On 22 October 2015, in the headquarters of the Sovcomflot group of companies, a “Women in challenging professions: Gender issues of personnel policy” was held. It was dedicated to the work of women in the fleet, as well as in other jobs traditionally dominated by men.
Participants of the round table – female fleet officers, representatives of the professors and other teaching staff of the Makarov State University of the Inland and Maritime Fleet, representatives of the Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR), expert psychologists, masters of the Sovcomflot (SCF) Group vessels, and female cadets of the University’s Navigation Chair tried to understand why more and more women are choosing “men’s” jobs; whether women can work in the industry effectively and get promoted same way as the men, and what is the role of gender barriers.
The key speakers of the event were Ms.Yelena SEROVA, cosmonaut of the “Gagarin Cosmonauts’ Training Center” and Ms.Lyana MITROFANOVA, 3rd Mate of “Pskov” gas tanker (SCF group of companies).
During the discussion, the women shared their experience of joining their professions. Speaking of motivation in career, Yelena Serova told that her interest to the space profession started in her childhood thanks to her elementary school teacher who used to tell lot of things about space exploration to her students. On the contrary, for Lyana Mitrofanova her choice of profession was rather unexpected.
“I never planned to work at sea, I even never saw a sea before. I just wanted to get independent, especially from my parents, she said. “Yet when I got acquainted with the sea I saw my course in llife”.
Lyana says that the sea gives one an opportunity to fully concentrate on one’s work; besides, work on board still has elements of romance in it. The sea attracts with its power and unpredictability and one can admire the beauty of natural elements – as well as see the world, travelling on a modern vessel. On the other hand, rather long leaves between voyages permit to dedicate one’s time to the family.
According to Yelena Serova, one should fully understand that in any profession one has to comply with the job’s requirements.
“Not every man can become a spaceman or a seaman; yet, my and Lyana’s examples prove that a woman can, if she has the required qualities and has enough courage to achieve their goals”, Yelena said.
Talking about difficulties, Ms.Mitrofanova noted that at first it was not so easy to achieve recognition in the men's team and prove to the colleagues that a woman, too, can be worthy to stand on the bridge.
Yelena SEROVA noted the importance of physical fitness.
She said, “It is vital not only to get properly educated but to be physically fir for the flights. This is a very strict rule, and a reason why most candidates, both male and female, cannot become cosmonauts”.
Talking of the tasks which are easier for women then for men, both the navigator and the cosmonaut agreed that we should not talk about gender competition. Indeed, the best results are always achieved through mutual cooperation and cross-gender cooperation.
Briefly summarizing what was said by the female seafarer and cosmonaut, we could say that generally, men are not overjoyed by women getting “traditionally male” jobs. Emoployers and crewing companies often reject women, and female cadets have similar problems when they seek a vessel for their practice at sea; and without such practice a cadet cannot get a diploma. Sovcomflot is one of the few Russian shipping companies which employ their staff basing on the candidates’ professional qualities and not gender; so it is very possible that many more women will join the company like Lyana Nitrofanova did.
At the same time, the participants of the round table noted that the men should not be afraid that women would rush into the seafarers’ profession and take all the jobs. To work at sea, one must have a truly steadfast character, an iron will and faith in his or her strength. In fact, not every man qualifies, while women often think more about their families.
Participants of the round table concluded as follows:
– In complicate professions, effectiveness depends upon possession of necessary skills, knowledge and responsibility of a worker; whereas employing people just in order to comply with gender quotas, when the professional skills are less important then the gender, is hardly efficient.
– Women who achieve recognition in challenging professions shall show example to the society and encourage younger colleagues not to be afraid to try professions which used to be “not typical” for them and “unladylike”.
– The myth of work in space and at sea being impossible for women shall be debunked in full; examples of biographies of female navigators and cosmonauts are the best argument here.
– Employers shall have courage to look at female candidates, first of all, as to specialists and not just women; this should be the key factor for destroying gender stereotypes.
P.S. After the round table was over, Yelena Serova presented to crewmembers of the Sovcomflot group photos which she took in space. One of those was rather ceremonially given to Lyana Mitrophanova (see picture).
In the photo, left to right: Lyana Mitrofanova, Yelena Serova