Women in Maritime with Carly Fields

We pick up our Women in Maritime series with Carly Fields, a senior journalist and editor within the maritime industry who hardly needs an introduction. INFORM’s Matthew Wittemeier’s catch up with Carly took them into a deep backstory of how being a female in maritime could play out for the worst but how that has helped her to shape a stronger position within the industry.

An Introduction

MW: Carly, welcome. 

CF: Thank you.

MW: I find people are the best at introducing themselves. It’s partly because I’m lazy and partly because you know better than anyone else who you are and what you’ve done to get to where you are. So, would you mind introducing yourself? 

CF: I have no problem doing that, and it’s a good place to start in a Women in Maritime interview. I say that because women are notoriously bad at introducing themselves and “bigging” themselves up. I once went to a Navis World conference where they talked about how men will apply for a job if they have only one of the required qualifications. The speaker said to the room of a thousand people, “Guys, stand up. How many of the attributes in the job description would you say you need to actually apply for the job?” The speaker started at ten and went down the scale, and the idea was to sit down when it got to the point where they wouldn’t apply. There were still men standing when it got to one. They shared their thinking as, “If I had one of the attributes, I wouldn’t need the other nine.” Some said they’d apply even if they had none of them.

The speaker then asked the men to sit down and did the same exercise with the women. Most of us sat down when it got to eight. We felt we’d need at least eight listed attributes to apply for a job. Some women even said, “I would need more than the ten that were listed, and I wouldn’t apply even if I had the 10.” I think that’s a really important point to make. We’re very different in the way we introduce ourselves. So you’re asking me to introduce myself, but that’s actually a really important part of why perhaps women aren’t as well known, well respected, or well heard in maritime. So, now I can introduce myself.

MW: Please do.

CF: After achieving a first-class in my maritime degree from Liverpool University, I started work at Lloyd’s List. I really enjoy writing, and I’m a shipping specialist, so it was a perfect place for me. I spent six years there. I earned four promotions during those six years, and then I left to pursue a freelance career. I had already done a few freelance jobs while I was working at Lloyd’s List. That was and still is acceptable in shipping journalism.

I’ve done quite a few editorial-related projects over the years, and at the moment, I’m editor for five magazines. In addition to that, I work as a consultant with the International Association of Class Societies and have a number of other projects that I work on. I produce port reviews with a company called Compass, and I have worked with the British Ports Association on its annual review as well.

The magazines that I’m currently Editor for include Shipping Network, which is published by the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers, which I’m also a fellow of; The Sea, for The Mission to Seafarers; Breakbulk magazine, the Baltic Exchange, and Marine Professional for IMarEST, the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology. They’re the key things I work on day-to-day.

I’m also an assistant examiner for shipping business for the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. That means I mark exam papers twice a year for professional qualifications in shipping. I also used to tutor, but having moved away from London, it’s now too far to travel to continue.

MW: Fair enough. You wear a lot of hats!

CF: I do, and you’ll find that’s quite common with women in shipping. I think it’s a female trait to prefer to be multitasking. It’s the classic stereotype.

MW: A lot of research suggests women are far better at multitasking than men. You have a degree in maritime. What attracted you to the industry?

CF: My dad lives on a boat, but I don’t cover anything in the leisure sector, so that’s only a tenuous link to the sea. When I went to the career advisor at age 16, I said I wanted to teach water sports because I had sailed in the London Youth Games. I did the Tall Ship Race when I was 16 as well. So, there was always an interest in the water.

The career advisor went away and researched and came back saying, “You’ll have to learn every single sport up to instructor level to teach.” She suggested I might be interested in maritime studies. When I looked into it, I found that it did interest me.

MW: That’s quite interesting because we’ve spoken to a number of women who have set up programs to improve career mentoring and make sure that career mentors understand the roles that are available in maritime. It sounds like a small stroke of luck that someone knew, or at least did their homework, to find a way for you to get into maritime. When you started at Lloyd’s List in your first professional role, what were the biggest challenges you faced as a woman?

CF: I’m not sure I faced challenges as a woman in the journalism world. Quite a few of us are women. It’s a slightly different beast. It just happens that we are journalists in the maritime industry. But one standout moment for me was early on when I was covering the oil markets. I was the “bunker girl” for Lloyd’s List, which is a strange title to have. I went to IP Week, part of the Institute of Petroleum Week, which was a massive event in London. They have all sorts of things going on, and a lot of people come into London for it. I was sent to cover that two months after joining Lloyd’s List.

