We kick off 2022 with our first Women in Maritime (WiM) interview featuring Sahar Lemanczyk, Managing Partner at bloog, who joins INFORM’s Matthew Wittemeier as they unpack what it is like for a woman to found a company and actively recruit women into the industry.
MW: You’ve been through a couple of interviews with me, and you know that I don’t like introducing people and certainly don’t like saying their last names. As such, could you please introduce yourself?
SL: Yes, I will. I’m Sahar Lemanczyk, and I’m 35 years old. I am one of the four managing partners at bloog, a consultancy firm specializing in digital transformation. Three of us have a strong background in the maritime industry, which is why we are still working on many industry-related projects. I have been an IT consultant in the maritime industry for six years.
MW: That’s a perfect introduction and a good segue into the first question. Tell me, what attracted you to maritime?
SL: I was born and raised in Hamburg, and since Hamburg has a very prominent port in the middle of the city, it’s very emotionally connected to the experience of growing up here. Since I had studied math, I was looking for a challenge that had the kind of complexity that I was used to from my academic background, but also something tangible that fascinated me on a personal level. That’s how I chose maritime as my industry.
MW: And how did you get started working in maritime, then? When you knew you wanted to work in maritime, how did you actually find your way into the industry?
SL: I simply looked for job offers in the industry, and HHLA is a very large employer in Hamburg. I checked their website and found the vacancy at HPC Hamburg Port Consulting. I applied and then had my first job interview. I got the job, and I started working there.
MW: What were the biggest challenges you faced as a woman specifically? And then, we’ll broaden that to a more diverse question related to your experiences as a minority – but let’s start with “as a woman.”
SL: I believe as a woman, right at the beginning, it isn’t too challenging. You are a junior, and you’re not supposed to be the expert. So, while you’re a junior, it’s not obvious that the reason people don’t consider you an expert is because you’re a woman. Especially in the first couple of years, it didn’t really feel like a big problem to be a woman in the industry; other than that there weren’t many other women.
You sit in a meeting with 20 people, and you are the only woman. You sit in a board meeting, and you are the only woman. You go to a big event, a gala event, and maybe there are three other women. So, the scarcity of women is obvious, but you don’t feel the negative impact it has on you as a junior. At least I didn’t feel it as much as a junior.
MW: I’ve known you professionally now for several years. As such, I know you consider yourself a minority, ethnically speaking. Maybe you should give the readers a bit of context.
SL: My name gives it away a little bit. If you are born and raised in Germany, the name “Sahar” doesn’t sound German, and the last name “Lemanczyk” doesn’t sound German either. I was born in Germany, in Hamburg, but my mother was born in Iran, so I grew up speaking two languages and knowing two cultures. That’s why I consider myself a second-generation immigrant.
MW: As a minority, did you ever feel as though you were challenged when you started your role?
SL: The maritime industry is an international business; that’s one of the things that make it special. I never felt disadvantaged to have two cultural backgrounds and speak more than one language as a mother tongue. I’ve never worked on a project in Iran, so I wasn’t really using my heritage. But the maritime industry is so international and multicultural that I felt like I fit in very well.
MW: As you progressed through your career from a junior into higher positions, did you ever feel that being a woman impacted you, your ability to progress, or the type of work you were doing?
SL: After about two years, I realized that there was no woman in a general management position in my company. All the partners in the company, HPC, were men. And not only that, but mostly men from a different generation than me. I am not a young person, but I’m not part of the generation that is predominantly in the management positions in the industry today. These are the two things that I noticed. And, of course, you start talking to your peers and talking to other women and getting the feeling that, yes, we women have a glass ceiling above us, and we usually aren’t able to pass through that ceiling into the very top levels of the hierarchy.
MW: And what did you do to overcome these challenges?
SL: I founded my own company. I probably would’ve been able to make a career at HPC or HHLA, but the traditional environment didn’t really feel right to me. Having to fight to have a more important role, have a voice, or be taken seriously didn’t feel like something I wanted to do for the next couple of years.
Stefan and Alexis, whom I knew from my very first day at HPC, shared the same beliefs and ideas as I. So, we founded bloog together. Today, I am one of four people who oversee the company. We have five other colleagues, and I feel that I have all the freedom and power that I want. At bloog, it doesn’t matter if you are a woman or not, young or not, or a minority or not.
MW: How has your past experience shaped how you’ve come to run bloog?
SL: It has shaped it a lot. My experience was very positive regarding the team I was part of and the projects I worked on. I loved my work back then, and I love it still. And I had lovely colleagues. But the overall system was traditional and not sexist in an obvious way, but in a very subtle way. I thought about it a lot, asking myself, how can you overcome this? And even today, it influences the decisions I make and the decisions we make as a team at bloog. How do we hire people? What are the values that we require from applicants? Are the attributes that we write into our job offerings male-connotated attributes, or are they neutral, which would be better? You can get a lot of things wrong, and there are many nuances you must consider. We try to be as good at it as possible.
