Riding the Waves of Change: Women in Canada's Evolving Marine Industry
March 8th marks an important day of celebration and reflection as the world comes together to commemorate International Women's Day. This global event recognizes the incredible social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and their ongoing fight for gender equality.
All Hands on Deck! Women are Changing the Face of the Canadian Marine Industry Women are increasingly occupying more roles on board Canadian vessels, as well as onshore. A 2021 study from Transport Canada, showed that 25% of overall marine transportation workers were female, with between 3-7% of navigation, deck and marine engineering positions being filled by women.
The marine industry is undergoing a significant demographic shift as many experienced workers reach retirement age. To maintain a strong and diverse workforce, the marine sector is actively seeking new talent from a variety of backgrounds, including younger individuals, those with varied educations and training, and more diverse racial and gender demographics.
Although progress is being made, achieving true gender parity in the marine industry requires further work. To attract more women to the sector and increase awareness of career progression opportunities, the CMCF believes it is essential to explore new ways of promoting marine careers. Industry-wide opportunities for mentorship and networking should continue to be expanded, along with the implementation of practices that foster inclusivity, work/life balance, and support for diverse talent.
Getting Connected: Mentorships and Networking Opportunities for Women Gina Delle Rose-Ash, Supply Chain & Strategic Innovation Lead at the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA), and Marine Club board member, saw an opportunity to create a space for women in the marine industry to network and build new industry connections. In 2018, she championed the first Women in Logistics (WIL) event in Toronto. Starting with just 20 attendees, the event has grown each year, with almost 100 women attending the first in-person event post-Covid. The WIL event is centric to the Great Lakes and its shipping and transport industries but welcomes women in all related fields, including rail and trucking. Delle Rose-Ash sees Women in Logistics as an important way to build a network of ambitious and engaged women who can form strong relationships to support each other in the industry.
“Women in Logistics has become such a strong network of women. All the women tell me they feel it’s led to so many opportunities to reach out to each other after the event is over. This is about women supporting women, we’re excited to see each other, no one is shy. It’s amazing to see,” Gina explains.
Women in Logistics’ partner, the Great Lakes Seaway Review publication, created the Impact! Award, an annual award that recognizes the work of women in the logistics industry. Nominations for the award open in fall, and the award is presented at the WIL networking event each January.
St. Catharines-based Algoma Central Corporation has committed to supporting seafaring women in advancing into management roles. In 2022, Algoma provided 12 cadet placements to female Deck and Engine Officers out of the 58 placements it offers to marine school students across Canada. Algoma views this as a significant step towards closing the gaps in shipboard positions.
One of the challenges faced by women in the industry is the extended time away from home required by seafaring positions. “Despite a shift in traditional household roles, many women still do not want to be away from home for extended periods of time. Although we cannot eliminate the need to be away from home completely, we have been working closely with our labour partners to develop enhanced leave systems that provide a consistent, predictable schedule that reduces the duration of time at work and away from home as well as increasing the frequency of scheduled time off,” explains Brooke Cameron, Senior Manager, Fleet Personnel at Algoma.
Algoma also participates and supports various events that highlight women's contributions to the marine industry. The annual Women on the Water Conference is one such event that provides female mariners from across North America with the opportunity to network with industry leaders, maritime professionals, and possible future employers. Algoma has also been a sponsor of the Women in Logistics event since it began in 2018.
Colleges and Training Programs for Women Colleges and training programs play an essential role promoting gender equity in the marine industry and raising career awareness and possibilities for female students. These institutions have been working to create programs and initiatives that encourage women to pursue careers in the marine sector.
For example, British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) has been working to promote gender equity in the sector through initiatives such as Women in Engineering, and their Enhanced Bridge Watch Rating (BWR-E) program. This unique program offers female and indigenous students the foundation skills and Transport Canada certification required to get entry-level employment as a deckhand. This program is fully-funded, with tuition costs subsidized for eligible students.
Ontario’s Georgian College hosts events and workshops throughout the year to promote gender equity in the marine industry. For example, they organize the annual Women in Trades and Technology Event, which brings together female students, graduates, and industry professionals to network and share their experiences. Their WOMEN’S inTUITION fund empowers women by raising funds for awards and scholarships for female students in financial need enrolled in the college’s apprenticeship, certificate, diploma and degree programs.
Georgian has previously held panel sessions with female industry professionals, including those from LGBTQ+ communities, discussing their experiences navigating their careers in a male-dominated industry. All cadets, regardless of gender, are encouraged to attend these sessions to foster a sense of allyship between peers and create change in the industry. Another initiative at Georgian College is their "Women on the Water" group, which meets regularly and aims to build a community of female seafarers (nicknamed Shefarers), sharing advice with cadets and providing feedback on how to best support them as they enter the industry.
International Women’s Day and Beyond On International Women's Day, we recognize the progress that has been made in the Canadian marine industry and the sector’s work towards greater inclusivity and diversity.
By continuing to promote gender parity and gender equity in all industries, we can create a more equitable work that benefits everyone for an inclusive future.