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Celebrating International Women’s Day: interviews with Intelsat & partners

 

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From left to right: Beatriz Martinez, Zoe Morphitou, Sue Henney, Anneley Pickles, Charis Psaropoulou

As part of International Women’s Day on March 8, we asked five women from Intelsat and its partners KVH and Navarino about what it’s like to be a woman working in the maritime industry today.

What first attracted you to the maritime industry?

Beatriz Martinez, manager of business solutions engineering at Intelsat

I’ve loved big sailing ships since I was a kid – I always tried to include them in my school projects whenever I could, whether it was drawing tall ships or using them as the main topic for compositions, presentations or even songs! I could always find an excuse to incorporate a bit of the maritime world into my daily life.

As a telecommunications engineer specialised in satellite communications, I’ve been working on maritime communications solutions for more than six years. Currently, I’m working for Intelsat supporting the maritime product team bringing their new products and ideas to life.

Zoe Morphitou, KVH regional sales manager EMEA

I started working in shipping in 1994. It wasn’t an industry that I knew anything about, but I soon found out how exciting it was. In shipping, your job is never boring. There are new challenges every day in a multicultural world. I got curious in learning more about the different sectors of this industry, and I have tried different positions as an accountant on shore as well as a purser on board vessels, and now as a sales manager focused on maritime satellite communications.

Sue Henney, marketing director for EMEA & Content at KVH

I really knew very little about ships and their importance locally or globally beforehand but my first job out of uni was for a small Liverpool company that supplied to the industry. Despite expecting that job to be a stop gap, it really opened my eyes to the international nature of the maritime industry and the range of opportunities it could offer. And just like that, it’s thirty years later, and I still love working in maritime!

Anneley Pickles, business development manager at KVH

I’ve been part of the maritime industry for 24+ years and still enjoying the wonderful diverse sector that it is. I didn’t start out planning a career in maritime. Maritime found me and I was very lucky with my first position out of university working for Lloyd’s of London Press (LLP) now Informa and I was hooked.

Charis Psaropoulou RIC, quality assurance & compliance manager at Navarino

I was raised in a family where most men were either seafarers or executives in shipping companies with my father being one of them. It felt right to follow in his footsteps, given also the fact that the maritime industry has always been the healthiest sector for Greece’s economy. So, I joined, 35 years ago and ever since I have been working in different roles for shipowners, chartering brokers, marine consultants and satcom & technology companies. I am currently working for Navarino as the head of the quality assurance and compliance dept.

What are some of your biggest achievements and hurdles overcome since joining the industry?

Beatriz: Since I joined Intelsat, I’ve been very lucky to work designing & setting up one of the largest global maritime communications networks, FlexMaritime, alongside some of the best satcom maritime experts in the world. I’ve been involved in the project since the beginning, so I’ve seen the network grow and evolve from the start to current status, where we are providing connectivity to thousands of vessels.

It has also given me the opportunity to meet customers from around the world and understand their needs first-hand and the value of our solution, showing how FlexMaritime will enable their services keeping them connected anywhere in the world.

Zoe: Working onboard during times that “seaman” was considered to be a man’s job was not so easy. There were many challenges to deal with but it also helped me understand better life onboard and the needs of a sea person.

Sue: At KVH, I’m proud to be part of a team that really does care about delivering a fantastic service to people at sea. Launching KVH Link was a massive milestone as it is a crew-focused service, delivering hundreds of daily news stories, clips and shows, movies, TV shows, music radio, and karaoke to seafarers in an array of languages. Outside of KVH, I’m extremely proud to be a trustee of ISWAN and to be a co-founder of Liverpool Propeller Club, a maritime networking group.

Anneley: In the early days, I was lucky enough to travel all over the world to attend events, meet customers and promote the industry. One of my most memorable achievements was taking a meeting with a foreign Navy. Naively, thinking this would just be a meeting with two people, I walked into a conference room with 20+ people.  I learnt there and then, be prepared for anything. Thankfully they signed the deal and it was one of the best work trips I completed.  Additionally, I was also part of a team of five that set up the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI).  Plus, I am extremely proud to be the founder of the First Thursday Networking Event which has since led to the Propeller Club Liverpool. 

Charis: I believe that I am well respected as a professional for my integrity, trustworthiness, engagement, knowledge and efficiency. In my view, this is the greatest achievement of all. Consequently, throughout the years, I have enjoyed MVP rewards for my performance, I have received valuable job offers even at times when I was not seeking one. However, being the first woman appointed as a senior manager at Navarino has been the most important recognition I have ever received. This is an achievement, considering the fact that such an honour comes from a well-established company which is a pioneer in the area of their expertise worldwide.

A hurdle, mainly during the 80s and 90s, was that as a woman working in a male dominated industry, I had to work twice as hard to earn trust and respect and to be perceived and treated as equal.

What are some of the biggest challenges and rewards of working in the maritime environment? 

Beatriz: I find it highly rewarding to be part of a global project of such a magnitude - keeping vessels and people connected all around the world. When you look at a real-time maritime traffic map, you start to get an idea of the scale of the industry and the service we are providing, and I really feel that I’m bringing value to a lot of people and changing their lives with my day-to-day work.

