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11 Mar 2024
7 mins
Norhayati – Her Passion and Inspiring Inclusion

International Women's Day falls on 8 March and collectively in SMOU, we all #InspireInclusion. SeaVoices catches up with 4th Engineer Norhayati Binte Harun on her defining moments and how she navigates work, relationships and life as a female seafarer in a male dominated industry.

Don’t let her sweet demeanor deceive you. 29-year-old Norhayati Binte Harun is tough and rugged when it comes to work. Usually the only female in the Engine room, Norhayati has experienced life aboard various types of sea-going vessels for over half a decade.

A SMOU member of 6 years and in the SMOU General Council, Norhayati believes in transparency with regards to the hard work involved in becoming a female seafarer.

“We shouldn’t sugarcoat, especially when attracting younger talents who are thinking of a career at sea. We need to tell it as it is, and by doing so – we can attract the right talent who is willing to put in the hard work and sacrifices needed to excel in the industry. It is without a doubt, tough to be seafarer, yet alone a female seafarer but it is enriching and professionally rewarding.”

SV: Did your parents play a role in you choosing to be a seafarer?

N: Brought up in a conservative family, my parents have consistently backed my pursuits, emphasizing self-sufficiency and societal contributions. When I informed my mother about my extended periods away, she simply encouraged me to work safely and present the best version of myself.

Their trust in my abilities, coupled with my Marine Engineering background from ITE, propelled me to take a daring step forward by joining the Tripartite Engineering Training Award (TETA) program in 2017.

SV: Tell us more about your journey.

N: Growing up, I was raised in a lower-middle-income family, and since my lower secondary school days, I had to manage various odd jobs to financially contribute to the household.

Being naturally not inclined towards academics, I faced setbacks in my Pre-Sea days. However, driven by the determination to provide a better life for my family and supported by encouraging lecturers at Wavelink Maritime Institute who believed in me, I successfully obtained my CoC Class 5 in 2021.

Furthermore, the encouragement and inspiration from industry peers played a crucial role in motivating me to give my best.

SV: Why did you choose Engineering?

N: My time at ITE has deepened my appreciation for troubleshooting and repairing mechanical machinery. I find great satisfaction in understanding the components, from the larger parts to the smaller details, each playing a crucial role and serving a purpose in ensuring safe and efficient operations.

Every day presents a new challenge for me to tackle, a fresh problem to solve.

Being a female marine engineer is no easy feat, particularly when I often find myself as the only woman in the Engine Room or onboard. Despite the industry’s predominantly male nature, I foresee positive changes in the near future. I firmly believe that female seafarers are just as capable as their male counterparts. Embracing a diverse talent pool is advantageous for any organization.

SV: How does SMOU having a female General Secretary impact you?

N: Under the leadership of Sister Mary Liew as SMOU General Secretary, I feel empowered and inspired. This highlights that effective leadership transcends gender boundaries. Through diligence and merit, professional success and opportunities naturally follow.

Sister Mary is renowned for her commitment to female empowerment and equality. I am confident that any sensitive challenges faced by our female members, such as harassment or discrimination, will be addressed directly. In a secure environment, we can openly share our concerns without fear of judgment.

SV: Have you encountered any new inclusivity initiatives?

In the recent years, the industry has acknowledged that they are missing out on a talent pool by not diversifying during their recruitment process and has since then pivoted recruiting strategies.

During a corporate conference, my company introduced all the female seafarers, conveying a powerful message that women in this field are a permanent presence. The emphasis was on mutual respect and understanding boundaries. I am genuinely grateful to the company for recognizing and making efforts to retain female seafarers. Additionally, the conference also highlighted topics such as boundaries and professionalism onboard.

The emergence of DIBE (Diversity, Inclusivity, Belonging & Equity) is noteworthy, and I appreciate my employers and the industry for acknowledging the value of female seafarers. Initiatives such as providing complimentary feminine products onboard and facilitating the re-deployment of expectant female seafarers to shore-based positions are steps my company has taken, and I am sincerely grateful for them.

SV: What changes do you hope to see?

N: Oftentimes, I would hear females are better suited for an administrative position. The outdated notion that females cannot excel as seafarers needs to evolve.

I hope to see more enlightened male seafarers speak up against the minority few who are unprofessional and disrespectful towards a female colleague. Moreover, as onboard living involves a communal setting, I hope to see efforts on highlighting what is acceptable and what is not, with regards to jokes and personal space.

SV: What suggestions do you have to attract and retain more female seafarers?

N: Creating awareness that the industry is changing would help tremendously. This could be achieved by networking opportunities over lunch or dinner.

As also mentioned previously, not sugarcoating the challenges we commonly face can better prepare our aspiring “sisterfarers.” Sharing with each other on spotting the red-flags of colleagues, identifying the boundaries on jokes/personal space, methods on speaking up or reaching out for help can equip them with the necessary skills to navigate through this industry.

Furthermore, involving families in engagement sessions can enhance our attraction rates. Dispelling myths through assurances from current female seafarers can foster greater support from families, ultimately leading to a more resilient community of female seafarers.

SV: Do you have a message for the female seafarer wannabe?

N: Do not be afraid to take the leap of faith. If you genuinely believe that you can excel here, please do join the family! Do not allow societal expectations based on gender to hinder you from pursuing your dreams. Your worth and qualifications are not determined by differences in anatomy; you are just as valid and capable. My advice is as long as you are willing to work hard, you will get what you want. You are your best resource.

Choosing to be a Marine Engineer has proven to be one of the most fulfilling decisions I’ve ever made. I hold the conviction that the professional experience itself is immensely valuable, and I am resolute in my goal—to ascend to the position of Chief Engineer one day.

SV: Your fiancé is also a seafarer. How do you both manage the relationship?

N: Long-distance relationships inherently pose challenges, especially when both individuals are consistently in different time zones. Similar to any relationship, we prioritize open communication and ensure our expectations are clear.

We share a common goal, aiming to achieve our CoC Class 1. Fortunately, my partner excels in planning and adapting to unforeseen changes. Typically, we find ourselves at sea simultaneously, maximizing our time together when we return to Singapore.

Given his role as a Deck Officer, we consciously avoid work-related discussions, recognizing that our perspectives on such matters often result in two different opinions.

So, how can a woman thrive in a male-dominated industry like seafaring? Norhayati sets the example – Through unwavering dedication, relentless perseverance, and never underestimating the heights you can reach.