WISTA Norway wants to be a resource for shipping companies that claim they cannot find women to fill job vacancies. And welcoming men as members is one way in which it hopes to promote gender balance in the industry.

“We want to continue to change the perception that some areas of our industry are not suitable for women,” said Siri Sundal Shield, senior shipbroker at Odfjell Tankers and the new president of the Norwegian chapter of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA).

Changing perceptions means playing an active role in advising shipping companies on recruitment, retention and promotion, said Sundal Shield, who has served on the board of the chapter since 2016.

Getting connected

“We want to be the go-to body for companies and executives who say, ‘We couldn’t find any woman to serve on this board or that ­committee’, or ‘Women just don’t come forward for these positions’,” she told TradeWinds.

What men have to contribute are their networks, contacts and knowledge of the industry.

WISTA Norway has been open to men since 2017 and they account for 10% of its ranks. The chapter even has a man on this year’s nominations list for its annual leadership award. In doing so, it sets itself apart.

“Most other national WISTA organisations are still for women only,” Sundal Shield said. But her model for achieving the goal of inclusivity is the Scan­dinavian “dugnad” or community work party, where everybody pitches in to help.

“Given that we in Norway have relatively high gender equality throughout society, we should be working together to reach the diversity goals in our industry too. It’s a joint target,” she said.

Skuld senior claims executive Emilie Christiansen is Wista Norway vice-president. Photo: Skuld

WISTA Norway is a substantial network of 200 shipping professionals, and each member has her or his own network to draw on. But not all networks are equal.

“It is a fact that most of the C-suites in our industry are still exclusively male,” said Sundal Shield. “So the men who sign on as WISTA members signal that they want to positively contribute to change.”

Sundal Shield is not sharing examples of executive hires where WISTA has supplied the successful candidate, but she herself owed her first junior shipping job to the organisation.

While she was completing a master’s degree in the UK in 2003, her father sent her a clipping of an interview with WISTA Norway leaders May-Britt Christiansen and Marita Scott in the Bergens Tidende newspaper, encouraging women to seek careers in shipping. That led to a summer job for local dry bulk shipbroker SecCo.

WISTA Norway has given its annual leadership award to several women who own ships or head companies, but its board does not currently count any C-suite executives among its members.

Sundal Shield underscored that it represents competencies from a wide range of branches of shipping and also a diversity of cultures, religions and countries, including the UK, Singapore, Poland and the US.

Since the beginning of last year, Sundal Shield has worked in chartering at Odfjell in her native Bergen, fixing cargoes mostly from the US Gulf to the Middle East and India.

She moved to chemicals and the shipowner side after competitive dry bulk chartering work in Bergen and London at Clarksons, Howe Robinson and Simpson Spence Young.

Odfjell has been supportive of her organisational work and she said that, having signed up for EY’s SHE Index ranking of corporate gender equality, the company realises it has room for improvement.

Good target

Odfjell is aiming to bring the proportion of women to a minimum of 30% at all levels of the organisation, and likewise men in areas where they are in the minority. The group has 50% women on its six-member board of directors but lists no women among its four C-level executives.

“Some friends outside the industry have asked me, ‘Why not aim for 50%?’,” Sundal Shield told TradeWinds. “But based on where we are in the shipping industry today, 30% is a good target.”

WISTA Norway board

■ Siri Sundal Shield, senior shipbroker, Odfjell Tankers

■ Emilie Christiansen, senior claims executive, Skuld

■ Kari Ytreland, head of project management, Norled

■ Stine Mundal, naval architect and key account manager, DNV

■ Benedicte Bjoroy, head of HR, Gearbulk

■ Henriette K Bergesen, operations and chartering broker, Hansa Tankers

■ Sarah Soon Arnhus, assistant regional head, Europe and Africa, BW LNG

■ Caroline Whittle, head of marketing, Norwegian Maritime Authority

■ Agnieszka Sledz, former head of system design & engineering, Clean Marine

■ Carine Moeller Mortensen, senior executive advisor, Wallenius Wilhelmsen