World Maritime Day: Starzs’ golden gift to women in maritime

COO Starzs Investments Coy Ltd., Iroghama Ogbeifun-Obuoforibo
Starzs Investment Company Ltd has intentionally created a platform for growth for women pursuing careers in the maritime industry in Nigeria. And Chief Operating Officer of the company, Iroghama Ogbeifun-Obuoforibo, simply feels fulfilled and excited as she shares the company’s story of empowering women in the sector.
What constitutes sustainable support for women in the maritime industry?

First of all, I am very glad about this year’s focus on women empowerment and the importance of the role that women can play progressing development regarding the maritime industry and maybe the world at large.
The Day of the Seafarer also focused on women’s involvement in seafaring. And now, the World Maritime Day is focusing on how we can create more opportunities, and how we can empower women so that they can do more. We know that they can do more if they are given that chance.

Charity, they say begins at home, so, let me start with what we are doing in Starzs, where I work. There is a focus of giving specific opportunities to women. There is a deliberate intention to ensure that women have an even-playing ground to operate. For example, our pay structure does not discriminate against women. Our pay structure considers “who is the right person, man or woman, for the job.” So, regardless of being a man or a woman, as long as you are bringing that value to the table, we will consider you and you will earn as much as anybody else on that job group. We do not discriminate as regards that. Also, we have a very strong sexual harassment policy in our organisation. When any woman joins the organisation, I make sure that I have a one-on-one session with them, as a top female executive in the company. And my HR General Manager, also being a female, we give them that opportunity to pass on our value system as regards protection of women’s rights in the workplace. We let them know that regardless of who it is; the Cleaner, the Manager, the Chairman, the Board Director, we do not care. We do not support sexual harassment of women and they have a right. They have a voice and they have a platform to complain without fear of prejudice or discrimination against them. That is another thing that we do.

How do you handle developmental opportunities, considering the women?

When it comes to developmental opportunities, let me talk about our training scheme. For that scheme, opened to both men and women, we have an extreme focus to ensure that we have female cadets participating in every batch that we take on. So, when we go to Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, for example, and we are requesting for cadets, we specifically say that we want to receive female cadets. So we have a set quota to ensure we have the number.
I must say that over the years, I have not been pleasantly surprised at the number of female cadets that have followed through with the scheme. But, what we do is that we are not discouraged by that percentage. I think that the discussions around what impedes or inhibits them is a discussion for another day, to see how we can also further support to encourage and increase that   number of success. But, we still leave these opportunities open.
I want to talk about one of our female officers who is a third engineer onboard one of our boats right now. She just got her second from Regional Maritime University in Ghana. She came to us as a Cadet, who finished from MAN, Oron as well. She completed her seatime and went back, passed her CoC and came onboard as an officer. She had worked and got seatime eligibility to go on training to be a second engineer and she has just passed the exams and she is going to be a second engineer.
When she went to Ghana to get her training, she needed about three months off to go do the courses and everything. I told my people that while she would be away they could only employ a temporary third engineer who would hold brief for her, and as soon as she finishes her course , she comes back to meet her job waiting for her .That is how much of an intentional effort we make. It might look like “is it fair?” Yes, if we are going to empower women we need to be a bit extra in giving them that opportunity, because the men just walk in to it. So, for that female engineer, she was guaranteed that her job was waiting for her while she was in school. There was no fear of saying “Oh, I have gone to pursue my opportunity and I am going to lose my job.’ For me, that spoke volumes for her confidence. That was one good success story.
Therefore, I implore all the other shipowners to look at how we can contribute our own quota to ensuring that we go out of our way to seek to encourage female cadets , to guarantee them that we have a career path , a platform for them. Even if you want to come off a vessel, we chart a path for them, to say when you attain a level in the career sailing, you are still of great value to us in the office. We even encourage them on kinds of courses they can take on their time off that can make them more eligible to work in the office. At the end of the day, they are confident of sailing for a period and still come back relevant in the office to do other things.

How should women make their presence felt in the agenda of things happening in the industry?
On a broader level, I must also comment that in the maritime industry there are women, especially maritime lawyers, who are taking that bold step to see how they can make their voices heard in the industry, in whatever little way.
I have seen a lot of women who have been in the industry for decades, who have broken the glass ceiling, smash it completely in their various fields.  So, I think that women need to rise and recognise their power and not having to wait for someone to give us the power and tell us that we have it. When we realise that we have it, then we take charge of that power and step forward. Instead of waiting, no, come and sit down. Don’t wait to be given a seat, grab a chair and sit down. I don’t want the situation where the essence is swallowed by the ‘women’ narrative. I am an individual who is growing my value proposition and who has something of value to bring to the table. Based on that, I am grabbing this chair and am adding to the discourse of whatever it is, if it is policy formulation, policy driving, implementation or enforcement, I have something to say. While we talk of women empowerment, we women need to empower ourselves. We need to rise up and speak!