I walked into a massive ballroom, and there were a thousand-plus delegates, one of the classic London conferences. I saw a sea of gray suits, and that was it. I didn’t see any women. I thought, “Oh, this is interesting. Not what I expected.” It was a bit of an eye-opener.

That didn’t challenge me or stop me, but it was an eye-opener to see only men in that room. Since then, that has changed, but there are still definitely more men than women at every conference I go to. In journalism, though, I don’t feel that I had gender-related challenges when I started.

MW: You progressed through the ranks, you said, quite a few times when you started, so I’m guessing you faced some challenges as you moved up.

CF: There have been very few challenges at the places where I have worked. However, you’re aware that I left a role in an industry magazine where I was long term editor because of challenges.

MW: I am.

CF: That was partly due to sexism, that view of a woman as “the little lady” or someone not worth listening to, who doesn’t know the sector. The attitude of the male colleague was, “I know more than she does, and I don’t need to listen to her.”

MW: How does that impact you in the short term? You left a role that a lot of people in the industry would have argued you were really good at, at a publication that’s well respected. Certainly, that’s got to play on you personally to some degree. How did you cope with that?

CF: Not particularly well. Before I left, I had almost a year of backward and forward with my direct boss with me saying, “I’m not happy with this. Can you please sort this guy out?” I wasn’t the only one; other women had complained as well. It got to the point where I was getting tension headaches and getting stressed by it. I’m not that kind of person. I like to find a solution and fix a problem. I got to the point where I was in tears on the phone to the publisher, trying to talk to him and say, “Look, we need to sort this out.” But it didn’t get sorted.

I remember sitting in the car with my husband, driving somewhere, and I was working on my laptop. I sat in the car, and I thought, “I’ve had enough. I’m too upset. There isn’t a solution. He is not going to leave. That’s now very clear to me.”

So I wrote an email to my publisher and said, with regret, “I’m done, and as I don’t have any terms. I’m out today.” Then I turned to my husband and said, “I’ve left.” He said okay, and that was it. A real weight was lifted. I didn’t want to go, but once I’d made that decision, I knew it was the right one. I can’t work for a company that supports someone with those sexist attitudes.

MW: I want to explore one of the things we’ve heard a lot in the other interviews, the idea that grouping women together, for instance, on ships, allows them to have a support network when they encounter these kinds of problems whether they’re intentional or unintentional because there’s a lot of talk about unconscious bias.

You said there were other women involved. Was it helpful to you that other women were present and going through something similar to what you were going through?

CF: This guy had been a problem for me for many years, but nobody else had seen his behavior because I was the only person who had to deal with him. When another woman approached me and said that she was facing the same attitude, she saw me as her place of help. His behavior was really upsetting her. She asked me, “What can I do?” I felt someone would listen to her because she was an employee, and I wasn’t. At that point, I was almost relieved because it confirmed that I wasn’t making it up, and I felt awful for this colleague. I remember I had her on the phone in an absolute flood of tears, saying, “I don’t know what to do.”

It was vindication for me. But the saddest thing is that if you approached many guys like him and said, “You’re being incredibly sexist in the way you’re treating me,” he would probably be devastated to realize that’s how he comes across. Some men have no real understanding of how their sexist actions impact women.

MW: I feel like we could talk about this for the better part of the interview, but I don’t want it to be the focus. I’m going to move on to the next question. As a journalist in maritime, you’re often in the position of the unbiased spectator. From that position, what do you see as the most significant industry trends over the past five years?

CF: Data is obviously a huge one, but I hate to just use that as an umbrella term. It’s more important that I give you examples such as the control rooms that are being created for fleets and for ports and the speed with which instantly accessed engine data or crane data can be analyzed and learned from.

Also, Environmental Social Governance (ESG) is having a huge impact. That kind of leads to the finance side, how we’re now tying finance so much more to CSR, ESG, etc., and how it has become so much more difficult to get finance without these things in place, with the boxes you now have to check.

Another one is that the regulatory environment, which has become a beast. If you’ve spoken to anyone at sea, you’ll have heard their thoughts on that. At what point do we realize that we can’t just keep adding more layers of regulation? We have to start going back to basics and asking what we actually still need and what can be combined. We can’t keep expecting people to take on an ever-increasing burden of regulation.

