I’m a journalist, not a shipbroker, so what do I know about the trials of being female in the broking world?

Well, nothing first-hand, evidently, but listening to some of the female voices TradeWinds spoke to for its feature on women in shipbroking, and reading some of the feedback, it was unusually challenging to remain impartial and not to shout out that I had experienced much of that too in my career.

So isn’t that what this is all about? Nothing special to see here. Just that old male-female clash, the need for a bit of diversity training, balancing of numbers employed etc, etc.

Except that while some of these women’s experiences mirrored my own, they were on steroids in comparison. The industry needs to hear, really listen, and think about how to change its culture for the incoming generation.

For the time you are reading this put yourself into these genuine scenarios described by female brokers and imagine having to perform at your best or, even, enjoy your job.

“When you are not doing so well you are no threat,” one woman broker said, adding that her male colleagues had moved to undermine her integrity and professionalism when she experienced any success.

Groundless accusations

Some women had been accused — groundlessly — of having slept with clients to win business.

Several said they had listened to male colleagues talking offensively about other female brokers in the business, inside their own companies and other shops.

“It was derogatory, offensive and humiliating,” one woman broker told me.

At the extremes — and here’s hoping these are scenes from earlier years — there was talk of having to work in environments where physical fights, porn watching and drug-taking were going on.

Female brokers in leadership positions said some of their male colleagues did not like being asked to do things and had attempted to ostracise, undermine or circumvent them when given instructions.

Women said they are paid less than their male counterparts, some of whom are considerably younger and less experienced, with discretionary bonuses a standout where women believe they are undercut despite concluding high-value business.

Many who answered TradeWinds’ survey felt that they were at a disadvantage when it came to taking time out to have children or for other family reasons.

Change is undeniably underway.

More women are coming into the sector, with particularly encouraging numbers from Clarksons and SSY on their trainees.

There are now more women in leadership positions in broking houses.

Younger people coming through appear to want a different culture from their older peers.

New awareness

Female brokers also report that there is now an awareness about what is acceptable in the office environment.

And many shipbrokers are willing, with some even keen, to reply to questions from TradeWinds on this subject. The answers were not so forthcoming or even printable during some early soundings on this subject a few years back.

Women have also flagged up the enjoyable parts of their broking job — the interaction with clients, travel, the variety of the day-to-day and the excitement of closing big deals.

So there is progress. But could it come quicker, more decisively and with greater leadership intent? Undoubtedly.

There is a fear echoed by some — both women and men — that over-regulation in the broking world could stifle some of the business’ creativity and clip its wings.

But surely that is not the real issue. It is about making bold moves to help women thrive in the sector on an equal footing and making them feel truly part of the team, or allowing them to lead it effectively so they can work to their best potential.

Who knows — the business might even benefit!

One female broker told me it would take another 30 years to change the culture of shipbroking.

Don’t let it take that long.