It was a great weekend at the California Maritime Academy campus in Vallejo March 2-3. The Sea Sisters community was out in full force, as were representatives of WISTA, WomenOffshore, and many other guests, sponsors, attendees, and current maritime academy cadets not just from CMA, but from academies around the country.
Amid the blustery spring squalls and occasional rays of sunshine in Morrow Cove, young women and men gathered to learn from each other and from seasoned veterans of the maritime industry. The conference kicked off with a keynote speech from VAdm. Robin Braun (US Navy, Retired) in Rizza Auditorium. Panel discussion and presentation topics ranged from ISM Code and Maritime Law to Marine Salvage; Cybersecurity to Leadership Recruitment; there were workshops on time management and financial budgeting for incoming college students, and a presentation on Women in Maritime History was highlighted by a visit from World War II-era "Rosies" of the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park. For the full program of events, click here (to download from Dropbox).
I had the honor of participating in two panel discussions: the first was titled "Trust Doesn't Come With The Title", and I was joined for the panel before dinner on Friday evening by Chae Guillot, a San Francisco Bay ferry captain, and Sheila LaFleur, contributor to WomenOffshore.org, to discuss actionable tools to help any young woman or man who arrives at a new job to find that due to preconceived notions of age, gender, or education, they do not immediately command the trust or respect of their shipmates. You can access a PDF of the outline to our discussion here.
The second panel gathered four women - and aspiring maritime pilots - to talk about where we are in our paths to achieving the goal of becoming pilots, and what advice we have to give anyone who also wishes to follow the same path. I was joined on Saturday afternoon by Captain Katie Love of Starlight Marine; Captain Lindsay Price of G&H Towing; and Captain Christine Klimkowski, all-star instructor and curriculum developer at the Pacific Maritime Institute as well as recently-accepted Southeast Alaska Pilots apprentice. The energy of the audience was palpable, as was the joy of the presenters in connecting with the attendees. You can download the power point presentation for that panel discussion here.
This "Paths to Piloting" panel was moderated by San Francisco Bar Pilot, and my friend, Captain Dan Bridgman. Dan asked me to touch on some things that the SFBP wanted to pass on: they wish to express their commitment to supporting women who have their sights set on becoming pilots, and to supporting women in the maritime industry at large. A few years ago they formed an outreach committee specifically to increase diversity within the association. In their own words:
"The SFBP Outreach program has been going since 2015; it has worked with the Vallejo school district, and is currently working with the Oakland school district. Those efforts have been focused on letting young people know the local jobs that are in their backyards. We've been present at WIML the last three years; as sponsors for the last two, and as presenters for all three.
We have been working to identify potential pilot apprentices who are in the industry presently, as well as cadets who are about to enter the work force. We understand that it's a long journey to becoming a pilot, and the more women who are out there in the industry, the more women pilots there will be. Mentoring played a huge role in my career, and we are happy to talk about the accessibility and steps to becoming a pilot. We see the emergence of groups like Sea Sisters and WomenOffshore as a great tool for forming networks and finding mentors who will help along the way".
Dan couldn't be more right in his assessment of the power of mentorship to keep mariners on track toward their goals. I found several incredible mentors in my ship agent years who showed me how to parlay that experience into a track toward obtaining my mate's and master's license by working on tugboats. Without them, I doubt I would be where I am today. As many San Francisco Bar Pilots are my friends and mentors, I feel it is appropriate for me to share their support for women here on Sea Sisters. Furthermore, I'm happy to say that many companies are in the same camp with regard to their commitment to bringing more women into the industry, and retaining them for the duration of their careers.
And we need to start by targeting young people. If disadvantaged kids aren't even aware that this amazing career exists, then how can they ever try to set themselves up to pursue it? No one told me I could go for it until I was 23 years old; before then, I had given it no thought whatsoever, because I assumed it wasn't available to me. Hearing "you can do this, too" is very powerful for a young girl.
All in all, WIML was an incredible experience, whether we were gathering with new friends at meals to connect and share sea stories, or gathering in the classroom to listen to industry professionals share their expertise. I am already looking forward to attending this conference again in the future.
There was a lot to be gained from the presentations offered during the course of the 2-day event. Some advice for current cadets getting ready to graduate and embark on their careers:
- Dedicating a large share of your energy to learning your craft and improving yourself every day will take you far; when you demonstrate competence and a willingness to ask questions and learn from your colleagues, trust and respect will naturally follow.
- You can choose what to carry with you. Vice Admiral Braun made a point of discussing this concept during her keynote presentation: if you meet someone who decides to judge you based on factors like gender or age, you can either choose to internalize those opinions and carry them with you, or you can choose to leave them behind and carry on with your own plan. Choosing to let go of the opinions of others and focusing instead on what you can control is a huge step toward progress in your own career while simultaneously preserving your mental health!
- Trust your instincts and identify your personal boundaries. It can be a rough crowd out there on the water, and you do need to be tough to thrive in this industry. Different people have different thresholds of what kind of behavior and talk is acceptable - personality has a lot to do with it. Remember that you won't have the time or energy to fight all the battles; just determine what environment will help you thrive and don't compromise your safety for the sake of the status quo.
- Seek guidance and support. We look around lately to find more and more that our networks of professional women are expanding rapidly, thanks to groups like Sea Sisters and WomenOffshore, and social platforms like Instagram. You now have access to friends and mentors who can give you advice about your career, or encouragement when you need it most - whether you are male or female. You can fill out the “contact us” form, and it will send an email straight to my inbox. Reach out to us anytime! Many of us are securely established in our careers and ready to give back; to bring other women up with us as we smash through barriers that not long ago seemed insurmountable.
Thank you for reading,