To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, MSC took the opportunity to chat with some of its female staff around the globe.
Here, five of them discuss their personal and professional experiences of dealing with perceptions, bias, and social and cultural changes.
"Of course, it’s certainly true that society, in general, does still have some traditional expectations around men and women and what their roles should be. But, despite this, I think change is happening, and I am a very positive person who believes that what the world needs is people – be they men or women – who are competent, creative, ambitious, and have the strength to overcome life’s obstacles.
Each gender brings with them certain qualities, which means that in a workplace, it helps to benefit from those varied attributes.
My experience is that women are generally more intuitive and flexible, and that creates empathy. I think you need to be empathetic and to truly understand the colleagues you work with – particularly when we spend more than eight hours every day with them.
Looking at my own life, my challenge is in maintaining the right kind of balance between being the mother of two restless boys, and being good at my career. Both of those roles demand responsibility, dedication – and time.
I see every day how women feel forced to choose between their career and motherhood, and a lot of them take the view that the two are incompatible. Of course – that simply is not true! It’s challenging, and we women do have to be all the more organised, but it is possible to have a demanding professional position, as well as to be a good parent.
In our particular agency, some 60% of our staff are female, so I’m mindful of their challenges. I make sure all employees have the same job opportunities, and that we are as flexible as we can be.
For young women today, my advice to them would be that they need to be patient, as well as ambitious. Their worst enemy is fear, so they need to work hard and consistently every single day in order to achieve all that they hope to.”
“I first joined MSC in 1999, when securing a job was a top priority for either gender in Asia, because of the poor economic climate at the time.
It was my personal love of sailing, boats and the ocean which made me consider an opportunity with the company’s regional office in the first instance, and I can honestly say that I have been blessed with abundant opportunities to develop.
It’s definitely true that shipping, as a traditional industry, has been male-dominated, but I’ve personally been very fortunate to have an exceptional female mentor, in the form of MSC’s Caroline Becquart, who has accomplished an enormous amount in her career.
Growing up within Asian society, I am of course aware even more so of how gender biases prevail. Singapore is generally quite advanced compared with other Asian cultures, from what I can tell. The government here is continually driving the message around fair and progressive work environments; and in addition they are emphasising equality commitments through schools’ programmes.
To enable this change to continue to take place more globally, I look forward to seeing more pro-women policies within society generally, but equally, I do think women need to cultivate a ‘champion mindset’ themselves and strive for what they want to achieve.
From a personal perspective, multi-tasking is something I have learned has to come with the territory of being a wife, mother, and high performing manager. I’ve gradually learned not to feel over-ridden by guilt when I’m not available to everyone the minute they want me to be, but it helps to be blessed with a strong family support network to make that easier.
Having taken three periods of maternity leave during my career at MSC, I think I am proof that you certainly can ‘juggle’ and that you don’t need to sacrifice in order to have a family. One of the notable initiatives we have in the Asia region is a lactation room to support female employees, and that has certainly been well received.
I think for any female starting out on career today, my biggest advice would be to support one another and to ensure you have an understanding network within and outside of your workplace which helps motivate you and remind you of what you are accomplishing along the way.”
“Although I’d certainly agree that society has a lot of stereotypes about women, I don’t believe they just come from men – rather from other women too.
We tend to be competitive, and sometimes critical of one another, and I think this can influence situations in today’s workplace. My personal opinion is that ‘respect starts close to home’ so we need to bear that in mind and consider and support one another.
From a personal perspective, I’ve been very lucky to have been given opportunities based on my genuine experience and abilities, and I don’t feel that being a woman has held me back professionally at all.
In fact, I feel very fortunate to have experienced career progression over the last 14 years within a company which has such strong female role models.
Women definitely bring something unique to their professional delivery, based on certain female traits. Women, in my opinion, are better able to multi-task, which tends to mean that they have a better insight into creating balance between work and home-life.
Generally, I’d say we are also more optimistic and passionate, with strong intuition – things which can be useful in the workplace.
For any woman starting out on their career path now, my best advice would be to get a role model who you can look up to, and hopefully someone you can discuss issues with as they arise. Also, based on experience, I would say ‘pick your battles carefully’.
Sometimes it’s good to stand up for something you really believe is worth fighting for. Others, it’s best just to let things pass.”
“In my personal and my professional life, the one thing guaranteed to frustrate me, is people not showing one another respect and fairness.
I think the single thing we as women can do to help ensure an equal world for the next generation of females is to consider how our behaviours can encourage society to think about respect and fairness for both genders.
During the last few years, however, I do consider there has been progress.
Law changes, reviews of remuneration, attitudes to women in business and politics – these things have got better. Of course, it depends from country to country, but yes, I am certainly confident we are moving in the right direction.
From my perspective, I am concerned about ensuring I have the right impact on my own daughter. I want to encourage her to grow up to be sincere, good natured and a happy person with a good family life – as well as feeling she can achieve what she wants to professionally.
We all have to remember that it is our attitude to circumstances in work and home which is important. A positive attitude is crucial in creating the right change in society.”
“I don’t think anyone would dispute that society is more accustomed to seeing men, than women, in the highest of managerial positions.
Despite this, I think women have the advantage of strategic thinking and the great ability to find flexible solutions. This, in my view, is the key to effective management – particularly in the shipping sector – so it gives women a great opportunity to succeed if they deploy these skills.
They have a number of female traits which are useful in the world of work, like being patient, communicative, sensitive, and having greater attention to detail. I think a woman’s intuition can often be a great thing when a resolution is required, and that they inspire their colleagues to give their heart as well as their mind in achieving their goals.
In the past, it’s true that there have been many obstacles for women in the workplace, but pay gaps are narrowing and I would say there are fewer issues around gender discrimination. I want to continue to see progress particularly in easier access to executive roles, to tackling harassment, and reducing what impact maternity has.
Challenges are everywhere in life. I faced a significant one when I lost my husband. The ‘red cape of superman’ is heavy most of the time, combining motherhood and business. This is the biggest challenge I face every day! However, striving to create a strong happy family, and at the same time to succeed professionally, is hugely satisfying and it motivates me to get up and keep going every day.”