Recap: UNITE!

By Captain Claire Lewis

This summer on July 27 and 28th, I had the pleasure of attending Women Offshore’s first event, UNITE, in Houston, Texas. I got to meet some really dynamic people and learned a few new things, plus I got to see Houston for the first time!

Day one began with introductions from everyone in the room, starting with the Women Offshore team. Ally Cedeno, WO’s founder and CEO, is an amazing person who is obviously very passionate about what she does. She has put together a great team to help her run the organization. They come from different backgrounds in the maritime industry, but they all share one common vision: closing the gender gap in maritime.

The rest of us in attendance introduced ourselves one by one. There were about 40 of us, and I was impressed with the diversity represented. While most of us were from the USA, there were women there from The Netherlands, Angola, New Zealand, Canada, and India. There were women of many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Our expertise ranged from offshore rigs to tugboats to shoreside support to harbor pilots. It was inspiring to talk to all these women and learn about how their corner of the industry operates. I, for one, had never before been in the company of so many female mariners. While we were introducing ourselves, we each stated how many years we had working on the water. We added those years together and the final tally was 270!

On the first day, there were panels and sessions on overcoming challenges in the workplace and setting/reaching goals. On the panels, four women told their stories of how and why they got into the maritime industry, where their careers have taken them, and what obstacles they have had to overcome. It was reaffirming to hear all these women talk about the challenges they have faced, because I have faced many of the same ones.

Captain Sherri Hickman, a Houston pilot and all-around badass, gave a presentation on what it’s like on any given day in the life of a maritime pilot. A career in pilotage is often regarded as the pinnacle of the maritime industry – pilots are people who have tons of experience and expertise about a specific area or harbor; they have literally memorized their local charts, light list, and coast pilot. Captain Hickman is no different, and is also energetic, engaging, and hilarious.

On the second day, we learned all about Women Offshore’s new mentorship program. The goal is to pair women with more experience in the industry with other women who are either new to the industry, still in school, or otherwise less experienced. I think it’s a brilliant idea. I never had a female mentor to look up to or ask questions or just vent, and I am excited at the prospect of being that person for someone else. The mentorship program pairs women based on their area of expertise and/or their goals. For example, if a woman signs up to be mentored and wants to be a chief engineer someday, the program pairs her with another woman who has spent many years climbing the ladder in an engineering department, or is perhaps a port engineer or something similar. There are also opportunities for group mentorships, where many women can come together and support each other’s goals. All of this happens online, so we can participate no matter where we are in the world.

There was also a presentation on handling conflict in the workplace.  It was a really valuable presentation because we’ve all had conflict issues – whether or not it’s related to our gender.

The one thing I would have liked more of during the conference is time to just talk to the other attendees. I think networking is important, but also simply meeting new people and hearing their stories can be so powerful. More often than not, you’ll find that you know the same people because the maritime industry can be such a small community. I was really impressed by so many of the women there, and I would have loved some more time to get to know them better.

Overall, it was a great experience and I look forward to attending the next Women Offshore event!

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