Women in Maritime with Anna Miler and Anna Dukowska

In our next installment of Women in Maritime, INFORM’s Matthew Wittemeier had the opportunity to catch up with a duo of Annas – Anna Miler, co-author and coordinator of the Women Build Ships Too Project, and Anna Dukowska, a career counselor, coach, intercultural integration specialist in the work environment, and business mentoring specialist – who together have set up a mentoring program for women working in the maritime and logistics industry. Together, they explore the ups and downs of getting this program off the ground and the lessons learned along the way.  

An Introduction 

MW: Anna Miler, would you mind introducing yourself? 

AM: I’m Anna Miler. I’ve been working for the Gdansk Entrepreneurship Foundation for two years now. I’m also the project manager of the Women Build Ships Too Project. 

MW: And Anna Dukowska, would you mind introducing yourself? 

AD: Hello, I’m Anna Dukowska. I’ve been a career counselor since 2006, working at multiple institutions. Primarily, I support teachers by providing them with career counseling. I also work with students at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, where I help them at the beginning of their careers. Additionally, I work with Anna Miler at the Women Build Ships Too Project. 

MW: We’ve got an interesting interview lined up for today because neither of you is directly in maritime. If I’ve understood correctly, you’re sort of on the periphery, but you’re impacting the future of young people in maritime. Is that right? 

AM: Yes. My work began in 2012, studying the history of women in the maritime industry. I’ve been working on this topic for eight years now, and this is also the topic of my PhD at the University of Gdansk. I know a lot about women’s experiences in Polish shipyards after the Second World War. Knowing this background helps me in my work now because I know what has changed, what hasn’t changed, and why. My background in cultural studies and political science and my knowledge of social conditioning and gender roles also helps my work.  

In 2018, I joined the meeting with the Ministry of Marine Economy and Inland Navigation in Poland, and I was really surprised to see that there were almost no women. About 100 people attended, but only a few were women, and they didn’t even speak. After that, I started to understand that there are still problems with the visibility of women in maritime and how they are not seen as experts. I started to dig into that, and I began talking with my colleagues because we are a leader in smart regional specialization focused on port, logistic, and offshore technologies. 

We had some experience working with people from maritime, and my colleagues told me, “These types of meetings look like that. There are almost no women, and they rarely speak, even if it’s really important for the industry.” It has changed a little since then. Because of that, we decided to work with women on their leadership skills to make them more visible in the industry and to build a community. I would consider that the biggest success of this project is, for the first time, women working in different positions have the opportunity to meet and to talk to each other about the specific challenges they still face. There is WISTA Poland, the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association, which brings together women in leadership positions. We have worked together from the beginning so that the changes we make have a broader impact. 

MW: What are some of the challenges for you personally, coming into the maritime industry on its periphery and seeing the lack of women or the lack of female leaders? 

AM: When we ask them about their challenges, the women often say, “We have equal pay for the same job, so there is no inequality. There is no discrimination.” But when you ask more and more questions, they start to talk about a lot of micro-inequalities. A lot of what they hear every day from their male colleagues undermines their knowledge and self-confidence. They frequently hear very sexist comments, and unfortunately it starts at the universities. This is what they face every day, and  I can see it negatively impacts them. 

Also, you have to know how to cooperate. You need to have high-level communication skills to react to these kinds of difficult situations. There are still some inequalities in pay, which some of the women know about, although they don’t want to talk very loudly about it. Sexual harassment continues, even though it does happen incidentally. Now, we can talk about that in smaller groups, which works because women then see it’s a common problem.  

Those challenges are not so obvious now. It’s not like you read in the newspaper about how women aren’t supposed to work in the industry, but you hear it from colleagues and professors. Some of them are really convinced that this is not the place for women. They believe women are not physically strong enough. They think it’s impossible to be a woman and be a captain of the ship because how do you reconcile that with motherhood?  

I talked with one of the mentors yesterday, and she told me that her mentee heard a PhD student (man) tell other students (women) that they were choosing a maritime university to look for a husband. That was in 2019.   

Those are some of the challenges they told us about. They are challenges that women will have to face at every level of their career, starting with their education. At the beginning of the mentoring program, mentors told them they had to have courage and consistency to work in the maritime industry. 

Anna Dukowska will tell you more about the career counseling aspect – career counsellors, too, have their own stereotypes. This step, career counseling, is the first place where a woman who wants to work in the industry will face someone who probably will tell her, “This is not the place for you.” 