Then there’s health and safety. Safety has improved a lot, and that’s a great thing. But it’s a crying shame that we are not more aware of criminalization and what the threat of criminalization does to seafarers and onshore people, including what it does to their mental health. Those are trends I see.

MW: On the topic of regulation, if we either reduce the regulation or look for an alternative, that leads to the question of carrot-and-stick. You described regulation as a beast, which suggests that perhaps the stick approach is the wrong way. Is there a carrot approach to ensuring safety compliance that is opposite regulation?

CF: There definitely a need for a carrot approach. Rather than an either/or, I think there should be a blended approach.

Regulation is old-fashioned in many ways: onerous and paper-based, overlapping and contradictory. It needs to be rethought and reshaped. It doesn’t achieve its potential in its current state.

That’s what I meant when I said it’s a beast. It’s absolutely necessary, but we need to be a bit more conscious of the load of regulation and not keep piling more on top.

MW: We’ve looked at some of the ideas that have shaped the past five years. Looking into your crystal ball, please, Carly, are there particular opportunities that maritime should be looking at right now?

CF: I could throw out autonomous shipping, but that’s not realistic in the next five years. The big opportunities on the shipping side are the future fuels. We could transition in steps and order ships now, but they might not be sustainable for 10 years, and they’d likely have to be scrapped early, which is terrible for our industry. On the other hand, if we’re a bit smarter and more collaborative, we can come up with a solution that’s viable today and make that transition much easier.

There are some truly dynamic ideas out there. But we’re still working with a very outdated and historic traditional industry. A good analogy is the car industry. Most of the carmakers have been trying to convert their existing cars into electric cars, taking the current product and trying to change it. Tesla shook that up by making only electric cars, but it was still the same kind of model underneath, whereas VW, with their ID line, decided not to build on their usual vehicle but to create their own electric cars.

We need that kind of thinking. We need someone to say, “I’m not going to follow that model. I’m going to disrupt.” There’s that buzzword. “I’m going to throw out the rule book, bring something else in, and start again.” The Silicon Valley approach – we can just create something new and better. I wish we would embrace that more in our industry and just let the innovators run with it to come up with the craziness we sometimes need.

MW: Some would argue that we’re starting to see an acceleration of adapting new ideas, particularly in the last five years. You see big movers like Maersk, for instance, radically transforming their organization to embrace new ideas and become quicker at implementing them. We see that even in ports and terminals. Is that momentum likely to continue, do you think, or is it going to stall?

CF: There’ll always be a split between those who can afford to do it and are progressive enough to see the benefits and those who live hand-to-mouth or just don’t have that vision. It’s interesting you bring up Maersk because they can implement new ideas, and they have the scale to do it, but when they find a win, they don’t always share it. We could do a better job of sharing wins.

I’m talking about an open-source approach, not just going, “Hey, aren’t we great because we accomplished this?” and not giving any details. One example is 3D printing. Maersk did that really early on, and I have tried to learn about it in lots of different ways, including asking them where it has gone and what’s happened with it in their fleet. But I haven’t succeeded. Early movers should help everyone else learn. Even if it was an epic fail, they should let us know, so we don’t all make that same mistake.

MW: I’ve got a poster on my wall that says, “Experiment, fail, learn, repeat.” It’s part of my mantra in my business life, at least, that you learn significantly more when you fail than when you succeed. But, as an industry, we don’t often embrace failure as a positive thing. Very few industries do. The only company I can think of that probably thinks of failure as a good thing is the ABC Company, Google’s owner. They’ve got their innovation hub within that company, and they give bonuses to staff who can prove a project is not viable. They celebrate failure because they’re saving so much time and money on trying to figure out whether those projects can be successful. They just give a portion of those savings back to the employees who say, “Okay, it’s not good, and this is why…” How do we embrace failure better?

You thought this is going to be an easy interview, didn’t you?

CF: Embracing failure is the best mentality, and it has to come from the top down. It’s the way software companies have got to where they are now. An industry that’s traditional and historic and has all this baggage tends to have boards, for example, that are “pale, male, and stale.”

It’s not necessarily a gender thing, but an age thing. That generation lacks enthusiasm for failure. You have to change that mindset from the top, and it’s very hard to do.

MW: A lot of research supports the notion that the older you get, the less willing you are to take risks and try new things. I’m going to pivot a bit back to the women’s side. Maritime is traditionally very male-dominated. How do you envision inspiring more women to join the industry?

