The global bunker industry is growing and evolving as increases in international seaborne trade are met with rising demand for more sustainable fuels. At the sector’s heart is a workforce varying wildly in roles, salaries, and experience levels - but that same workforce also lacks diversity.
A clear gender imbalance
Of around 2,000 bunkering and related personnel in the UK, only 26% are women - and our data paints a similar picture internationally. Of that 26%, 15% occupy lower-level positions, such as graduate roles and jobs in administration and purchasing, and only 9% are in mid- or senior-level roles.
These findings are reflected in our first-hand experience at ARM, too. Over the last year, our Marine and Shipping team has received more than 5,000 applications from candidates looking to work in our field – but fewer than 500 were from women.
Barriers in bunkering
With so few applications from women to consider, how can bunkering firms address the sector’s imbalance? The first step is to look at the barriers currently limiting female interest and opportunities.
1. Old habits die hard
The sector is stuck in bad ways. As our stats show, its decision-makers are overwhelmingly male, and they typically fit certain age, ethnicity and class profiles too. Recruitment psychology tells us it’s normal for hiring managers to favour candidates they deem to be like-minded, and even those who ‘look’ like them – i.e. the same gender and ethnicity – so change will naturally be difficult.
2. Lazy stereotypes
The same decision-makers may also be leaning lazily on stereotypical gender roles when hiring. A Harvard University study once found that 76% of people of all genders associate men with careers and women with family. And then there are perceptions around the types of jobs at which different genders excel. These thought patterns need to change.
3. A tough cycle to break
When companies have large teams of a certain type, usually built over time due to the bias and circumstances mentioned above, the barrier for outsiders to join becomes greater. And in the case of bunkering - especially in mid-to-senior-level positions - that ‘type’ is white men in their 30s with similar academic backgrounds.
4. A lack of flexibility
Bias isn’t the only barrier. Data from ONS shows that women are much more likely than their male partners to be primary caregivers within their families, and that, as a result, more work part-time.
That means that many do need more flexibility; something that isn’t so readily available in bunkering, especially in sales roles where travelling is common.
What needs to happen next?
A lot needs to happen to make the bunkering industry more attractive to women, and it must be a collective effort.
First and foremost, we need to ensure the sector is an even playing field. General recruitment practices are evolving to support ethical and transparent hiring, and bunkering firms should be first in line to embrace changes. Tactics like blind CVs (with no name or gender details) and unconscious bias training, while in no way long-term fixes, can help companies form better hiring habits.
More sustainable improvements could then be supported by technology. Web-based software – ‘Textio’, for example - exists to help recruiters write job adverts using language that’s more appealing to women; valuable for those who tend to get more male interest, and useful in social media content, too.
Benefits packages come into this too, but in many cases it’s about making bunkering roles feasible for women, not just more attractive. On-site crèches, flexible working options and enhanced maternity packages will be vital for those who are primary caregivers in their families, for example. And these measures can benefit the whole workforce, not just women.
More than anything, underrepresentation is a culture issue. Rather than make changes based only on generalised assumptions about what women want, employers in bunkering should look carefully at the working environments they provide: is there a culture that allows women to thrive as well as men? Are women involved in decision-making at the top? Do the directors believe in the need for change? It’s these considerations that will lead to long-term, sustainable change.
Benefits for all
There’s no downside to addressing bunkering’s gender imbalance. A diverse organisation is one with well-rounded creative ideas and the ability to adapt quickly, and there’s data to prove the benefits for employers.
After analysing share prices from more than 3,000 organisations from 56 countries, researchers from Credit Suisse found that the stocks of firms where over 20% of top managers were women rose more over the past decade than the shares of companies with less female representation.
Findings like this aren’t rare, either. Making bunkering more appealing and accessible to female talent really is a no-brainer, and it’s something the industry can only achieve if it works together.