TECHNOLOGY AND EFFICIENCY March 2020 WISTA: Why female role models and networks matter Men have been doing it for centuries; using all-male networks, clubs and role models to seek inspiration and support from like- minded professionals. For Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, President of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA), the benefit of all-female networks and role models to encourage women in shipping has become apparent. The benefit of all-female networks and role models to encourage women in shipping has become apparent By Mette Kronholm Frænde, Communications Manager and Editor at BIMCO As the shipping industry aims to attract more women, Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, President of WISTA and Co-Chief Executive of Tototheo Maritime acknowledges the need for change and the progress already made. In some areas of shipping, the journey towards a more diverse workforce has barely begun while in others, some industry executives long ago realised and accepted that diversity can transform and bring much-needed innovation to a traditional trade. To continue making progress, Theodosiou believes female role models and networks are key to encouraging even more women to take up leadership positions, go to sea, establish themselves as marine biologists, assume technical roles and lead as policymakers. “One of the problems of the past was that we did not see that many women out there but, now, this has changed. With WISTA, I have grown a lot as a professional and as a person, because I meet all these inspiring women,” she says. Men have been doing this for years, but up until recently, women did not have that platform Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, President of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) “The network is so important. Men have been doing this for years, but up until recently, women did not have that platform; the opportunity to be in the same room as hundreds of other women with the same professional ambitions and concerns. It is inspiring for the women already there, as well as for the young women just starting out.” Striving for a merit-based environment While much remains to be done, Theodosiou is encouraged by the changes she sees in her everyday professional life. Most encouraging is the way the industry is, albeit slowly, adapting to a new dynamic way of thinking – a way she believes is more suited to our time. “Having ambition as a woman in business can still make some people feel uncomfortable. But looking at the bigger picture, I am seeing the industry transforming,” says Theodosiou. “We are faced with increasing regulatory demands and technological transformation, and to deal with both, we need all the resources at our disposal. Obviously, the best talents are not just men or just women. This is gradually being realised and we see companies and executives reacting to the fact that diversity brings innovation, different perspectives and, therefore, greater chances of success.” Moving to a more merit-based environment within the industry, to make sure that the best talent is available for the job, is a necessary tool, according to Theodosiou. “I am hopeful, because we have a new generation of people – young people – who have grown up understanding the importance of this. They do not fear diversity and equality.” In addition, she believes, a number of other initiatives and approaches are necessary to help fuel the progress already made. Obviously, the best talents are not just men or just women Fortunately, in the past few years, Theodosiou has detected the emergence of other organisations supporting the mission. “WISTA is no longer the only voice for diversity in shipping. We see many other associations taking part now, organisations that don’t necessarily have diversity as their core mission,” she says. “This, I believe, is a tremendous benefit. Although much is still to be done, I believe our industry is starting to come together.” Connect with BIMCO “We need to be better at promoting our own industry, encouraging the value of the sector to young people, to ensure that we are building up a pipeline of both female and male staff,” says Theodosiou. “And we need to encourage all businesses in the industry to take responsibility for delivering practices that make female workers welcome and that offer career progression in a way that encourages the right women – as well as the right men – to achieve leadership roles,” she adds. One of the biggest hurdles to attracting and retaining women in the international shipping industry is its sheer scale. In some parts of the world, prejudice still prevails and changing attitudes can be an uphill task. Facebook Twitter Linkedin YouTube Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou is President of WISTA International, an organisation for women in maritime sector management positions. There are 50 WISTA National Associations around the world, with more than 3,000 individual members. She is also joint Chief Executive Officer of Tototheo Maritime, a global supplier of equipment and services for maritime satellite and radio communications, bridge navigation systems, automated applications, and operational efficiency solutions. Despina is on the board of numerous organisations, including the Cyprus Shipping Chamber, the Cyprus Employers and Industrialists Federation, the Cyprus Maritime Academy, and the Crans Montana Club of Ports’ Strategic Committee. She grew up in Cyprus and holds degrees from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the Copenhagen Business School, and the University of Oxford.