“Opportunities for Women in Maritime Singapore” Remarks by Ms Quah Ley Hoon, Chief Executive, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore at World Maritime Day Parallel Event 2019, Cartagena, Colombia on 16 September 2019

16 September 2019

Your Excellencies
Vice Admiral Juan Manuel Soltau, General Maritime Director of Colombia
Mr Lim Kitack, Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

1. Thank you for having me here today.

Women: opportunities and challenges

2. The notion of the opportunities and challenges of being a woman never really crossed my mind until I joined the maritime sector nine months ago.  After all, having been born and grown up in Singapore, where people are the only resource we have, I have never been told that because you are a woman, you cannot do this or that.

3. In Singapore, it is a deliberate policy to ensure that every Singaporean, regardless of gender, ethnicity and financial background, has equal opportunities and access to key resources – education, healthcare, a roof over the head.  Our female literacy rate remains high at 95.9% (versus male: 98.9%), and female labour force participation rate is 60.2% (versus male: 75.6%).  

4. So when I was appointed to my position and I was asked the question of how I would operate differently in a male-dominated industry.  Then, I could not answer as this question had never crossed my mind.  Now, I do have one answer, but I shall leave that answer till later.

The new normal for the maritime industry

5. I want to first talk about where the world and the maritime industry is headed, so we can have a better insight into what this means to all of us, including women. 

6. We are entering into an exciting phase of a “New Normal”.  What is this “New Normal”?  I will describe it with three “Ds”:

i. The first “D” is Disruption.  Trade patterns are shifting rapidly.  New business models, additive manufacturing, new vulnerabilities (such as cyberattacks) are emerging.

ii. The second “D” is Digitalisation.  Industry 4.0, smart and automated systems, and machine learning.  Digital flows of goods and services is already the new currency.  We will see a blurring of lines between shore and sea, physical and virtual, man and machine, system to system.

iii. The third “D” is Decarbonisation.  The international community at the IMO has already set emission targets.  The future of maritime, the future of shipping, and the future of fuels.  Will it be a fuel mix of hydrogen, solar, wind, biomass?  We need more R&D.

Opportunities for women in the maritime industry

7. This “New Normal” means a re-definition of talent is needed for the maritime industry.  We will need talent that is comfortable with rapid shifts in business models and new technological platforms.  We will need cross-disciplinary talent that is digitally agile.  This means a more level and meritocratic playing field for all.  This means an opening up of opportunities for women.

8. Indeed, in Singapore, women play a crucial role in our maritime industry.  We are talking about an industry that contributes about 7% of Singapore’s GDP and employs some 170,000 people across about 5,000 enterprises.

9. There are indeed some challenges for women in the maritime industry especially on the seafaring side.  Some of the questions asked include: “Will I feel welcomed onboard?” “What if I want to start a family?” “Are there opportunities if I want to move on from seafaring or will this experience be irrelevant?”

10. But if we study these questions more carefully, it could apply to both men and women.  This is the reason why, in Maritime Singapore, our messaging about the sector is one that is universal, that focuses on three key messages:

i. Maritime is a career that moves the world.  Without maritime, the world stops.

ii. Maritime is a career that integrates both offshore and onshore opportunities.  We have seafarers including women who have joined us at the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore as a second phase of their career.  Applying their seafaring experience when they come ashore allows them to do their work so much better.

iii. Maritime has arrived at a new normal – with digitalisation, disruption and decarbonisation.  This will equalise the opportunities for all, regardless of gender.  We all need to improve efficiency and productivity.  For example, a remote crane operator can now be monitoring up to 5 cranes in the comforts of an air-conditioned office as compared to climbing up the tower and staying up to 8 to 12 hours a day in a confined crane cabin to shift containers.

11. Let me show you a clip on how some Singaporean women are forging careers within the new normal of the maritime industry.

12. I am proud to say that Maritime Singapore is walking the talk.  Our maritime industry association, union and the maritime administration are headed by women!  Looking within my organisation, women make up more than half of the senior management team.  This was already the case even before I joined the team early this year.  I am excited to be leading Maritime Singapore on our next phase of growth.

Conclusion

13. Growing up in Singapore, I am very fortunate that as a country, we believe in equal opportunities for men and women.

14. So, my response to how I would operate differently in a male-dominated industry, is that, perhaps it is not so much an issue of gender, but other factors such as upbringing, culture, age and life experiences that colours the way we work and treat one another.

15. It is important to approach group dynamics and success beyond the binary terms of man and woman.  Rather, we need to appreciate the complexity of human interaction, manage how perceptions are formed.  I believe this is key to forming strong partnerships and success for all.

16. Thank you.