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Researchers scrutinise gender equity in transport

3 April 2024

A new report – sponsored by welfare maritime charity the Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) – reveals the stark reality of gender disparities within the traditionally male-dominated transport sector and recommends many actions relevant to maritime.

The Women in Transport Equity Index 2023 report shows that despite positive words, the transport sector, including maritime, while vital to the UK's economy, is a challenging environment for women to work in and much needs to be done to break down career barriers and provide a supportive environment for women.

A survey for the report was undertaken by gender equity startup WORK180, and also supported by WISTA UK, Maritime UK and Women in Boatbuilding, along with other shoreside transport organisations. It is the first of its kind in the world for the transport sector and comprehensively analyses the gender diversity landscape by examining workforce composition, leadership diversity, gender pay gap and career development.

The UK transport sector employs over 1.5 million people and contributed £214 billion to the UK economy in 2020, but it faces a pressing challenge of attracting, recruiting, and retaining diverse talent. The exact representation of women in maritime and road transport remains unknown, further underscoring the need for comprehensive data to address the gender imbalance across the industry.

Up to 68 organisations plus four organisations from WORK180's existing clients participated in the survey. They represented 37% of 184 organisations who originally indicated they would register and were mostly classified as small or medium-sized. The scoring system, based on Work180's gender equity scale, places the transport sector only just into the 'progressing' range, up from foundational, indicating significant room for improvement

A mere 23% of the transport workforce identifies as women and more than half of those are in non-transport roles. More than half of organisations have no formal targets, commitments, or quotas to increase or maintain gender diversity, and 59% offer no paid parental leave to primary carers.

Nautilus last year carried out a comprehensive update of its maternity and paternity guidelines, which explain what UK employers are legally obliged to do for new and expectant maritime parents covering maternity and paternity; shared parental; and adoption leave for seafarers working on UK ships. Due to the nature of their work, often moving regularly between various countries, seafarers can face jurisdictional barriers in accessing employment related rights.

On a positive note, there were welcome signs in the Equity Index that barriers to maritime careers such as bulling and harassment are being addressed, along with a commitment to preventing and ending discrimination. 53% of companies regularly offer diversity and inclusion education training programs, and 65% have a formal policy for managing racism in the workplace.

MNWB CEO Stuart Rivers said: 'This report provides crucial baseline data to help us understand the true gender diversity in transport-related positions. Women represent only 2% of the global seafarer workforce and are still hugely under-represented in the maritime industry - this is deeply concerning. 

'There is still more that can be done to meet the support needs of women seafarers particularly around paternal leave, recognising that women should not be expected to give up their seafaring careers when they have children. These challenges and barriers need addressing and industry wide targets must be set if we are to shape a more inclusive and gender balanced sector.'

The report recommends a raft of actions companies can take to commit to doing better to bridge the gender gap, adding that specific commitments, targets, and potentially quota benchmarks are necessary to increase or maintain gender diversity within workforces.

These include:

  • conducting regular reviews of the gender pay gap within your organisation and develop a meaningful and deliverable action plan
  • implementing best practices for delivering internal promotions that means there are more women in senior decision-making roles, with a particular focus on transport-related roles
  • supporting sector-wide initiatives for cultivating and empowering women in leadership positions
  • reviewing policies relating to paid parental leave
  • building upon good progress in developing flexible working