I also think that working with customers at a global scale and getting to know the different cultures has strongly contributed to my personal growth.

Zoe: As a woman you have many challenges in the maritime environment. You have to work hard to gain the trust and recognition from your male colleagues/associates. Once you do though you become a part of a big family and that is very satisfying.

Sue: The rewards are the opportunities that come with a huge, diverse, international industry and the fantastic range of people you meet.

Anneley: In my first few years in the industry and a woman travelling alone it was quite a challenge and often daunting to walk into a room with very senior people. The rewards for me now are being able to support younger colleagues who are now entering this great industry.

Charis: Working in maritime is very demanding and can be quite stressful. Time is crucial and everything happens very fast. That means I have always had to make myself available 24/7.

With all the technological and regulatory changes, I had to continuously educate myself, in order to be relevant and effective.

Apart from this, during my early years, I had to prove daily that I belong in the industry and that being a woman did not mean I lacked the capability or the accountability needed for the job nor that I could not perform to a high standard.

As for the rewards, besides the higher salaries and better benefits compared to other industries and the opportunity to travel around the world and meet interesting people, I personally consider priceless the adrenaline rush I get from work and the fact that I learn new things every day. No two days are alike. I never get bored. That is important if you consider how much time we spend at work during a lifetime.

As a woman in the maritime industry, what do you think the industry needs to do to improve the recruitment and retention of more women?

Beatriz: Just like other male-dominated industries, there needs to be a cultural change, so women feel welcome- and have the same opportunities as their male peers. This is not something that can be fought by only the few women already in the industry. There needs to be proactive initiatives from the leadership boards to promote this gender equality. It’s been demonstrated that diversity improves creativity and productivity, so it would be beneficial for everyone.

Regarding attraction of new talent, I think there should be targeted campaigns to increase visibility to young women in the sector. Working in the maritime industry has probably not crossed the mind of a lot of them, but the truth is that there are a lot of exciting opportunities, especially as more women are choosing STEM careers. Approaching them during their college years would likely yield good results.

Zoe: When I started working in shipping, I was entering rooms that were full of men. I used to get that look of “what is she doing here?” This has been changed over the years, but we still need to educate our children and talk more about how exciting the maritime industry is. Explain that men and women can equally do a good job as long as they love what they are doing. There are so many sectors in the maritime world that anyone can fit.

Sue: The shore-based industry has made some good progress in the recruitment and retention of women in the last couple of years and more females are visible in senior roles. As this continues, women will naturally see role models they relate to and feel more comfortable in the industry. It was important to start to change this by creating awareness with initiatives and campaigns, and it’s a great tribute to the industry that it is moving along at pace. At sea there is still a huge deficit of women so the industry needs to work harder at promoting the voices of female seafarers and to make seafaring an attractive career choice for young women around the globe.

Anneley: The sector has improved greatly over the years to attract and retain women in maritime roles, but we can do more. Providing a clear career path (regardless of it being a woman or man) should be the focus of a good employer. Employees want to know where they fit in, what they can bring and how their journey can evolve within the organisation. Knowing that you are in partnership together helps engagement, builds trust and ultimately cements a relationship with longevity. For me, seeing more women in senior roles shines a light on our sector and puts a focus on the fact that those coming into maritime could also take such positions.

Charis: Nowadays, new technologies, new regulations and new maritime needs in general broaden the roles that are required in the field. That makes women equally appealing and welcome. Societies have also progressed on equality matters and women are accepted in roles previously where they were not welcome. I was pleased to read recently that 50 per cent of the students at the Dept of Maritime Studies in Piraeus are women. So, it is important to convey the message and enhance awareness about what our industry can offer to young women as well as encourage them in terms of what they are capable of contributing, accordingly.

Establishing more female role models and promoting existing ones could help that and would certainly improve women’s recruitment and retention.

What advice would you give to other women thinking about joining the industry?

Beatriz: If you are doubting whether to join the maritime industry and you enjoy challenge and adventure, I would say, go for it! It’s an exciting industry that will allow you to interact with people all around the world, allowing you to grow in your career as well as at a personal level.

Zoe: When you start working in the shipping industry, is difficult to leave. It is an exciting and challenging journey within a multicultural world, that rewards you with lots of knowledge.

Sue: Make connections with people in the industry and pick their brains. As mentioned, we tend to be passionate about the industry and are eager to help people who want to come and join us. In Liverpool, the Propeller Club has great links with the local colleges and universities, and we integrate the students into our social events so they form relationships with people working in maritime and can learn first-hand about the industry, the people and the opportunities.

Anneley: If you can find a mentor within your field, do it. Not only will you benefit from the experience of someone who has gone before you, you’ll always have someone to give sound advice when it comes to a career path. Join a maritime networking club. These are invaluable places to meet a wide sector of the industry. Great places to find out about new positions, to gain valuable support where needed and importantly do business. Where else would you have access to a huge book of contacts!

Charis: I would say that whether one joins the maritime industry is irrelevant to gender. It is mostly about capability, skills and durability. It is a demanding industry in which both men and women must work hard to high standards, continuously seek knowledge, be fiery, innovative and available. It can be well worth the journey!

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