New opportunities for women by the rise of digitalisation

Dr. Katharina Renken

Dr. Katharina Renken · 12 November 2019

Kühne Logistics University


The maritime industry is a traditional business. Shipping has been done over uncounted decades, transporting goods and people, exploring, leisure and research.

The maritime industry is also an ever-changing business. Shipping experienced uncounted evolutions and interruptions to building materials, design, processes and communication.

Women shipping2

New major trends like sustainability, demographic change, urbanisation, globalisation and information technologies have already reached the shipping industry (Jahn, Brümmerstedt, Fiedler, & Renken, 2018), requiring traditional and risk averse actors to rethink their strategies. With (1) fast moving developments in data processing, (2) a worldwide connection of cities and countries physically and digitally, and (3) an all-time pressure on costs, one specific target to address in a maritime companies’ strategy is the process of digitalisation.

Shipping is a worldwide operation. Actors in shipping do business around the clock as ports, ships and transport operators are spread out and moving all over the globe in all possible time zones. New processes for transport, such as multimodality (Haraldson, 2015), will only become alive with digitalisation. Sustainability goals can be reached and expanded by gathering, analysing and understanding data. Progressing expectations in regards to flexibility (Arthur D. Little, 2017) and reliability in transports can be answered with transparency of data within and in between businesses by digitalisation. Thus, digitalisation is called a megatrend, spreading its impacts on shipping (Jahn, Brümmerstedt, Fiedler, & Renken, 2018).

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With digitalisation rising, there will be a growing need for computer and mathematics experts as well as for engineers. The World Economic Forum points at Architecture and Engineering job families as one with the biggest growth rate, followed by jobs in the field of Computer and Mathematics (World Economic Forum, 2016). To no surprise, the World Economic Forum also lists big data analytics, app- and web-enabled markets, and internet of things as the technologies expected to see the largest adaptation in industry until 2022 (World Economic Forum, 2018).

In the changing business environment, required skills are changing as well. The list of the Top 10 skills for 2020 shows a great amount of skills in the field of “soft skills” and related to communication, and all skills are needed in the maritime field.

Top 10 skills in 2020 (Source: World Economic Forum, 2016)

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgement and decision-making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

An education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with its focus on critical thinking, problem solving, creativity in solution finding and the overall goal to improve people’s lives addresses four of the listed top 10 skills already.

However, Microsoft Asia News Center points out with its article, that women are at risk in this fourth industrial revolution by not being in STEM fields, comparing the participation of women in tech jobs to women in non-tech jobs (20% vs. 52%) (Microsoft Asia News Center, 2017). Meanwhile, the OECD report from 2017 shows that 39% of STEM graduates are women (OECD, 2017). How is that? Apparently, even though STEM graduates inherently learn some of the most needed skills for businesses to face the future, industries demonstrate to have barriers in hiring and promoting women. Namely, the lack of work-life-balance, unconscious biases among managers and a lack of female role models among other factors seem to work against females (World Economic Forum, 2016). Even worse, from those women that entered a tech-job initially, 50% leave within 10 years. (Million Women Mentors, 2019) The two most common reasons for leaving are extreme work pressure and hostile macho culture, which explains why self-employment is the second highest follow-up position for women leaving a STEM-job (Harvard Business Report, 2008).

Women shipping

Conclusively, those women that have a STEM-field education need to enter a STEM-job - and keep it - to increase the number of women designing the digitalisation process - not only in the maritime industry.

But why would a job in a digitalised world be of interest to women in the first place? And why can the employer also benefit from supporting this development?

Women have different motivators than men. In other words, women put different importance on attributes at work (and life). For men, goals, management support, free opinions, and autonomy are the largest above-average drivers for performance. Women draw a different picture: They put their most (above average) interest in peer relationships, organisational fit and in opportunities for growth. Furthermore, recognition and rewards are more in the focus of men than of women (Peakon, 2016). Another infographic, by IDG, shows work-life-balance, listening to others, and empathy as female motivators, whereas men are motivated by success and goals (IDG Communications, Inc., 2013). Both of these studies point to women being a better fit for the needed skills of the future and digitalisation: With an inherent motivation to communicate and to form relationships, women are equipped to outperform men in people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision-making, service orientation, and negotiation.

Not only are women a good match for these new jobs. Women are also a good match for digitalised companies. With technologies in place allowing for digitalisation, many jobs will become available with flexibilities, such as flexible work times and flexible work locations. As females often still carry most of the load of family work (by choice or by default), flexibility in worktime and workplace will allow women to participate fully in the workplace with their skills, education and motivation. Even better for the shipping industry, this flexibility requested by women can become the biggest asset in a digitalised company in an ever-changing around-the-clock-working maritime environment.

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