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Measuring Women’s Impact on Shipping; IMO and WISTA Release First-of-its-Kind Survey

By Parker Harrrison, President, WISTA USA; SVP and General Counsel, Crowley Maritime Corporation (June 1, 2021)

Over 90 percent of world trade is conducted by water. That means much of the clothing we wear, some of the food we eat (bananas are a great example), many of the cars that we drive and most of the tires on those cars, much of the fuel that powers our lives, and the materials used to build our homes, office buildings, industrial facilities, and highways, and also our furniture, mobile phones, computers, and pharmaceuticals -- nearly everything we see, touch, and use every day has traveled to our shores by ship. In turn, the goods we manufacture and grow, including America’s abundant agricultural commodities, leave our shores by water. The world economy would screech to a halt without shipping -- half the world would starve and the other half would freeze, as the saying goes -- and yet this industry is largely invisible. Most people simply do not stop to consider how all these raw materials and finished goods reach them. Even people living in and around busy ports may be unaware that all this activity -- vessels arriving, discharging their cargo, and loading still more before departing for distant ports -- touches each of us personally.

The invisibility of this pervasive and vital industry no doubt contributes to the lack of data about the workforce that keeps shipping running. We know that there are roughly 300,000 mariners -- the seafarers that operate a ship’s engines and other shipboard systems, that load, discharge, and care for her cargo while on board, and that navigate her route -- active today, and we know which countries have the largest merchant fleets. These statistics are relatively easy to capture. But how many of those mariners are women? And how many women work shoreside in the maritime industry? The truth is no one knows. In this era where diversity, equity, and inclusion have finally moved beyond mere buzzwords to become business imperatives, this kind of information is critical to knowing where we currently stand in order to plan for a more inclusive, diverse, and sustainable future. Unfortunately, there is simply no data on the number of women mariners working on the tens of thousands of ships that keep goods moving around the world. No data exists on the number of women who work ashore for the companies that own and operate the ships; who insure the ships; who represent the mariners, the ships, and their owners in legal disputes; who provide cargoes and arrange marine transport; who ensure the ships meet applicable safety standards, and survey the ships and build, repair, and maintain them in shipyards; who design the ships and develop new, greener fuel technologies; who provide supplies like food, fuel, and spare parts -- “necessaries”, in legal parlance; or those who educate and train future mariners. And that’s a lot of unknowns.

WISTA, the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association, and the International Maritime Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, are working to address this gap. In February 2021, WISTA and IMO launched their inaugural Women in Maritime Survey to obtain baseline data on the number of women and their roles in the maritime and oceans fields. This new survey, which is open to IMO Member states, IGOs, NGOs, maritime training establishments, and public and private companies in the maritime sector, aims to examine the proportion and distribution of women working in the maritime sector at every level -- from support roles to executive-level positions. The survey is part of a series of activities that will lay the groundwork for further discussions on how to build a more diverse workforce within the maritime sector, which is essential for a sustainable future. The data obtained from the survey will help build a picture of diversity and gender equity in the industry. To participate in this survey, please click here.

The launch of this new survey follows the 2020 signing of the IMO-WISTA Memorandum of Understanding on promoting greater diversity and inclusion through enhanced cooperation activities in the maritime sector. Under the umbrella of this MOU, IMO and WISTA will cooperate on several initiatives, starting with the survey, but also including developing a speakers’ bureau -- a database of women who are experts in various maritime-related subjects and are available for speaking engagements -- as well as sharing best practices between the IMO-established Women in Maritime Associations (WIMAs) around the world, along with the more than 50 WISTA National WISTA Associations around the world.


WISTA is an international organization whose mission is to attract and support women at the management level in the maritime, trading, and logistics sectors. Formed in 1974 in London, WISTA is a global organization connecting over 3,800 female executives and decision-makers from all sectors of the maritime, trading, and logistics sectors worldwide. Fifty-four countries (and counting) support a National WISTA Association (NWA), each of which provides national and regional networking, business, and skill-building opportunities, corporate visibility, and facilitates relationships within our industries. WISTA USA is the largest NWA with over 700 members loosely organized into 11 regional chapters.


Parker Harrison currently serves as senior vice president and general counsel with Crowley Maritime Corporation, a privately held, U.S.-owned and operated logistics, government, marine, and energy solutions company based in Jacksonville, Florida. Parker’s responsibilities at Crowley comprise the company’s legal and risk management functions, as well as government relations. She also is deeply involved in the Crowley Cares Foundation, the company’s employee-based, non-profit organization that encourages and enhances employee giving and volunteerism in the communities where they live and work.

Parker also serves as the current president of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) USA, an organization of which she has been a member since 2004 and on the Board of Directors since 2008. This June, Parker will step down as president but will continue to serve on WISTA USA’s board until her term expires in 2023. Parker is also a Proctor Member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States, and a member of the Southeastern Admiralty Law Institute.

She holds both Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Virginia, as well as a Juris Doctor degree, magna cum laude, with a Maritime Law Certificate from Tulane Law School.

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