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18 May 2024
4 mins
Breaking Barriers: The Rise of Women in Maritime Leadership

What is it like to be the minority within another minority? Imagine being one of the very few Singapore seafarers onboard and being a woman. That’s the position Siti Nasuha Binte Abdul Rahman, Second Officer at Wallenius Marine, finds herself in. She tells SeaVoices more.

“One challenge I faced earlier on in my career was working alongside a motley crew of people from different countries and ethnicities. I had to take time to understand the different cultures and the way my colleagues conducted themselves onboard. Over the years, I told myself, ‘If you cannot beat them, then join them’.”

Far from being resigned to passive assimilation, it is Nasuha’s way of adapting. For it is by crossing over to the ‘in-group’ that one can understand ‘the other’ better, and be understood, despite the differences. This strength, and aptitude for teaming, influencing, and reaching out to her peers did not go unnoticed. Today, Nasuha is a member of the SMOU Executive Committee, a position she leverages on to advocate for her co-workers – in particular, female seafarers.

“Being on a ship with another female colleague is still uncommon. I often find myself as the sole female onboard,” she acknowledged the obstacles she faces. “The difficulties don’t lie solely in the tasks themselves, but in demonstrating my abilities as a competent seafarer,” she added, referring to the stereotypes women must overcome, which can in turn impact opportunities for advancement.

But there are encouraging developments, she notes, to change the status quo. There is Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), a government-led initiative to promote fair and just employment practices. Companies are also investing in training programmes focused on diversity and inclusion. Although this is nothing new for shore roles, Nasuha describes this as a dawn of a new age for seafarers who haven’t worked with female superiors or colleagues before: “With such training, shipping companies can foster a sense of respect among crew members. Women will have it a little easier to fit into the workplace. It would be a gentle knoll to navigate as opposed to a rocky landscape.”

She has encountered stories of women entering traditionally male-dominated sectors beyond shipping. These instances reinforce her belief that determination and perseverance know no bounds when it comes to achieving one’s goals. Serving as a guiding light for her aspirations is Ms. Norana Mokhtar, one of Singapore’s very few female harbour pilots, who is now a pilot examiner. Speaking with admiration about her role model who checks on her often, Nasuha remarks: “Her accomplishments and where she is right now is something that all other females can draw inspiration from.”

Nasuha herself had explored another male-dominated career path before – pursuing Aeronautical studies in college. A change of heart and a timely introduction to Tripartite Nautical Training Award (TNTA) led her to be matchmade to shipping instead. She has since not wavered an inch, her steps anchored by one challenge her father had issued: “Dad, who is my inspiration and role model once told me ‘whatever you do, be better than me’.” Mr Rahman had started out as a messman and worked his way up to CoC4 as Hometrade Master. Nasuha, well on her way to attain CoC1, has risen to the challenge.

At the core of Nasuha’s initiatives to enhance work conditions and work-life balance for her fellow seafarers is her dedicated involvement within the seafaring community. Through networking sessions facilitated by SMOU, she seizes opportunities to impart wisdom and guide younger seafarers. Emphasizing the nurturing nature inherent in women, Nasuha readily extends her support, aiding junior seafarers in exam preparations and providing a compassionate ear to female colleagues navigating distant waters. In the face of digital transformation and technological advancements, Nasuha remains optimistic about the opportunities for women in leadership positions. Noting that automation is a general challenge that affects the entire workforce (not just women), it could actually level the playing field.

“Technology transforms the nature of work and creates in tandem a need for other capacities that females can take on equally well if not better. These include analytical, organisational, and career developmental roles,” she opines.

Nasuha’s journey is a poignant testament to the fact that success knows no gender bounds. With every challenge she overcomes, she paves the way for a transformative shift, empowering women to assert their rightful presence and thrive in the maritime domain.