WISTA, Women and Shipping

Congratulations to WISTA Singapore for putting on an excellent 20th anniversary celebration conference and party in the Lion City recently.

It was refreshing to attend a shipping event not dominated by the usual grey haired men in suits droning on about the endless industry depression ,the tyranny of irrational exuberance and the boom and bust cycle.

The WISTA Singapore conference was a revelation. I think it’s the first time I have been at an industry event at which around 70% were women. The debate, the social interaction and networking were refreshingly different.

The tone was set by WISTA Singapore’s President Magdalene Chew. Ms Chew told the delegates the conference programme would not be dominated by endless discussion about diversity. A provocative start perhaps – but one that turned out to be the right direction. After all, discussions on diversity these days are a bit like debating the merits of fresh air.

Ms Chew argued that because diversity is a topic which transcends every debate about business today, it was more important to demonstrate female leadership and insight on nitty -gritty business issues such as the future development of ports and terminals in Asia and cyber security.

While the diversity issue was the red thread throughout the conference, the quality of the discussion on a range of complex issues shone through. Men were invited to speak and several made valuable contributions. It is a credit to WISTA as a women’s group that they do not exclude men from meetings and discussion.

The ‘Mister WISTAs’ were part of the celebration but this was very much a women’s event for women and organised by women.

The many senior women professionals who contributed to the conference did so without ego and often in a self deprecating way , full of modesty and good humour.

When did you last see any of that at a male dominated shipping conference?

As a fully paid up member of the Male Pale and Stale shipping industry, this was a personal moment of Pauline Conversion.

It got me thinking : how different would the shipping industry be if there was true equality of opportunity between men and women in the business? It seems absurd that so many men drift effortlessly into shipping while the barriers to female entry and progression remain real.

It is changing but it is not changing fast enough.

The Singapore branch of WISTA was set up 20 years ago and WISTA International started in 1974. Things have changed in that time and I sense the pace of change is fastest in Asia.

Our company Helix PR was fortunate to organise the WISTA Singapore 20th anniversary bash and the number of younger women from the region at the event was highly encouraging.

With its tiny population and commitment to diversity , Singapore as a nation and economy is committed to diversity and equal opportunity for women : anything less and the leaders know Singapore will fail. It’s a matter of maximizing all limited resources.

But there is also growing evidence in other parts of the region which shows that women are playing a greater role in shipping. Women formed more than half the delegates at an event we produced in Dalian, China aimed at senior shipping and logistics executives last year.

Shipping has to produce a more colourful, compelling narrative for young women to feel inspired to join the business . One of the most inspiring discussions at the Singapore WISTA event was a panel called “How I Did It” .

The title is not encouraging. If that had been a male dominated panel, it could have been excruciating.

But the women speakers on the panel, each of them successful business people from diverse parts of the industry, were truly inspiring. Their stories were funny, candid and revealing.

But above all they were stories about effort, persistence and success against the odds in a business which still clings to the Uber risk taking, macho, winner-takes-all culture that continues to hold shipping back.

Well done WISTA : I have become a fully paid up member of the Mister WISTA club.


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Edward Ion

Managing Director