MW: You’re an IT consultancy working in the maritime industry, both of which are statistically very male-dominated industries. Do you find it difficult to attract women to your organization?
SL: Absolutely. The more important reason is the IT rather than the maritime. But that’s just a feeling; I don’t have any statistics on it. If you look at the number of people who have an IT-related academic background and are German-speaking, 20% to 25% of them are women, depending on how you calculate it. This ratio is reflected in the applications we get. We have to think about how not to end up with only 20% to 25% women in our company. This is a not very balanced situation to start with, so you have to even it out. You have to be a better employer for women.
MW: Have you got a couple of examples?
SL: As we’re a young company, I cannot tell you how successful the ideas we implemented will be in the long run. The first thing is to set a goal for yourself. Our goal is to reflect the ratio of society, so roughly 50% male and 50% female. Our goal is not 20-80, or 30-70, like other companies. We discuss how to achieve this goal in every strategy meeting, and we put a lot of effort into it.
As the only woman in the management team, I must be the role model and the face of the company to the outside. I have to go to universities, speak up and be a mentor for women academics. There are a lot more things you can do to be attractive to female personnel. Let’s speak next year to see what worked out in the end.
MW: I agree with that. Let’s move on from talking specifically about being a woman in the industry. I want to talk a bit about what it’s been like for you as a consultant. You’ve been a consultant within the industry for the better part of the past six years. Is that right? What have you seen change for the better in the industry?
SL: You see many motivated, future-oriented people in the industry. Not yet in positions of power, but getting there. I think that’s a good thing because it’s going to accelerate the transformation that is necessary for the industry.
MW: And is it a digital transformation that’s needed, or is it something else?
SL: It mostly is digital transformation, in my opinion. Most of it is related to digitalization and innovation in the digital context. But it’s also work culture that needs to be transformed to achieve the transformation on the business side.
MW: What, if anything, has changed for the worse?
SL: I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint anything that has changed for the worse. But if you had asked me five or six years ago what I thought the industry would be like today, I would’ve hoped that we were already further along the path of transformation.
MW: Let’s get out the crystal ball. What are the biggest opportunities you see for the maritime industry over the next five years?
SL: Challenges are opportunities, in this case. The biggest challenge is the necessity to become climate neutral. It will have a big impact on the industry over the next few years, both when it comes to optimizing cargo flow and logistics overall and when it comes to strategic decisions. If you add the carbon footprint to the equation, you have to make other decisions. I think this will be healthy for the industry, not only because it is necessary to stop or minimize climate change but also because it will create innovations.
MW: What sort of innovation do you think we’re likely to see if we focus on climate change?
SL: One thing is to make shipping more efficient and also to make the technology behind ships, fuel, and engines –I’m not an engineer myself – more efficient. There’s a lot of potential for innovation in this. It’s going to be disruptive, I believe. If you have something that is disruptive, you always make room for new things to evolve that you haven’t had in mind before, so I’m looking forward to seeing that.
MW: What do we need to be doing today to position ourselves to realize some of the innovations related to climate change or to realize some of the sustainability goals we need to achieve in climate change as an industry?
SL: We must acknowledge that these challenges are not going to go away. That’s the first step. Also, we must acknowledge that we can’t solve them by working in silos. The industry must work together to solve them. It’s not going to be one carrier, one terminal operator, or one port that solves it alone.
MW: That’s a tall order, all things said and done, to get the industry to acknowledge that the problem exists and then to get the industry to work together. Are there any industry bodies that are currently moving us in that direction? Who takes the first step?
SL: We have some consortiums that are considering themselves first movers. The Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), for example, works on standardization for the digital part of it, which will have an impact on the carbon footprint, of course. And there are other bodies like that. Still, as I said earlier, it’s moving too slowly. The priorities are still not balanced. The players optimize their individual businesses rather than acknowledge the overarching problem.
MW: That’s an interesting perspective. I was at a meeting not too long ago where we were talking about the log jam in the US West Coast maritime ports, how it’s also starting to affect the East Coast ports now, and how it’s very heavily impacted by the intermodal facilities that are in the middle of the country. It’s a large, singular system, but everyone’s still struggling just to optimize their individual component. Who should be the first mover here? Is it the terminals, operators, or shippers? Is it the BCOs? Who’s ultimately going to drive this change forward from your perspective?
