Want to learn how from someone who’s actually put together a program to attract more women into the maritime industry? Join INFORM’s Matthew Wittemeier, who had the opportunity to sit down with Anne Windfeldt Trolle, Executive Director at Danish Shipping.
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AT: My name is Anne Trolle. I’m Danish, and I’m Executive Director at Danish Shipping and responsible for our labor law, recruitment, and training department.
MW: That sounds like quite a scope of activities. Which of those is perhaps the part you love the most?
AT: I love all three, but I think I’m most specialized in the labor law component because I’m educated as a lawyer. I’ve been working with negotiations and CBAs and labor law counseling for well over 20 years, so that’s in my heart, I suppose. But I think the other two are very interesting and relevant to each other. If we have no labor and no qualified people on the ships, there will be no negotiations. Also, to be prepared for sailing or a job, they need an education. Therefore, I also have responsibility for their education and training. So, I think the three parts are connected very well.
MW: Definitely. When you explain it that way, I can see the interconnectivity. With your background in law, as a lawyer, how did you start working in maritime?
AT: That was actually more by accident than by a targeted search of the industry. A friend called me and told me that Danish Shipping – Shipping is the employer’s organization for shipowners – was looking for a person with exactly my qualifications. I wasn’t looking for a job at that moment, but I became a bit curious, looked into it, and found it very interesting. Among other things, I found that the industry was truly global. The maritime industry is also Denmark’s largest export industry, so it’s vital in Denmark. It’s also the world’s fifth-largest in terms of operated tonnage. It’s a very exciting industry and a little exotic, too.
MW: Maybe I’m overstepping, but approximately how long have you been in shipping, then?
AT: I’ve been involved in shipping for a little more than five years – about five and a half years.
Industry Challenges and Opportunities
MW: When you started, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a woman?
AT: It’s a boring answer, but I must admit I haven’t really thought about that because I worked in even more male-dominated industries before this. Before I came to Danish Shipping, I was a director of the Danish Employers’ Organization for Transport and Logistics, which is the road transport sector. It is very male-dominated and with male-dominated unions as well. Before that, I had some lead roles in the building materials industry, also very male-dominated, so I was used to it and didn’t even think about it. The only part I thought about was, “Okay, here I am again in a male-dominated industry.”
MW: Maybe we can go back to the start of your career, then, in building materials. It’s interesting because all of those are verticals we serve inside our own business unit. So, I agree with what you’re saying when you say they’re very male-dominated. What were some of the challenges you faced as a woman early in your career?
AT: Challenges? One challenge was that I didn’t have many female colleagues to talk with when I had issues. And sometimes, because I have traveled on some business trips alone with 10 men, I was very glad that my husband is so understanding. He got used to this part of it, but it would have been nice to travel with another woman having the same issues. We don’t always have the same interests as men, and don’t want to go to the same places. On some of the trips, I was in charge, so I just decided what to do. But it could have been nicer if there had been a woman to relate to.
MW: Definitely. I can appreciate that. I think there was a really interesting story from the Women in Shipping Conference about a gal who went to San Francisco with her male colleagues. They turned a bike ride into a giant race and sort of left her in the dust, and it turned out not to be much fun for her. So, I can appreciate the thinking there.
Let’s turn a bit and look at what you’re doing at Danish Shipping. So, when we first spoke, you mentioned a program there to enhance understanding of maritime roles among young people, specifically with young girls, something called “Girl Power.” Can you tell me a bit more about the initiative?
AT: Yes, the Girl Power initiative comes from a broader image or branding campaign called World Careers, and that campaign has been running for eight to 10 years, so it’s very well known in Denmark. It’s an image campaign targeting young people between 12 and 28 years old. We try to get them interested in the industry and show that it offers career possibilities they should consider as they grow older.
For some years in Denmark, we have had, and may still have after COVID-19, a labor shortage. We see that most industries are fighting for the same people, and when we look at our industry, we see that we have a very low percentage of women. If we are unable to attract more women, we’re missing half of the talent pool, and we simply can’t afford that. That was the reason for the special effort to attract women to the industry and get them interested in applying for a job or admission to the maritime schools.
MW: When you say, “a low percentage,” do you know the number off the top of your head?
AT: If you count both shore-based jobs and sea-based jobs, it’s about 16% women. If you look into only sea-based jobs, the real maritime jobs out at the vessels, it’s only 8%. And if you eliminate the ferries, because the ferries are also mostly inland and on ferries there is also a lot of catering and other types of jobs, then it’s only 3%. Just 3% women in the merchant fleet. So, it’s really not ideal.
MW: It’s quite a low set of percentages, even when you’re looking at shore-based jobs. And then, as you filter it down toward the people who are actually out on the ocean, that number drops off quite significantly. What sort of early successes have you had with Girl Power? Have you seen those numbers moving?
AT: Yes, we have, because the Girl Power campaign runs throughout the year. We started it last year and introduced it in September; we held a Girl Power month. During that month, and this September, too, all our posts on social media and other digital platforms included a pink theme and the Girl Power logo. We have a lot of themed items, from lipstick to little pins to tattoos, all kinds of things. Of course, the pink color is just to make it easy to identify. It’s not that all girls like pink or anything, just a way to make it’s easy to draw attention to what we’re talking about.
Besides social media and other ways to raise awareness, last year we had a lot of events. We haven’t been able to do that this year because of the pandemic, but last year we worked closely with the maritime schools, and they had a strong focus on attracting women, too. We featured female role models only, both on the digital platforms and also at the physical events, so the students were able to ask them questions and interact with them. This summer, when we counted the number of cadet applicants at the maritime schools, we saw an increase in the number of female applicants. That is good news. We hope to see a higher number of women continue to increase and not be just a one-time occurrence.
