Women need a level playing field – WISTA AGM
At its first Annual Meet, Women International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA – India), the fastest growing WISTA International chapter, extends a helping hand to women professionals showing them the path for growth and progress in a male dominated business world.
The first anniversary event of the Women International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA), India that took place recently not only focused on gearing up for tomorrow’s challenges but it also saw the largest gathering of women professionals making this event of WISTA India secure the top position in the world for having become the fastest growing WISTA International chapter enrolling the biggest number of members in a given year.
The event focused on the impediments and hindrances women shipping professionals are forced to put up with in their day-to-day work. WISTA India has indeed turned out to be the fastest growing entity in a short span of a year having added 80 plus members to its fold according to its President and founder Sanjam Sahi Gupta, Director of Sitara Shipping Ltd and Astral Freight Forwarders (Pvt.) Ltd.
“It is the fastest growing WISTA chapter internationally and has successfully launched select sub-chapters in various other cities in India,” she said. “Shipping has traditionally been regarded as a male preserve. But shipping itself cannot continue to ignore any longer the huge work force that women provide to different shipping sectors from the highest level management to seafaring. We at WISTA are making efforts to attract more women to the industry. In just a few years we have been invited to participate in and partner various conferences and forums including Confederation of Indian Industries, Sea Port Knowledge Series and others. We are creating awareness among students about the various career options in the maritime industry, imparting training to young women and setting up a scholarship fund for qualified candidates. We wish to extend our membership base by setting up ten sub-chapters at various major port cities.”
Sharing her experience, Karin Orsel, President, WISTA International, gave an insight to the young ladies about the working of the European association and its success as a guiding light for women shipping entrepreneurs to network, exchange and clinch business deals within the region. “The Indian WISTA is the third biggest member association,” she said. “It was in 1974 that the international organization was established and today it has 34 outfits worldwide.”
She spoke about some of the outstanding ladies in the different countries who have been role models and expressed her desire for the various regions to be stronger. What is unique is that WISTA represents all the categories of shipping and has members spread throughout the world and with just one phone call it is possible to do business between members in different parts of the world. “I always say, if I didn’t know you I would not have any business with you,” stated Karin. “If I wanted to ask for an offer I would go for that person who I know and better still, a WISTA member. I love this industry and I never expect to get anything back.”
On the sidelines of the gathering, Karin also informed that she is looking at the regions and sprucing up the membership. “Sanjam is aiming at 150 members in the coming year,” she stated. “What is lacking is that many of the members who have enrolled do not know what WISTA is all about and are not using the WISTA website to their advantage. The need to network and generate business is what we lack and that is what we will focus on.
The panel discussion on ‘Gender diversity-integral to growth’, designed to serve as a morale booster and help set things in the right perspective, stole the limelight. Michael Pinto, former Union Shipping Secretary, Government of India, chaired the discussions and livened the session with his pep talk and humorous asides, yet making sure that the ladies got their way. The four outstanding women in the management field who made presentations, advocated a positive approach and greater dedication to work in order to get ahead in their career. They were Anjali Bhadbhade, CFO of DHL Logistics, Vinita Venkatesh, Advisor to Krishnapatnam Port, Gitanjalli Shah, Director of Narendra Forwarders and Neera Saggi, Executive Director of L&T Seawoods and former Dy. Chairman of Jawaharlal Nehru Port.
Making no bones about the working environment and how professionals were expected to carry themselves, young women were advised to deal with problems by setting long term goals and getting their priorities right. They pointed out that women holding junior or senior positions in the industry could not afford to look upon every act of omission or commission or reflect on what the majority of the employees (viz. men) would draw generalizations from. So every time someone got emotional at the workplace, they were not to (unfairly) take time off from the workplace or accuse their bosses of making sexual advances. In fact they could be creating more problems for the future generations of women entering the company.
Most of the presentations were designed to boost morale and to build confidence. In general, stress was laid on the fact that status and position should not be confused with standards of morality and ethics. Despite a sense of continued progress toward gender equality, the fact remains that the workplace earnings’ gap between men and women persists even today. If for instance, it was pointed out that ‘she’ was too pretty, it was also presumed that ‘she’ could not be smart. On the other hand If ‘she’ happened to be a no-looker, no one was likely to notice her or to consider her as an asset in any way. Men could however, get away with looking hideous or odd to a far greater degree as long as they had other compensating talents.
It is a well-known fact that girls just wanna have fun. The advice was to go ahead and not to turn off this fun side when one gets into a business mode, because the enthusiastic, giggly self can truly be an advantage. Just having one woman in an all-male team can turn the direst project into a party, and help everyone do their best and work better. It did not mean that one needed to stop being productive, but that one need not turn off her fun side just because she was going into a work situation.
Men who are lost don’t stop to ask for directions? As women, they were advised that it was better to have the ability to keep their egos quiet long enough to ask for advice. If someone was new to the business or was having a technical tangle, there was absolutely no shame in asking someone to help to figure it all out. ‘Get a mentor, hire a coach, work with a consultant, but don’t go it alone’. Often women don’t do well when frustrated. So it is better not to try to “be a man” and figure it all, as issues sorted themselves out. There are people out there who want to help. They need just to be asked and so let them in.