INTERVIEW: “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community” with Aideen O’Driscoll

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With the IMO selecting Empowering Women in the Maritime Community” as this year’s World Maritime Day theme, and when less than 2% of 1.2 million seafarers worldwide are female, improving gender equality through increasing female presence and visibility in the maritime industry is rightfully high on the shipping industry’s agenda.   

An advocate for women in maritime, Aideen O’Driscoll, Ardmore Director of Human Resources, was awarded the 30% Club UCC Executive MBA Scholarship at the Cork University Business School and recently represented Ardmore Shipping at this year’s IMO Empowering Women in the Maritime Community” event. We caught up with Aideen to learn more about her role at Ardmore, key takeaways from the conference and discover more on her perspective around improving gender equality across the maritime industry.   

Tell us more about your role at Ardmore Shipping?

I actually started out on the legal side at Ardmore as a legal associate after training as a solicitor with the Law Society of Ireland. The HR manager position came up at Ardmore, and I felt my skills could be transferable. From there, I was promoted to HR director and have now been with the company for four years.

You recently visited the IMO’s ‘Empowering women in Maritime’ conference, what were your key learnings from this event and how will you apply these at Ardmore Shipping?

It was a great event and there was real sense of community. There was a panel of five successful women from various organisations within the maritime industry who spoke about their experiences, who and what helped them progress, and the challenges they faced. Some spoke of the isolation they had experienced when they started their career when there were fewer women in the industry, in comparison with today, when the number of women is increasing and support networks such as WISTA exist. However, all acknowledged that there is much left to do.

One of the biggest key learnings from the conference for me was around visibility; the more visible women are within the maritime industry the more normalized the industry becomes to an equal workforce. At Ardmore over 50% of the shore staff are female. We are making real progress and will continue working hard to actively encourage and support women in advancing within the company. It is  crucial that women coming through the ranks not only have support from leaders in their organisations and throughout the industry, but also from each other. We have recently appointed a highly qualified and experienced senior executive to our Board, and she also just happens to be a woman.

You were awarded The University of College Cork UCC Executive MBA, firstly what were the reasons for your application and secondly why do you think initiatives like this are important for equality within the maritime industry?

The 30% club is a fantastic organisation aimed at having 30% female representation in senior management in Ireland by 2020. One way in which they look to achieve this is through offering scholarships to women looking to progress their careers in business. After discussing the opportunity with the senior management team at Ardmore, who were exceptionally supportive, I decided to apply. I was able to draw on examples and experience in my role as HR director at Ardmore to support my application. So far, I am really enjoying the course and have gained a lot out of the experience which is already proving of real value in the workplace.

I believe initiatives like this are vital as they provide the experience, knowledge and confidence that enable women in industry to reach their full potential and to drive change.

What changes do you believe the maritime industry needs to make in order to improve gender equality?

In order to improve gender equality, one of the main transformations the maritime industry must undergo is creating and building awareness of the career possibilities through improving visibility and perception, particularly among women and girls. Unfortunately, some still consider the maritime industry as an industry that only offers opportunities for men. We need to change that narrative by celebrating and promoting the successes and accomplishments of the talented women already thriving in maritime careers.  When women progress, and succeed at senior levels, they show women coming through the ranks just what is possible. I also believe offering support and guidance through mentoring is important in encouraging women to apply for opportunities and to take the jump!