Cargill Ocean Transportation global operations director Eman Abdalla sees a link between recent innovation in shipping and increasing awareness of the need to have more diversity and inclusion in its workforce.

The executive, who is also responsible for sustainability efforts at the shipping arm of commodities giant Cargill, said she believes ideas stagnated in the industry as the decarbonisation challenge loomed.

“And it’s only recently, when we actually embraced diversity, and our talent pool has increased substantially and has widened that substantially, that you started feeling that there was that spark, and all of a sudden the water started flowing again,” she said.

She said this just as shipping is facing enormous competition for talent — and she sees diversity as key to the innovation to achieve shipping’s sustainability goals.

But decarbonisation is not just one piece of sustainability.

“How can we achieve sustainability without having diversity and without having innovation?” she asked.

“The word sustainability means, how can we, as an industry, be sustainable? And by being sustainable, we actually have the right to exist as an industry. And that means from an environmental perspective, but also from a social perspective.”

Asked how the drive for diversity is playing out on her team of 180 vessel operations employees at Cargill Ocean Transportation, Abdalla said the changes have been described as an “earthquake”.

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She said the goal in hiring is to strive for gender parity, but not at the expense of inclusiveness and equity. She added that women, for example, do not get an advantage in a job, but insisted human resources should deliver a balanced portfolio of candidates for consideration.

“I want everybody to be 100% certain that every position that we fill is based on merit, and nothing else,” she said.