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Promoting maritime opportunities for women

We are Wista: pictured are Wista members, from left, Charlene Webb, Donnelle Swan, Diana Martin, Cheryl Hayward-Chew, Adele Chiasson, Angelique Burgess and Konika Spence (Photograph by Jonathan Kent)

An organisation for women working in the maritime industry is going into schools to spread awareness of opportunities for females in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field.

The Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association Bermuda branch was established in October 2016 and since then has grown its membership to 25.

Internationally, Wista has more than 3,000 members in 40 countries.

The Royal Gazette spoke with seven Wista members, who agreed that women were underrepresented in the maritime industry.

Angelique Burgess, president of Wista Bermuda, felt it was timely to highlight Wista’s benefits, given the upcoming International Women’s Day tomorrow.

She said traditionally there had been barriers that women had to overcome to get into the maritime industry, but there are signs of change.

“The barriers are starting to be broken down in a sense and one area we are seeing progress is in ensuring there is diversity, right up to board level.”

Cheryl Hayward-Chew, chairwoman of Polaris Holding Company, which owns Hamilton docks operator Stevedoring Services, agreed with that view.

“At board level, there is a growing understanding of how diversity improves companies,” she said. “It means your board represents your stakeholders better.”

Ms Hayward-Chew, who is also president and CEO of the Meyer Group of Companies, is playing an active role in the schools initiative which, she said, was set to get under way, with both public and private schools having been invited to participate.

Adele Chiasson, chief financial officer of Neptune Group Management Ltd, pointed out that raising awareness of the opportunities for females in the maritime industry was only one piece of the jigsaw.

“It’s driven by interest as well,” Ms Chiasson said. “We need to change the perception that a stevedore is male. Shipping, engineering and logistics have a male feel, but that is just perception.

“We had a shipping consultant here, who told us that the most productive stevedore in China is a woman.”

Wista’s 3,000 members around the world were evidence that there is no reason women cannot progress to senior positions in the industry.

“We need to attract more females to the profession,” Ms Chiasson added.

Ms Burgess said Wista Bermuda’s goal was to continue to grow its membership and to help members in their careers, primarily through networking, at home and abroad, and professional development through education.

The educational element ranges from formal seminars to practical, on-the-job demonstrations, with members frequently able to educate each other.

“One of our members, Tami Ray, a senior ferry captain with the Department of Marine and Ports, gave us an opportunity to go on her vessel,” Ms Burgess, who is general manager at Concordia Maritime (Bermuda) Ltd, said. “That’s an example of how Wista introduces our members to many different aspects of the industry.”

When Wista members travel overseas they regularly look up fellow members in the countries they are visiting. Such contacts have led to beneficial business relationships.

Wista members are employed in a broad range of areas in the maritime industry, as pilots, lawyers, accountants, HR professionals, lawyers, engineers, technology specialists and port managers.

This was borne out by the seven island members who met with The Royal Gazette, who included Diana Martin, the Wista Bermuda treasurer, CEO of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation; Charlene Webb, compliance and office manager of Sigco Group in Bermuda; Donnelle Swan, senior underwriter with Shoreline; and Konika Spence, freight administrator for Meyer Freight.

Wista Bermuda’s board members include Ms Burgess, the president, and Ms Hayward-Chew, a director. Others are Marilyn Feldman, vice-president, who is president of Shoreline Managers Ltd, Tammy Richardson-Augustus, chief legal officer and director, who is a partner in Appleby’s corporate department; Heather Cooper, a director, who is managing director of Steamship Mutual Management (Bermuda) Ltd; and Katrina Burgess, a director, who is manager of corporate services for Ardmore Shipping (Bermuda) Ltd.

For more information, visit the Wista Bermuda website at www.wista.net/bm