MW: Let’s talk a bit with Anna D about what it’s like as a career advisor when working with young women. At what age do you start influencing young women to consider careers in maritime? 

AD: Maybe I will start from the beginning. In Poland, career counseling became obligatory in 2018, and currently it is implemented beginning in the nursery. I see career counseling as an interdisciplinary cooperation between school and business and future employers, which presents young people with a variety of possibilities and inspirations. The effect of such an approach is the integrated influence on the student’s development of passions, interests, ideas, possibilities, and perception of the world, which allows them to expand and flexibly use their own potential in the changing education and employment reality. But, returning to your question… 

There are three key moments in which a young person is making career decisions. The first is at the end of primary school (14 to 15 years old). The second is at the end of their high school education (18 to 19 years old). The last is after completing their university education. At all three of those moments, young women can learn about the possibilities of employment and the education and career paths in the maritime industry. 

Shaping the Future 

MW: Can you give me some examples of how you bring those tools and knowledge to the career counselors? 

AD: In the project, on top of the offer aimed at young girls and boys, we also offer teachers and school counselors. This offer includes workshops, meetings with experts, and study visits at various companies. Participants of the workshops receive tool kits that contain ready solutions and materials that can be utilized to work at school. 

We build these kits based on real stories since we want to show role models. Also, we think it is very important to talk with successful women from the maritime sector and show this example to the students and the teachers. Our program is based on reality, not just taken out of books. Of course, we also use research, but we really try to look for good examples – real people, real women – who are successful in the sector. 

MW: What’s been the response from the career counselors you’re working with? 

AD: Teachers from each edition said they didn’t know that the maritime industry was such a big industry with so many possibilities for people from every profession, especially women. It was to them like discovering a whole new world, which is surprising since we live in Gdańsk, on the Baltic coast, and the maritime industry should be the natural direction.  

I think that this is the effect of the narration from the ’90s, when the shipyards were liquidated in the Tricity and many people lost their jobs. Furthermore and stereotypically, professions connected with shipyards and generally the sea were seen as men’s jobs. Currently, the maritime industry is a key branch of economic development. However, this knowledge isn’t common. For that reason, it is important to conduct education on many levels and improve the competencies of school career counselors, who have influence on young people at the various stages of the education process.  

MW: Is this a program you’re only running in Gdansk? Do you think it’s a program? If so, do you think it’s a program that could be expanded more broadly in Poland? And is it something the industry could learn from? 

AD: Maybe Anna Miller and I can answer together because both of us are enthusiastic about this program, and we can see we have a lot of challenges and would like to continue to build the program. There’s definitely a need to build connections to other cities. Anna, can you help me?  

AM: We’ve done this project in Gdansk only because we received funding from the city of Gdansk. But we are thinking about expanding because Gdansk is really close to Sopot and Gdynia. Gdynia has its own shipyards, for example. Women have also joined our Facebook group and are asking questions about the program. One woman from Szczecin, the third biggest maritime city in Poland, called me and said, “We want to join.” Women from all around the country who have anything to do with the industry ask if they can join.

We have women from the south of Poland, like a teacher of a class with a specialization in port technologies from Krakow. And now we are thinking about doing the project for our entire region or even the whole country. 

I started to cooperate with one of the biggest national organizations in Poland for career counseling, the Career Map (Mapa Karier). I haven’t told Anna yet, but they want to cooperate. I got an email from them yesterday.  

Even the women who are in the project want to help. One of them told me yesterday, “I have an idea to do something, so let’s try to do it together.” In this way, we can expand the program and make it possible for more people to join. We also know we need to work with men in the industry to make change happen because they are the CEOs, COOs, and CFOs, and other higher-up positions. Having these men on board is very important. 

 Within the organization, we have a group of maritime experts who work on their own thing while we do ours, and we’re trying to combine the work because those experts are the CEOs, the directors, and managers that we want to have on board. 

MW: We’ve reached a point in the story when we’ve talked to school-aged children and young adults coming into university. Let’s say they’ve chosen a path in maritime. Now the second half of your program is a mentoring program you’ve set up for women at university. Are they about to graduate? At what point do you start the mentoring, and how does that program work, Anna? 

AD: The program turned out to be a huge success, which is a source of joy for us. 

