Equal at Sea: Maersk's Aparna Raju on empowering women in the maritime sector
In a remarkable display of talent and determination, women have been shattering barriers and making their mark across various industries, including the traditionally male-dominated maritime sector. However, despite the growing number of women entering the seafaring profession, fear and societal stereotypes often discourage many others from pursuing a career in this field.
Aparna Raju, Engine Cadet, Maersk, India believes that fear is a perception that can be overcome with self-belief and determination.
Recognising the immense potential of these exceptional women, Maersk has launched the "Equal at Sea" initiative which is dedicated to fostering a more inclusive and diverse maritime industry. The primary goal of this initiative is to increase the representation of women seafarers and cultivate an equitable workplace culture within the industry.
On this International Day for Women in Maritime (May 18), dive into the inspiring story of Raju, a woman seafarer who fearlessly pursued her dreams. In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, she candidly shared her journey, triumphs, and challenges in a male-dominated profession in India, how she successfully managed to strike a balance between her life on and off the ship and also offered advice for women aspiring to make a career on the waves.
What inspired you to pursue a career as a seafarer, and how did you get started in the industry?
At the age of 12 years, my interest in the seafaring industry was sparked during a career counselling session. Thanks to my mother's encouragement, I began exploring this field, and my curiosity and enthusiasm for it grew. As I learned more about the industry, I developed a keen interest in marine engineering, attracted by the exciting opportunities for innovation and the chance to work and travel internationally while meeting people from diverse backgrounds.
Looking back, I can say that my journey as a seafarer has helped me develop as an individual. It has allowed me to witness first-hand how the industry has progressed and evolved, with innovations and new technology being introduced regularly. One example of this is the industry's efforts to implement decarbonisation, making it the first to do so.
What I love about being at sea is that it takes me out of my comfort zone, allowing me to face challenges and problems on my own, while also experiencing different cultures and perspectives. Despite the challenges and obstacles that come with the profession, every day I feel a sense of fulfillment for the milestones I have achieved and the personal and professional growth I continue to experience. The seafaring industry is not just a job, but a way of life that offers endless opportunities for exploration, learning, and self-discovery.
How do you navigate the challenges of working in a male-dominated field? What strategies have you found to be effective?
Although seafaring is traditionally a male-dominated field, my experience working with Maersk has been positive. I have always felt respected, safe, and equal to my male colleagues, thanks to the gender sensitivity on board.
However, there are still those who cling to gender stereotypes.
As women in this industry, it is our responsibility to break these stereotypes by sharing our stories and motivating others to pursue their passions. I've encountered scepticism and disbelief from people outside the industry who can't imagine a woman working as an engineer on a ship. But for me, it's not about societal expectations; it's about my abilities and belief in myself.
While there may be situations where you're considered weak or incapable, there's always room for improvement and the opportunity to prove yourself. I'm proud of the milestones I've achieved every day, no matter how challenging they may be.
How has the seafaring industry evolved over the past decade? What areas do you believe should be improved?
I believe that in the long term, there needs to be a shift in how the maritime sector approaches gender diversity.
One area that needs attention is the normalisation of women working on board ships. Even small things, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), designed with men in mind, need to be redesigned as unisex to accommodate women. By addressing these issues and making changes, the industry can create a more inclusive and equitable environment for all seafarers.
What advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing a career as a seafarer?
In order to be a successful seafarer, it's important to understand that it's not just about the money. Achieving a balance between your personal and professional life is crucial, and mental preparation is key. You need a genuine desire to be at sea, with reasons that go beyond financial gain.
For women who aspire to be seafarers, it's important to never give up, despite the challenges and obstacles that may come your way.
There will be good days and bad days, but with determination and hard work, you can overcome them and find solutions to any problems that arise. Don't let society's restrictions or questions hold you back from pursuing your dreams. While men may not face the same level of scrutiny and scepticism, it's important to prioritise your own goals and work towards achieving them.
It's crucial to be emotionally resilient and to always do your best. And while questions about balancing a household and a career may be directed more towards women, it's important to remember that you can achieve anything you set your mind to, as long as you remain committed and motivated. So, keep pushing forward and never give up on your dreams.