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Shipping executives need to address sexual harassment

Fear of a negative career impact remains a barrier to speaking out about inappropriate behaviour

EXECUTIVES of leading shipping companies should stand up and pledge to raise awareness of sexual harassment within the industry and implement standards within their companies to prevent it, Nor-Shipping director Birgit Marie Liodden has told Lloyd’s List.

In a recent blog post, Ms Liodden, who is also a board member of Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association Norway, spoke of some of her experiences as a victim of sexual harassment and physical and verbal assault.

Following revelations of the problem in various other industries, Ms Liodden has taken it upon herself to kick-start the conversation in the shipping industry, strongly motivated by people — particularly younger women — who had approached her to share their experiences but who were also uncomfortable sharing them with the public.

Her initiative, which includes a set of guidelines on what behaviour is and is not appropriate, is personal and independent of any of her business affiliations.

Despite having been mistreated herself, Ms Liodden contends that she knows of other women who have dealt with far worse in the industry.

The direct goal of her initiative is to halt inappropriate behaviour, she said. While certain initiatives and correcting individuals who act offensively may alleviate some part of the problem, there needs to be a broader effort to mitigate it.

Having effective structures in place within companies and organisations for identifying inappropriate behaviour, coupled with a solid reporting procedure for violations, and followed by repercussions, could help with prevention.

Raising awareness could foster greater involvement and engagement, leading individuals to intervene in cases where they detect harassment, Ms Liodden added.

She plans to continue the conversation within Wista Norway, and internationally, and expressed an aim to look at the potential of establishing an initiative that goes beyond international borders and industry segments.

Ms Liodden may have been candid about her past experiences but she notes that limitations remain to being fully open; the personal cases she described in her blog post were older instances involving people who no longer affect her businesses, she explained.

There have been, however, more recent instances of harassment that she chose not to disclose because that would be negative for current business.

Research and results

Ms Liodden believes a greater understanding of the extent of sexual harassment in the industry could be borne out with more factual research.

A 2016 joint ICS ITF guidance on eliminating shipboard harassment and bullying addressed sexual harassment.

In August 2017, the non-profit Ship Operations Cooperative Programme published a best practice guide for preventing sexual assault and harassment as well as other prohibited actions. The guide focuses on the US fleet.

The Southampton Solent University 2017 Gender Empowerment and Multi-cultural Crew report looked into seafarer welfare issues including sexual harassment, abuse and bullying — all of which it found to be fundamental problems that female seafarers face. 

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