CF: Sometimes women don’t want to be part of a nuts-and-bolts and engineering-driven industry. It’s not necessarily that there’s a pink vs. blue divide. Take my children – I have a boy who is a boy, and I have a girl who is a girl. I did not encourage that, but my girl likes glitter, and my boy likes driving cars around. I never thought that they would be like that. I never gave them the tools to be like that, but they are classic gender stereotypes regardless.

That’s not to say my daughter won’t become an engineer or choose a stereotypically male career field, but I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding that every woman wants to be part of the maritime industry. Yes, we can certainly encourage more, and I would like that. But it doesn’t mean we have to expect equal male-female gender ratios in maritime. I think that’s unrealistic because of the nature of what we do. It’s not attractive to every woman or every man, but I think it’s more attractive to men than it is to women.

MW: I love that you have a controversial approach. It will make the interview series so much more engaging.

CF: I’ll probably get thrown out afterward.

MW: I don’t think that’s the case. The only point I would counter that on is that a lot of research is coming out now about the skillsets that are required moving forward. There are a lot of IT skillsets in there, but there’s a handful of softer skillsets, and some would argue, particularly with the impact of automation, that the industry is moving toward becoming less nuts-and-bolts, as you described it, and more people-focused.

A lot of people have talked about being more customer-focused and understanding what customers expect in our industry. Again, those are soft skills. Without playing too much into stereotypes, women tend to do much better in both technology and soft skills. Plenty of research suggests, for instance, even in the technology field, that women make better programmers. Perhaps it’s their ability to multitask coming full circle, or perhaps it’s their attention to detail, but the research shows they hold their weight very well in those realms, too.

CF: It’s not just about inspiring women. For me, that’s the red herring. It’s actually just about being less of the “pale, male, and stale” I mentioned before, however that’s achieved. It isn’t necessarily about bringing a ton of women in. It’s about bringing younger people or middle-aged people, different ethnicities and different nationalities – everything. The fix is diversity. That to me is the bigger problem, and women are part of the solution, but only a part of it.

That’s why I get a bit put off by things like women’s associations. I find that mentality difficult because I don’t want to be in a group of all women. I find that just as frustrating. I want to be in a mixed group with mixed ideas. I want a mix of everything, and that’s what I think we’re missing in shipping. We just have one very distinct set that dominates. Because of that, our views as a collective are dictated by that set, which is nothing against all the fantastic guys in our industry who do amazing stuff, but it would be good to have some other voices. That’s all.

MW: So, diversity in a more general sense of the term.

CF: Absolutely, a more general sense… You asked about how we can make the industry more attractive to women as well. Women generally have excellent soft skills. Perhaps we just need to publicize those more and be a bit more aware of the market we’re trying to attract. We can offer a different appeal to each different market, to young women, older women, different ethnicities. It’s about creating the right message and the right appeal to the group you want to bring in.

MW: You’re talking to a marketing guy, so that resonates very well. We’ve come to the end of our interview. Closing thoughts – if you had one piece of advice for a woman looking to succeed in maritime, what would it be?

CF: Go into journalism. It’s much easier in a lot of respects.

Also, don’t take things to heart too much because we can be easily offended and hang on to things for a long time. It’s a very female trait, worrying too much. I think it’s motivated by a fear of failure. Embracing resilience as an attitude would be good for women because of these stereotypical traits.

And always push and never be afraid to speak up. Don’t worry about how silly you sound. You know how hard was it for me to actually ask questions? Now I just don’t care if someone thinks I’m stupid, and that’s come with age. It’s not something you can just give to younger people.

Keep knocking on doors as well.

MW: Carly, thank you so much for your time.

Who is Carly Fields?

Carly Fields is Director and Co-Founder of the successful communications and publishing company Carmar Media, where she harnesses her broad marine, maritime, transportation, and logistics experience in consultancy work with many well-respected companies and organizations. She is currently Editor for the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers’ member magazine Shipping Network, for the Baltic Exchange, for IMarEST’s Marine Professional magazine, for The Mission to Seafarers’ The Sea, and is News Editor for Breakbulk magazine. Previously, Carly held various editing roles at the number one daily maritime newspaper, Lloyd’s List, rising to the level of Special Reports Editor before her departure to develop her own business in 2006. She is also a Trustee for the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers Educational Trust Fund and, outside of shipping, she is also proud to serve as Vice-Chair, Trustee, and Non-executive Director of the Board for DEBRA UK, a charity dedicated to fighting the debilitating skin condition epidermolysis bullosa.

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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