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Nautilus members and staff vow to 'choose to challenge' at Equality and Diversity Forum

9 March 2021

This month's meeting of the Nautilus Equality and Diversity Forum was held on International Women's Day (IWD) – 8 March – and attendees of all genders and backgrounds pledged to uphold the IWD 2021 principle of #ChooseToChallenge.

Guest speaker Gemma Griffin MBE was no exception, remarking at the end of the online session that she had been inspired to speak up more for other women in the maritime workplace to make sure they stay in the industry and follow in her footsteps as leaders. Men attending the session also said they wanted to be allies to their female colleagues and would challenge onboard cultural norms and individual actions that make vessels unwelcoming to women.

Ms Griffin had been invited to speak about leadership in maritime. She told of how she had risen through the ranks at the ferry company DFDS, and explained how taking a junior admin role 25 years ago had led to an opportunity to train in human resources and management, leading eventually to her current post as vice-president.

Gemma Griffin, DFDS vice-president

Women face particular challenges working in a heavily male-dominated industry such as shipping, and Ms Griffin spoke about sexist incidents she and female colleagues had experienced. She discussed the dilemma of whether to 'fight like a man' in order to get on in the industry, but said she had come to the conclusion that she should dress in feminine clothes if she wished to, and would be more effective if she stayed true to herself.  

In the ensuing discussion, Nautilus members were keen to talk about the issue of retaining highly-skilled women in the industry, especially when they had young children and did not want to be away from home for long tours of duty. This issue also affects fathers, but not to the same extent, and Ms Griffin pointed out that some policy decisions need to be focused on women in cases where the male and female experience are significantly different. 

There was a strong feeling in the session that new maternity leave arrangements tailored to seafarers needed to be developed and adopted by employers and government. Possible measures could include female seafarers staying on a company's books for up to five years while they take a childcare sabbatical, not necessarily paid while at home but with the opportunity to take some tours of duty as needed to maintain the seatime requirement to keep their professional certification current.

Another option would be for governments to allow a 'certification break' while a seafarer is on maternity leave, allowing some extra time for the seafarer to do her required sea time when she returns to work without her certification lapsing.

Ms Griffin said she would look into implementing ideas like these at DFDS, and also take them up with the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency. Nautilus officials at the meeting welcomed the idea that DFDS might pilot new arrangements and could be used as an example for other employers to follow when the Union is negotiating on maternity and paternity leave provisions.

The session ended with updates from the sub-groups for women members, young maritime professionals and LGBT+ members that were held adjacent to the main meeting. The women members had been active at the TUC Women's Conference, young maritime professionals had focused on difficulties with training and certificate renewal during the pandemic, and the LGBT+ group were looking at various initiatives including solidarity with colleagues suffering homophobia in countries around the world and the establishment of a distinct Pride in Maritime Day. All members were encouraged to come forward if they wished to become involved in a potential new ethnic diversity group that would also come under the umbrella of the Nautilus Equality and Diversity Forum.