Shipping: the male chauvinist pig of global industries?
Olaf Merk 13 October 2016

Difficult not to get distracted this week. What did he say, did he grope, who gave up on him and what is actually going on in today’s locker rooms? More fundamentally, is the simultaneous outrage and tacit acceptance of sexual assault banter part of a bigger story on current society? And, if so, what does it tell us about shipping?

Shipping is a man’s world. There are hardly any female seafarers or executives. None of the top 20 container lines has a female CEO and Lloyds List’s Top 100 of most influential people counts only 3 shipping women. Which other industry has a similar lacklustre gender record?

Shipping is a man’s world, but not just any man, a man that has an eerily close resemblance to – oh yes – Donald Trump. Both live in their own world, incur huge debts and hardly pay any taxes. (This is the benign version – I will leave the less flattering comparisons to your own imagination.) Like the presidential candidate, shipping is digging its own hole with its alpha male behaviour: the chicken games, the bullying and the desire for the biggest toys.

Would a female-run shipping industry be any different? Tricky question: one can easily fall victim to stereotypes like “women are compassionate and caring” – which could be considered sexism in its own right. Still, it would probably be unthinkable in a woman’s world that seafarers can hardly connect to their families, as is currently the case. Women have long been outsiders in shipping, so might be more open to other outsiders, diversity and change. Less anchored in a glorious past – as they were not part of it, they might be more interested in a lasting and sustainable impact in the future.

This is of course a caricature: not all men are macho’s, not all women are angels and also the shipping industry has some conscientious leaders. Yet, more women in shipping would probably mean a better shipping sector. If only for that reason, the number of female executives in the shipping industry should increase dramatically.

Olaf Merk

Olaf Merk is ports and shipping expert with an international organization. This is his personal blog and the opinions are expressed are his own, not that of any institution he is affiliated with


  1. Just my observation is that in terms of women in shipping.. While it is true that the top positions are not popular among women, from what I have seen in the places of work whether in shipping line, agency, forwarders, a lot of the staff doing the day to day work in sales, documentation, accounting etc are women.. And in my opinion, shipping is all the better for that.. 🙂

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