Change on the rise for maritime industry | Sunday Observer

Change on the rise for maritime industry

Dhashma with her colleagues
Dhashma with her colleagues

When companies have women on their Boards and invest in women-friendly workplaces, they financially outperform those without female leadership. They also see lower rates of absenteeism and less staff turnover. These companies develop better reputations, attract better talent, and increase innovation, and all that leads to a positive cycle of increasing returns, says Chairperson, Women in Logistics and Transport (WiLAT) Sri Lanka, Dhashma Karunaratne.

Karunaratne, also the Commercial and Marketing Manager at South Asia Gateway Terminals (SAGT) was recently adjudged as the ‘Most Inspiring Woman in Ports, 2019’ and received her award at the Global Ports Forum of Singapore held at Dubai’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.

In an interview with the Business Observer, Karunaratne says, she is inspired once again to go forth. “This award was made possible by the many defeats I endured. Yet victory for women is determined by not being defeated. We need to rise above it all and be resilient.”


Q: What does this achievement mean to you?

A: That sacrifice and hard work pays off, and I dedicate this award to all the hard-working women; who sacrifice immensely each day to balance career responsibilities and their family. And I must say, my mother tops them all, she sacrificed much for me, and believed in me from the day God knitted me in her womb.

Q: Tell us about how women’s role in the maritime industry has changed since you joined it?

A: Marvellous developments have eliminated barriers to entry for women in so called traditionally male dominated jobs, in industries. In a world where a crane operator lifts two 40 ton Containers simultaneously, remotely from a joystick, sitting at a control room a few kilometres away from the quay, and a store keeper scans Stock Units a few meters above ground level through a drone; the possibilities are endless.

Q: If more women are to join the industry today, what qualities- professionally and personally- should they develop to meet the future challenges of the industry?

A: You need to be an expert in the rudiments. The differentiation is in the detail, whether it be in customer engagement, formulating contracts or executing marketing strategies. Understanding of self is a critical success factor, emotional and cultural intelligence has assisted me much, just as my professional and educational qualifications have. It’s my belief that a degree is only an entry qualification. Continuous professional development is key, there’s a positive co-relation between career-success and a person’s emotional and cultural intelligence.

If I may speak a little about my career journey thus far - I am a Management Accountant by profession, and I have made every effort to broaden my knowledge. It didn’t come easily, it’s an investment made with sacrifices. As a little girl I wanted to be a doctor, as in my parents’ mind this was the best profession a talented girl should aspire to. However, with time I realized their choice for me, wasn’t in line with my talents and my passion. I embarked on a different journey for myself. I enrolled for CIMA (Chartered Institute of Managment Accountants), and my parents and husband (then boyfriend) funded it, I completed my CIMA and then enrolled to study Human Resources. Thereafter, I got married and shortly thereafter enrolled for my Masters at the University of Colombo, when I had my first baby I qualified as a Forex dealer, my latest achievement was becoming a chartered member of CILT, this was when I was on maternity leave for my second baby, just a year ago. I have always worked towards continuous professional development, no matter the odds. This has enabled me to broaden my horizon.

Q: How do you see the industry’s requirements in the future?

A: Cost leadership will be the way forward. With the introduction of low sulphur fuel in compliance with the IMO 2020, costs will further rise. For an industry that is already in the red, cost leadership will be the game changer.

Shipping lines will derive optimum slot cost-competitiveness only on the Ultra-Large Container Vessels. Big ships are here to stay.

Around 14,000 – 20,000 plus size vessels will operate on the East to West trade route and 8,000-10,000 TEU vessels will be the adaptable, flexible workhorses that feed to and from the Ultra-Large Container Vessels (ULCV) .The Hub and Spoke model will continue to grow in preference, for shipping lines. With more and bigger ships being deployed to the main East-West shipping route, the need for the hub and spoke transshipment model to fill big ships, will remain as Economies of scale drive slot-cost efficiency for the vessel operator.

The Cost structure of the Colombo Port remains a very attractive option to shipping lines who ultimately determine the shipping network.

Q: What are the benefits for offshore or shipping companies that hire more women?

A: Recent research tells us just as men bring important skills to a workplace, an equal proportion of women would introduce different, (and just as effective) skills, which when pooled together in an organization, would see a surge in creativity, innovation and growth.

When companies have women on their Boards and invest in women-friendly workplaces, they financially outperform those without female leadership. They also see lower rates of absenteeism and less staff turnover. These companies develop better reputations, attract better talent, and increase innovation, and all that leads to a beneficial cycle of increasing returns.