There were considerable interest and enthusiasm for the program from both mentors and mentees. We received signals from both sides that there is a significant need to continue it. Even our mentors took extra hours with their mentees, and in the evaluation session, our mentees told us that they found friends among their mentors. 

Our impression is that we really need to continue this path. Mentoring should become an element of study programs. Mentees were women in their last two years of college or those who have recently graduated and were at the start of their careers. They greatly benefited from participation. 

MW: Let’s back up. How did the program come into existence? Was it individuals looking for the program to be created? Was it professionals within the industry looking to offer up their time? Or was it an idea from you guys? 

AM: In 2019, we researched the situation of women in maritime in Poland. One of the recommendations was to provide mentorship support. That year, we organized workshops, mainly for a bigger group of people. That year, 2020, our work was primarily online because of COVID-19. We made this pilot of mentorship for a smaller group of people, although it became bigger than we expected. 

We were recruiting mentors and mentees, and even after the application process was closed, more candidates for mentors contacted me. Even now, they are calling me. 

This is how it started, and it was a great success. I often see on LinkedIn that some of the mentees get promoted or complete the course recommended by their mentors, so I see it works. They are still working together now as colleagues. “This is my younger colleague,” or “This is my older colleague,” they’ll say. 

We also supported mentors. Anna conducted workshops for them. We provided them with tools and methods they could use.  

What is mentoring? It’s not only about talking. It’s about setting goals and working on how to achieve them. We organized supervisory sessions every month to give them the opportunity to talk about their challenges, questions, and so on. Anna supports them, and they support each other. And now we want to do more. We are thinking of starting the program for younger women, students who are at the beginning of their higher education. Also, there might be a need to do this program for women who want to be promoted, women who are in their thirties and forties and want to have support from someone who is in a CEO position. 

We are thinking about implementing the program internationally as the maritime industry crosses borders. Also, because some of our mentees lost their jobs due to COVID-19, their mentors told them to look for jobs abroad. When told this, many replied, “Really?” They hadn’t thought about that possibility before. The pandemic was a challenge, and it introduced a lot of trouble into their lives, but it has also opened more possibilities for them. Anna, do you want to add something?  

AD: Our plan is to expand the program. Nothing would have happened without building connections and networking with a huge number of people within industry and academia. The main success of our program is the fact that we managed to build connections with a network of people, especially women, who want to share their success stories and become mentors. I think that is the most important part of this program, building the network. Examples of that are our connections with businesses, individual persons, and organizations, such as Anna’s with the group of specialists. We’ve built connections everywhere in the world. We are now waiting for the next edition, which we believe will bring us more knowledge and more opportunities. 

AM: I will add one more thing about networking because one of the mentors told us it was hard to get to know someone she would need to find a new job. It was hard to network in the maritime industry even before the pandemic. And now, when you can’t even meet people in person, it’s even harder. What do you do? You can reach them on LinkedIn, but you need to ask them if they want to join your network. If mentors mention their mentees’ names in their organizations, it could help those young women in the future because people will know about them.  

MW: That’s a great point. I think a challenge more broadly across all parts of the industry is how to connect with individuals in a very digital state of affairs. Beyond COVID-19, you guys have talked a lot about the successes. I’m always interested to hear from people about what hasn’t worked. Beyond the sort of digital meeting side of the mentoring program, what have been some of the challenges, and what would you do differently in your second iteration? 

AM: One of the things we wanted to do that year was big open events, like meetings for 50 people. The idea was to give lectures from women in the industry to show role models and then give attendees the possibility to network. We had to hold off on that because of COVID-19.  

The second thing we haven’t done was anti-discrimination workshops for students. The idea was to invite female students to work on policies, including how the university should react and what tools and knowledge they might need to feel safe. However, because the universities have been closed in Poland since March and students have had only online classes, we decided it is impossible to do that this year. In that kind of work, you need to build trust. You need to build this closeness with the person conducting the workshop and the other students. It’s not so easy to open up when you talk about these complex situations and feelings online. I think this is the area where we need to do more work.  

I also started to cooperate with the Gdansk University of Technology and the Maritime University in Gdynia. At the Gdansk University of Technology, there is a person responsible for equal treatment at the university. Luckily for us, he works for the maritime department. We had a few meetings to discuss what we can do together.  