MW: A quick follow-up question about the female role models you sent to schools and the programs targeting 12- to 28-year-olds: What level of school are the role models engaging with?
AT: We engage at several levels. We start in elementary schools, and one of our activities has been very popular with 15,000 students or so in those schools. It’s a board game called “Seven Seas,” and it’s for all ages and genders. When we go out to schools, we also have a role model join us because then they can answer students’ questions and help show them that there’s a career possibility. It helps the students identify with another girl or another woman.
The board game has been very interesting, but we also visit high schools and special schools. We visit both typical high schools and more technical high schools, and more business-focused high schools, but at the same level. We, of course, visit the maritime schools too. We know they have already chosen to study in the maritime field, but it’s also important to show them other career possibilities for afterward and to give them an incentive to stay in the industry.
MW: With the World Careers program, have you seen any challenges or things you didn’t anticipate? Have those forced you to rethink the way you approach attracting younger people, particularly women, to the industry?
AT: Some of the challenges are related not to attracting women, but more to the traditional industry thinking. For example, we’ve had a lot of reactions to the pink theme. But if we had made it green, what would you think it was about – a climate initiative? If it was purple, then it might be seen as LGBT-related. So we chose pink, as I said, to make it easier to identify. But there have been a lot of comments about that, such as, “Isn’t it too cliche?” coming from both older women and men in the industry. That was a challenge, but we kept going because there was also a lot of excitement about the different kinds of gadgets we made out of it.
I should also mention that we have other initiatives besides the Girl Power campaign because we found that there was a lot of interest in attracting more women. Suddenly, we had momentum in the directors’ offices at the shipowners, so we initiated a task force in 2019 to get more women out to sea, with participation from the different kinds of shipowners, the unions, the maritime schools, and even a couple of members of parliament.
In the course of that work, and when that was very important, we found some female role models or women who have been working in the industry for many years. They have been out sailing different kind of ships and vessels in different parts of the world and then returning to shop-based jobs. Some of them have kids, and some of them don’t. We found out what was important to them.
The taskforce made 10 recommendations to the industry to help the shipowners attract and retain women. We also initiated a mentoring scheme because we found that it was an effective way to help introduce female students to the industry. A mentor or buddy could prepare them for their first time on a ship by describing what to expect, any difficult issues, and how to deal with them.
Women in Maritime
MW: You noted earlier that one of the biggest challenges is traditional thinking and that the maritime industry is traditionally male-dominated. From an inspirational perspective, how do you think the industry must change to be more attractive to women?
AT: Yes, and I can draw inspiration from our work in the task force. We found that the “three C’s” were important: culture, career, and conflict handling or conflict management
We start with the culture because we must change something. As you said, it’s a very male-dominated culture, so it’s key to focus on creating a culture where women are included, not excluded. For example, work clothes worn onboard ships are rarely created for women, so they must put on clothes that are designed for men. It’s a small thing, but it contributes to exclusion. Women also have things they need to deal with when they go to the bathroom sometimes, and the bathroom is not always suitable for that.
Another example is if you have only a few women sailing, then instead of spreading them among all the ships, gather them together on one ship. That can also help change the culture on that ship. For a minority, it is simply harder alone than if you are part of a group. Of course, it’s also necessary to have a clear policy about bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment. These are all zero tolerance.
Then, there are the career opportunities, another important aspect for the female role models we were talking about within the task force. We found that it seems more important for women than for men to be aware of the opportunities ahead of them – not just to take a job and see what will happen, but to know what can happen if they go into this industry. It’s not very clear, at least in Denmark, what the career opportunities are. There are a lot of opportunities, but we have not made them visible.
We are working on that now. Another question in the maritime schools related to training is after you have a certain job for a couple of years, what can you do to train yourself for another job? For example, have you talked to your employer about what happens when you have kids? Is there a possibility of going onshore after that?
There should be a possibility or an opportunity to do that because we know a lot of the shore-based jobs are technical jobs, also interesting jobs, and they are dominated by men who have been sailing. It’s important that women also go out sailing because then they can have the exciting jobs at shore afterward. We should be clearer about the career opportunities.
And finally, conflict management is also crucial, perhaps especially for women on board, but of course, important in general. They must know where to go if they experience unpleasant situations, who they can talk to, and what reaction to expect from the company – what will happen. It must be clear because a woman needs to know she is being taken seriously if she reports a problem. She needs to know it will be handled and she has the support of the company.
Those are the most important things, the “three C’s.”
MW: That’s quite an interesting blueprint you have worked up, and probably equally applicable to other aspects of maritime, for instance, terminal operations or port operations, as much as it is to the shipping side. It’s definitely a blueprint that I think anyone can learn from.
We’ve come to the end of our interview, Anne. You’ve got time for one closing thought. If you had one piece of advice for a woman looking to succeed in maritime, what would it be?
AT: One piece of advice? I would say to be yourself and take no bullshit. I really mean that. And, of course, also believe in yourself and that you can do it, and the rest will follow.
MW: I really like “Don’t take no bullshit.” It’s honest and sincere and raw, which is great.
AT: I think you also need to be a little resilient. In a male-dominated industry, you really need to just brush things off but, of course, not accept everything people throw at you.
MW: Thank you very much, Anne, for your time.
AT: You’re welcome.
Who is Anne Trolle?
What is Women in Maritime?
The Women in Maritime initiative is a combination of a series of interviews and conference sessions brought to you by INFORM as part of its broader diversity program. The first step in increasing the scope of diversity in any industry is highlighting the diversity that exists and creating opportunities for conversations about diversity. While it is often men we think of when we consider the mental image of most logistics roles, women contribute to the industry in all its facets and at all levels of seniority. The initial aim of Women in Maritime is to show that diversity and to bring the conversation around it to life.