What do women want? Flexible working arrangements and less sexist treatment by their male peers.

Those were some of the overarching findings in TradeWinds’ online survey of women working as brokers and ancillary staff at competitive shipbroking companies worldwide.

Some 55 women from around the world from across five continents responded, two-thirds of whom work in Europe. The responses can be viewed in full in the visualisation below.

The picture that emerged is one of shipbroking being a well-paid, varied and fast-paced career in which every day is different and offers a deep sense of satisfaction when things go well.

But there are inherent challenges to the career — challenges compounded by some of the specific baggage that comes with being a woman in the space.

One-quarter of those surveyed said that if they were to leave shipbroking, the most likely reason would be because they disliked the working culture.

Another 25% of women said they could foresee themselves leaving the space because of their desire for a better work-life balance.

“I believe one day I will just burn out and then go get an assistant role or something with very little responsibility,” one respondent said.

Many women said they most enjoy the friendships, team spirit and social aspects of broking, especially in such an international industry.

“Great to meet people from different cultures and environments who bring new experiences and learnings,” one respondent said.

Money is also a big motivator.

“Unlike many other careers where income may be capped, shipbroking offers the opportunity to earn based on performance and deals closed,” said one woman.

Boys’ club culture

But women said that male-dominated shipbroking has cultural problems that need to be addressed.

When asked the aspects of the job she dislikes most, one woman said: “The culture/the boys club, the open drug taking, the lack of female respect.”

“We’ve all seen the herd head to a strip club, not cool and not for everyone,” said another.

Insights from survey respondents
  • Just under 20% of women said parenthood or caring responsibilities are potential reasons for leaving broking
  • Career progression for women seems to stagnate at a certain point
  • Companies should create a supportive environment where women do not fear job loss due to pregnancy
  • Flexible working arrangements, including remote work, part-time hours and childcare support
  • Maternity leave and additional health insurance benefits are desired by many women
  • Some women seek the option for leave during menstruation
  • Gripes about shipbroking include difficult clients, long hours and stress, which are not gender-specific
  • Both men and women in shipbroking face similar challenges, including work-life balance issues and workplace toxicity
  • Some women express a desire to leave shipbroking for more fulfilling careers, citing a lack of appreciation and potential vulnerability to technological advancements

Many women complained of not feeling included by men in corporate culture and socialising — sometimes not even being invited to play golf or for after-work beers.

One broker said she wants male leaders to set an example.

“It is important that the men in high places act as role models for the other guys in the industry and that bad behaviour gets consequences,” she said, “for example, a London shipbroker received a travel ban after getting shitfaced and behaving inappropriately towards me and other women at a shipping event.”

Several others also referenced being disrespected, not being taken seriously or spoken down to by male colleagues.

One woman said she experienced “derogatory comments from male peers when successful”.

Another said she most disliked “disrespectful men, me-too experiences and anticipation that women are less competent” within shipbroking.

“Respect our opinion, treat issues we bring to you seriously, don’t downplay it as our time of the month or a woman just having a moan. Listen!” one respondent advised employers.

Women said they wanted improved processes to be able to speak up about sexual harassment and to deal with specific incidents. Sexual harassment, sexist jokes, behaviour and insults by men were called out by several different respondents.

One said she thinks this could be alleviated somewhat with “appropriate training on unconscious bias, how to stage a bystander intervention and how to self-advocate”.

Many commented that the way careers progress within the space is not necessarily based on achievement, for men or women.

“Promote women not because they’re women, but because of their abilities. It is human nature to like those that are similar to you, so it is easy to understand why a male employee’s efforts might be more easily acknowledged by male leadership,” said another respondent.

“I would ask that the WORK be considered heavily when considering promotions.”

Another said: “I have left a couple of times to check that I can still do other jobs, but also because I felt that despite my long experience, I was not advancing, but often younger men were.”

One woman identified “lots of nepotism, which is fair if the person is knowledgeable and I appreciate passed-down knowledge. However, you can tell when someone just walked their way into a job”.

Another referenced “seeing less talented colleagues getting VIP accounts and treat[s] just because they sleep with the boss”.

Other women had more positive experiences of stepping out of shipbroking and coming back in.

“I have been in the same company for a decade now. In this decade, I got married, [had] two children and had to care for a family member. As far as you are hard-working and making money, no one really cares about the gender,” said one European respondent.