This type of thinking sits among professors, even young PhDs and lecturers. I consider how to start this cooperation because it’s really easy to miss the possibility of cooperation. In the beginning, when I wanted to fight this inequality in the industry, a woman from the industry told me, “Just don’t speak so much about inequality and what doesn’t work. Focus on what works on our side and about our experiences and knowledge. Work with us and listen to us – what we want to do, what we can do. Only focusing on what’s wrong won’t work.” 

AD: The women always repeat that we have to concentrate on their successes, on their good quality of work, not on the problems. That’s their advice.  

AM: How to talk to universities using this knowledge remains a challenge because they often think this is not a problem for their institution. It’s the girls’ decision of what they do or don’t want to study. If they quit, that’s their business. We know it is not that simple. That’s my challenge now, along with talking to people in the CEO positions in the industry.  

AD: If I can add something, Anna is talking about this top level, but I think our challenge is the promotion and dissemination of the result of the project. It’s a challenge for us to build relationships with schools on every level, from primary to secondary schools, and to reach larger groups within them, like teachers, to share our tools and knowledge about the maritime industry.  It can be a barrier to dissemination and promotion if we don’t have contact with certain groups.  

MW: Anna and Anna, we’ve come to the end of our interview. And at the end of every interview, I always like to leave you guys with the ability to give us your closing thoughts – one piece of advice for women looking to succeed in maritime. Anna Dukowska, what would be your closing piece of advice? 

AD: I would like to quote one of the successful women who is cooperating with us on the project: “Think big, plan a lot, and don’t be shy.”

MW: Wonderful! Very concise. Anna Miler? 

AM: I asked one of the mentors what she would say to 18-year-old girls entering the maritime industry, and she said, “Believe in yourself and everything you have to offer because that’s enough.” It’s similar to what Anna said, but this is about being courageous, being open to new experiences, and being sure that what you have is enough and that you don’t let other people undermine it. 

She also said that if you love the sea and ships, and you feel that this is your way, try it. Study, practice, and make a decision. Make sure it is your way, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. We can say that for any girl who is entering a male-dominated industry, or any industry, but that’s probably the key. 

MW: Anna and Anna, thank you so much for your time. 

AM: Thank you. Thank you for inviting us. 

AD: Thank you for your invitation. 

Who is Anna Miler? 

Anna Miler is the co-author and coordinator of the Women Build Ships Too Project. She is also the co-author of a mentoring program for women working in the maritime and logistics industry. She is striving to build a community of women, students and workers alike, who are engaged in this industry. She has deep historical knowledge about the role of women in the Polish ship industry. As part of her doctoral philological studies at the University of Gdańsk, she is preparing a dissertation on the everyday life of women employed at Gdańsk Shipyard.

For many years, she has been working on projects related to women’s history and the support of women. She is the co-author of “herstorical” project concepts, including Shipyard is a Woman, Metropolitanka, and Women for Democratic (R)evolution. She is the author of the route of the Shipyard’s Women Walk, organized to follow the footsteps of women who built ships and protested in Gdańsk Shipyard. She is, as well, a tour guide presenting the former shipyard areas. In 2018, she coordinated the 100 Women 100 Years Project, which resulted in creating a base of 100 biographies of women of merit. She was a member of the Gdańsk Council for Equal Treatment during her first term of office. She has been a speaker at both national and foreign conferences. She works as a start-up specialist at the Gdansk Entrepreneurship Incubator STARTER (Gdański Inkubator Przedsiębiorczości STARTER).

Apart from working on Women Build Ships Too, she has been involved in actions addressed to the creative industries and obtaining funds.  

Who is Anna Dukowska? 

Anna Dukowska is a career counselor, coach, intercultural integration specialist at the work environment, and business mentoring specialist. Since 2006, she has run individual consultations and workshops focused on recognizing and defining employability potential, evaluating competencies, recognizing strengths and resulting career options, and identifying areas for improvement. Anna supports youths in undertaking decisions on their education paths and adults in planning and modifying their career paths. She cooperates with teachers to develop career advice services within the state education system. Her passion is discovering the diverse world of professions and connecting education with business. Currently, she cooperates with Lifelong Learning Centre in Sopot, the Sopot Centre for Integration and Support of Immigrant, the Career Office of the SWPS University, the STARTER Incubator implementing the project Women Build Ships To,” and NOW – Professional Challenges of the New Generation, combining business with education.

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 seniority levels. The initial aim of Women in Maritime is to show that diversity and bring the conversation around it to life. 

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