CASTINE — It wasn’t that long ago that just about the only maritime jobs open to women were limited to the housekeeping and stewards departments on commercial vessels and large yachts.
On the first weekend of November, Maine Maritime Academy and the Federal Maritime Administration (MARAD) hosted an event that reflects the changes in the sometimes hidebound world of marine transportation — the 10th annual Women on the Water Conference.
Over the course of three days, more than 100 maritime academy cadets from the six state maritime academies, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and six Canadian institutions gathered in Castine to meet with industry leaders, maritime professionals, academy representatives and their peers to network with mariners at all career levels.
“We are excited to welcome our maritime colleagues to campus to connect and learn through presentations, panel discussions, workshops, and networking events,” MMA Women on the Water President Mary Shea (Class of 2019) said in a statement.
While in Castine, students and maritime industry professionals, in addition to participating in the conference, had the opportunity to spend time aboard vessels in the academy’s fleet.
The Women on the Water Conference brings cadets from state maritime academies and midshipmen from the United States Merchant Marine Academy together with professional women and men who are leaders in various sectors of the maritime industry.
The event provides an opportunity for both students and maritime professionals to learn about the careers that are available to them directly from successful women and men, as well as hear about current issues affecting the maritime industry.
The conference is also an opportunity for midshipmen, cadets and current maritime professionals to network and share ideas for professional development.
Among the speakers featured at the conference were: MARAD Administrator Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby (USN Ret.); Capt. Elisabeth Pepper, (USCG Ret.), former commanding officer, U.S. Coast Guard Legal Service; and Captain Deborah Dempsey (MMA Class of 1976.)
Dempsey is a star for women at MMA and throughout the maritime industry. The first female graduate in an unlimited Coast Guard license program at any maritime academy, she was also the first American woman captain of a merchant vessel on an international voyage, the first woman captain of a merchant vessel in wartime and the first woman licensed as a Columbia River bar pilot.
According to MARAD, the agency “understands that a more diverse and inclusive workforce will give rise to a stronger and more prosperous maritime industry, and is committed to attracting more women to maritime careers and supporting their progress in the maritime industry.”
There is no question that the maritime world is more diverse, but it still has a long way to go.
According to recent figures from the International Transport Workers’ Federation, women currently make up just 2 percent of the global maritime workforce, with the majority of female seafarers employed on cruise ships or passenger ferries.
In addition to Dempsey MARAD’s Buzby and Pepper, featured speakers at the conference included Women Offshore founder Ally Cedeno and Rita Hausken, leadership strategist. They were joined by some 30 panelists — captains, engineers, educators, pilots, logisticians and other accomplished professionals — who offered their perspective on the issues facing women who pursue careers “on the water.”