The self-styled “mad girls” of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) UK last week marked four decades of progress with a gala dinner at IMO headquarters, attended by 140 members and guests.
Longstanding member Jean Richards described a time where the industry was openly hostile to female involvement, recalling of the Baltic Exchange that “it was again a gesture” when women were even so much as allowed in.
“Women had to fight because all the business was done not on the trading floor, but in the bar, and if you were a woman, you had to go to the cocktail lounge. You could not even do a deal because the bloke did not want to buy you a gin and tonic,” said Richards, adding that the exchange remains “not very pro-women.”
Meanwhile member since 1986, Maria José Lima recalled how following her first WISTA conference in Madrid, she and others ‘hijacked’ a bus – in a then-rare incidence of maritime piracy – and asked to be taken back to their hotel.
“On the following day,” said Lima, “I found myself in deep thought: either I had joined a bunch of ‘mad girls’ or my whole experience probably had to do with ancient frictions between Portugal and Spain.
“I was totally wrong; the following year I joined the conference in Oslo and started placing total trust in the WISTA organisation. I have to thank WISTA for all that I have learned during the various conferences; and even now being retired I still have a passion for WISTA and look forward to attending a few more such conferences.”
WISTA-UK now enjoys a membership of 1,800 women and supporters of their involvement in the industry, spanning 30 countries.
Tony Browne, one of WISTA’s male members from T-StarMET Maritime Education, applied to join after learning that only 0.4% of engineers at sea are women.
“I think the only reason I got through was that my name is Tony!” he quipped.
President and founding WISTA-UK member, Maria Dixon, who last month praised the recent appointment of Transport under-secretary Claire Perry, emphasised that women’s role in the maritime industry will only continue to grow.
“This WISTA-UK 40th anniversary has taught our members, especially the new ones, the importance of being ‘us’, the responsibility of showing a good image, and above all team work and leadership,” said Dixon.
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