On International Women’s Day 2021, Maersk group subsidiary Svitzer Europe’s cluster managing director for UK North, Ita Dickson tells International Tug & Salvage about her career, motivations, industry inclusion and overcoming the challenges of diversity
Ms Dickson has been in this Liverpool-based role for three years after joining Svitzer in 2014, and the maritime industry in 1995.
ITS: Tell us about your career within shipping and how you got to where you are today?
Ita Dickson: I started my career with a ferry company on the Irish Sea in 1995, initially working for different functional departments before landing in the marine operations division. That is when I knew I would never look back. I absolutely loved the fast-paced environment of marine operations where no two days are the same.
About three years ago, I was appointed as Svitzer’s cluster managing director for UK North, based in Liverpool. As part of this role, I currently oversee all of our operations in the northern region of the UK. I am also a member of Svitzer Europe’s senior management team.
My Svitzer story started in 2014, when I joined the company as operational and commercial controller in Belfast. At the time, this was a new role for Svitzer.
Joining to work in a new role added to the initial challenge, but it was fantastic to be able to apply my marine operations skills in Svitzer’s Belfast operation.
After three years in Belfast, I was offered the chance to become port manager for Svitzer’s London operation. London is the one of the largest and busiest ports Svitzer supports, not just in Europe but globally.
Svitzer’s team on the Thames and Medway handles over 8,000 towage jobs annually and we employ over 80 people to help us serve our customers in this hub.
Looking back at my 20 years in the marine service industry, I could not be more pleased with the experiences I have had and not only the challenges that I have overcome personally, but also helped Svitzer to overcome as well.
My motivation remains to drive Svitzer’s business forward, deliver an even better service, and further improve our organisational set-up in the UK North and beyond.
What does diversity and inclusion mean for the shipping industry?
The global maritime industry is advancing and innovating at a tremendous speed, with great focus being placed on modernising a sector that for so long has been behind the curve in many areas, including technology, communications, and environmental awareness.
Diversity, inclusion, and the wider role that women can play within shipping is another key area of development for the industry.
This is true for the towage segment as well, which has started to look closer at diversity and how it can have a positive impact on the first and last mile of global seaborne trade.
We should celebrate and champion initiatives that involve more people in our sector. That is because it reflects the reality that our industry is becoming more open, more transparent and more collaborative.
This is a core focus for us at Svitzer, as we want to encourage more people to have the brilliant career experiences that I have been lucky to enjoy.
What is the key challenge for the shipping industry to overcome to achieve greater diversity, and what strengths does Svitzer have for embracing this wider inclusion?
One of the key challenges for greater gender diversity in shipping is perception. The ultimate achievement would be for the maritime community to tackle the belief that shipping is a working place that is only open to men of a certain age, whose families have been in the industry for the past four generations. At Svitzer, we believe that is not true, and that is not what we want our industry to be.
Many things that are presumed to be done through physical force instead require technical intelligence and the right tools.
Many may think women do not have the ability to work on a powerful tugboat, but our seafarer colleagues have shown that this type of work is not exclusive to a specific gender.
At Svitzer, the human element behind towage is our core business differentiator and we fully recognise that women – and the skills and ideas they can bring – will be instrumental in solving the challenges of the next decade.
As a market leader for towage, we are focused on encouraging the hiring, development and promotion of women throughout the company – from C-suite executives to the first all-female tug vessel crew.
In fact, Maersk has dedicated the entire month of March to diversity and inclusion to tackle this topic head on. This highlights the importance of these challenges to our organisation. Maersk and all its brands, including Svitzer, really do take this issue seriously, and I am very fortunate to be working for a company which has diversity as a central focus.
A few years back, I spoke at the Liverpool Pilotage Service Annual Dinner to raise awareness of the need for more gender diversity in the industry.
I recall at the same event the previous year in 2018, I was the only female in room, with some attendees commenting how great it was to see me representing women in the industry.
This reflects the genuine support I have always received from my male peers. I would not be where I am today without this support.
Over the past decade, we have seen a considerable amount of effort going towards empowering women in the maritime community. What do you think can be done to further support diversity in shipping?
We have come a long way, but there is still a lot to be done. Diversity and inclusion are key levers to strengthen business results in the markets where we operate, and a necessary action for access to future and wider talent pools.
Having a diverse team is essential to break cultural biases between sea and shore, and to provide international, combined experience.
Supporting equality in the workplace and investing in local talent are just some of the ways in which we are working towards achieving a skilled and diverse workforce.
Ultimately, it is simply about talent and about connecting sea and shore with the right capabilities the market can offer us.
Are there any initiatives to further support diversity within maritime that Svitzer has championed that you are particularly proud of or would like to share?
In 2019, Svitzer hired the first all-female towage crew for our 70-tonne bollard pull tug Svitzer Monte Cristi, which provides harbour towage services for ships in the port of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
This all-female crew in an industry traditionally dominated by men came as part of an important gender inclusion initiative that Svitzer pioneered. Importantly, it also marked a milestone for gender diversity in the Latin American maritime industry.
These women have become local role models for others and have proven to be an efficient and hardworking team.
At Svitzer, we want to work actively to improve the opportunities and careers of our female colleagues and for those who work in the sector, and we continue to work on gender-inclusive initiatives that will help buck the historical predominantly male trend in the maritime industry.
We have very recently also launched Virtual Strategies for Success, an initiative aimed at female employees across Maersk who want to maximise their career potential and enhance their performance.
This initiative is part of our ongoing commitment to a more gender-balanced leadership profile and to providing tools and techniques to empower female talent.