, it’s not for everyone to become a seafarer, and it has not been very easy for women to enter that career path, and that must change. If I am a woman and want to go to sea, there are barriers, and we need to tear them down. It’s only when we can measure that we can set goals and start the change. Today, there are no statistics about female seafarers, there has never been any, so there you see the need for giving attention to this subject.”

“When the shipping industry gets going in the digital arena, with Internet of things and mobile applications etc., we will need the STEM people of the world, and then gender will not be such a big issue anymore – if we manage to sell our industry to the scientists, technologists, engineers & mathematicians of the world.”

Daughters are going into boardrooms now…that will have an impact in the future

KNect365: “KD Adamson, CEO of Futurenautics noted something really interesting in a Splash24/7 article this summer. She said: ‘I think the reasons for that (so few women in the maritime industry)—societal, cultural, religious, practical—are all pretty well understood. But the bigger problem is that the shipping industry only promotes ex-mariners into senior positions in its companies. That means that a lack of women at sea feeds directly into a lack of women in the boardroom, and that—to me—is a far more existential issue than whether there are women onboard.’ So even women with great experience or skills who want to change careers and have management roles in the shipping industry, they are going to be stopped by this practice. This obviously hurts innovation, if they are not hiring from outside their industry, right?”

Lena Göthberg: “It does, but if you think about the fact that shipping is such a fragmented industry, most shipowners have a fleet of 5-10 ships, they are like family owned businesses, there are not that many ‘management positions’ to fill. I can see that where there are daughters taking part in the industry, they more often go into the boardrooms than into the operational side of things. That will have an impact in the future, especially if they are in their 30s now.”

KNect365: “Recent ITF research, the “Women Seafarers’ Health and Welfare Survey” really goes through the nitty gritty, from scarce bathroom facilities for women to sexual harassment problems onboard ships. Studies aside – you know the industry – what do you think can be done globally to change these issues for women? I know WISTA, an organization you’re with, is very active there.”

Lena Göthberg: “World Maritime University, the IMO university for the maritime industry has formed a Womens’ Association, and they have a female President, Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry. I wouldn’t be surprised if we will see more focus coming from there, but it all starts with defining the problems. WISTA (Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association) is a voluntary organisation with much less funds to push the issue, but it has become a focal point for all kinds of female issues in the industry, because we can relate to the things discussed and we are recognised for gathering the ‘power-women’ of the industry.”

KNect365: “Jason Jiang wrote in Splash24/7: “The fact is the gender gap in this sector – among the largest of any profession in the world – is unlikely to change until massive perception changes take place from on high.” Who has the power to make seafaring better for women? Labor organizations, the shipping companies?”

Lena Göthberg: “It’s a joint venture, no one can do this on their own. There are CSR policies of the companies that include taking responsibility for the people at sea and I think that ‘making seafaring better’ should also include women as there are many things to focus on.”

Just doing good things

KNect365: “Do you think women leaders in shipping have been mentors to other women, or are we too much in the early stages to have this going on. We are seeing that in the biotech industry for example now in the US – a handful of women leaders paved the way often hiring other women in leadership roles so now we have more women in those roles than we did 5 or 10 years ago. Can you name any mentors in the industry?”

Lena Göthberg: “I never had any mentor to turn to, there were no women in the shipping industry when I entered, 25 years ago, so I feel obligated to be one. I am a mentor to both young men and women and I know many of my fellow WISTA friends who are actively paving the way for the young generation. I am not sure they would want me to name them, they are just doing good things, not talking about them.”

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