SL: I think there’s no one answer to that. It can be done by the terminals if they agree to join forces and work together to solve this. It can be done by the carriers if they join forces. It can be done by a consortium of different players, not necessarily all of them because that’s already too big of a group, but just for a specific geographic region. The carriers that are relevant for that region can work together with the terminal operators, et cetera. It has to be a relevant subgroup of the whole system because otherwise it’s moving too slow. It can be any subgroup that is strong enough to at least make some overarching decisions.
MW: Let’s assume we get enough players to work together. We’re largely talking about a digitalized solution to address optimizing, let’s say, the whole of the supply chain. Is that even a technical feat that we are capable of doing today?
SL: I would say it is, but I’m not sure if it’s necessary to that scale. There is data that you need in real-time, and there is data that you need in large quantities to be able to overcome certain optimization problems. You don’t necessarily need both. You don’t necessarily need all the data in real-time. With 5G, you have some real-time opportunities, especially in the US, where they are progressing more than we are, I believe, in Germany. I think handling large data sets is not something that is new. It is something that the big tech companies do for a living, but these companies are called Google and so forth, and they have little to do with the maritime industry. So, we must learn from them and incorporate them into our solutions as well.
MW: That’s an interesting notion. I think the value proposition around data for large data companies like Google or Apple is very different from how the maritime industry has traditionally viewed data, which is probably a paradigm shift that we need to realize sooner than later.
Now, I want to circle back to the broad topic of the conversation, which is women in maritime. We’ve discussed the fact that the maritime industry is traditionally male-dominated. You talked about being in a boardroom with 20 other people and being the only woman, or at a conference with a few hundred and being one of a few. How do you envision inspiring more women to join the industry?
SL: What you need is a shift in the mindset of the people in power today – that it is a win-win to have more women on board. It shouldn’t be “I have to do this because I have to fill some quota,” or “I have to prove to society that my company is open to women, but I really don’t see the benefit in doing it.” Everyone has to be on board with the idea that this is a huge benefit, having the other side of the society also participating. Having different views will lead to different solution designs and improve the quality of the solutions.
The leaders of the industry should realize that this is a huge opportunity for them and have to start building around that and giving additional incentives for women, speaking directly to women, and not just believing that they have to hire men as well as women. We have to start talking to women directly and attracting them to the industry rather than just talking to everyone and hoping that women will come also.
MW: I want to unpack the mindset shift that you were discussing. Is there a logical way we can convince the senior managers of the maritime industry that hiring more women is not about quotas or increasing diversity but about improving their overall resilience and diversity of input?
SL: I think we need female role models, the success stories of women. We need women in leadership roles, bringing in innovation, bringing in a different team culture, and showing the world and this predominantly male management that this is what you get when you have both parts of society in your company and not only the male part.
MW: Who do you look up to as a role model or mentor?
SL: I’m not very good at finding role models for myself. I don’t know if the reason for that is that I am a woman who has always chosen to work and study in areas that are mostly male. I studied math. The professors I had were all male. There were some female professors, but I didn’t have any courses with them, so it was difficult for me to relate to them. And the same goes for the industry. So many of the people that I have found inspiring in my work were men. So, I never looked at it that way. I never looked for female role models.
MW: Does it matter if your role model is male or female?
SL: It doesn’t matter to me, but I think it matters. There are a lot of studies showing that representation matters. Having people of color work in leadership roles inspires other people of color, and younger people of color try to strive for the same thing. It’s the same for women or other groups in society that are currently underrepresented in specific areas, industries, or roles.
MW: We’ve come to the end of the interview. If you had one piece of advice for a woman looking to succeed in maritime, what would it be?
SL: Be yourself. Don’t try to follow some male stereotype. Even if you get pushed back, be yourself. Be brave, speak, and have an opinion. Be the only one to have a different view on something because that’s how you add value to the industry. That’s very, very important. I would always want those people to be in my team, my project, and my work to have these people who are currently underrepresented in the industry. Those few that are there should speak up and have a voice, and they have to dare to do that.
MW: Thank you, Sahar. It’s been an absolute pleasure sitting down with you again, and I look forward to the next time.
SL: Me too. Thank you.
Who is Sahar Lemanczyk?
Sahar Lemanczyk is managing partner at bloog. She believes that the digital transformation will shape the future of the port industry and that the people in the industry are the key to its success.
Sahar is an expert consultant for digitalization and collaboration. She has used her industry insights and the trust of her clients to create innovations for port and terminal operations. Her projects have not only transformed organizations and the ecosystem around them, but they have also significantly reduced GHG emissions and made operations more efficient.
Sahar studied mathematics and philosophy and has worked in the maritime industry for six years.
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 their 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 around diversity. While we often think of men 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 bring the conversation around it to life.