Q: How can we encourage female participation in the Maritime industry?

A: Creating Awareness is imperative- on one hand we need Corporates to understand that diversity is good for business. The research findings are very clear. As per McKinsey, Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. On the other hand we need to create awareness among potential new entrants to the workforce. Advising them of the opportunities in the Logistics and Transportation industry through creative promotional campaigns such as walks, floater competitions, drama and creative arts and internships which have all contributed significantly to this cause.

Q: What is the bottleneck for reducing the gender gap at Ports and at sea?

A: Awareness and lack of committed mentors. WiLAT understood this well in advance and conceptualised and launched ‘Ignite’, a mentoring program that is well structured. Today Ignite has reaped rewards to both mentors and mentees’ and is now adopted by WiLAT chapters all around the globe. Last November we celebrated our 5th Anniversary and yet again inducted over 20 mentees, from both genders.

Q: What resources are there for female employees to advance their careers in the Maritime and Logistics industry?

A: My employer, SAGT is currently pursuing a gender diversity strategy. The company is well aware that a diverse organisation will have a sustainable competitive advantage. SAGT has been supporting- the ZONTA, Women in Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA), and Women in Logistics and Transportation (WILAT).

SAGT nurtures a strong internship program with several opportunities across all functional areas. The company’s close engagement with universities and other tertiary-level educational institutions has produced some stellar success stories in regards to mentoring graduates to a career in the maritime, transport and logistics sector. The company takes on interns far more in number than it can integrate into its mainstream workforce. But this is by design, to facilitate a greater opportunity for many for a hands-on learning experience and subsequently enabling young emergent talent to shape their futures within the diverse areas of the broader supply-chain and logistics industry.

In 2017 SAGT partnered with the UN Women ‘HeforShe’ program launched by WiLAT in Sri Lanka, the company signed up to demonstrate leadership on gender equality and pledged to give support for advancing equality between women and men, so as to -

Bring the broadest pool of talent to our endeavors,

Further our companies’ competitiveness,

Meet our corporate responsibility and sustainability commitments,

Model behavior within our companies that reflects the society we would like for our employees, fellow citizens and families,

Encourage economic and social conditions that provide opportunities for women and men, and

Foster sustainable development in the countries in which we operate.

SAGT is a corporate member of the High-Level Advocacy Group of IFC’s Women in Work program, launched in partnership with the Government of Australia, aimed at providing Sri Lankan businesses with strategies and tools to create more and better private-sector employment and business opportunities for women. SAGT is committed to make a significant change in the female representation in the Terminal Operation business.

Q: I assume the best way for women to support each other is to join organizations like WiLAT. What can men do to help?

A: Effective inclusion and diversity strategies require strong, passionate leadership, like any other strategy, this too requires constant monitoring and realignment. WiLAT-SL, in partnership with UNWomen launched an impactful ‘HeForShe’ program. As per UN Women Men comprise sixty percent of the employed labour force, and 95% of the CEOs of the world’s largest corporations are men. The achievement of gender equality requires an inclusive approach that recognizes the crucial role of men and boys as partners for women’s empowerment. As we believe that men are poised well to amplify their women colleague’s achievements.

Therefore we invited CEOs to lead by example through actions that demonstrably advance and empower women. WiLAT SL obtained the support of 10 CEOs from leading corporates in Logistics and Transport, namely Aitken Spence, CICT, Expo Lanka, Hayleys, Hemas, JKH, McLarens, SAGT, SLPA and Unilever. By obtaining CEO statements from these entities; assuring and guaranteeing women empowerment in their respective organizations, we are confident of a new dawn. Globally 1,416 CEOs have signed up as an expression of support for advancing equality between women and men.

Q: What will be the game changer for women professionals?

A: As you may know Sri Lankan women representation in the labour force was 36.6% in 2017, however as per the latest numbers released by the department of Census and Statistics, in Q3 2018, this has dropped to 34% so its imperative that we as a country, address this in a strategic manner, on an urgent basis.

For Sri Lanka to achieve the ambitious goal of becoming a regional logistics hub by 2020, we must embrace diversity. Enhancing women representation in the workforce is the game changer, it is indeed a moral imperative, and makes good economic sense

For any female entering Logistics and Transportation it is a ‘Blue Ocean’; as there are many unchartered markets to explore.

If they are bold enough to explore these opportunities, and carve out a niche for themselves, they will amply benefit.