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April 13, 2022

Voyager News, Voyager Blogs

A better class of people

Good leadership is hard to define but as the saying goes, you know it when you see it. In Norway, leadership calls for diversity, of gender, background and age, the first of these by a quota system which would be considered controversial in many countries.

Despite the apparently harmonious arrangement, it’s not always plain sailing in an industry still marked by gender imbalance and a distinct lack of diversity. Hurtigruten CEO Hedda Felin came to shipping from a decade in oil and gas “so I was used to being the only female in the room, it’s no better in shipping,” she told the opening Nor-Shipping conference

Her company has created a business case for diversity in its team, not only gender but in seeking to bring in different perspectives, itself a different challenge. “Different culture and perspectives are welcome; gender is the easy way to start, we need more than just good technical and operational skills,” she said.

This road leads directly to ESG, something which she describes as “not a support function but a core function, it supports the purpose of the company and its recruitment strategy”.

In the two years of the Pandemic, it was companies with strong corporate culture that prospered, according to Jotun CEO Morten Fon. The fact that we couldn’t meet meant that we handle each other in a different way and corporate culture can help, you have to be prepared,” he said.

Jotun may not at the forefront of the technology revolution, but Fon says the company plans to recruit more people with diverse skills in future, but this will not happen overnight. “We will grow and recruit and change from inside, there is already a focus on hiring different talent in the Middle East and Asia.”

“We have to continue to meet to create collaboration; we know we can’t do everything ourselves so we will develop the people around us and that means working differently than before,” he added.

Organising resources and people is a task that can disrupt the established order, but the change can be shared, according to Sintef Ocean CEO Alexandra Bech Gjorv. This is as true for decarbonisation as it is for human resources and requires a risk sharing process across the value chain.

How people react to change is even more complex as it reflects the diversity of personalities far more complex than integrated circuits. Bech Gjorv related a story of working with a large hospital where patient outcomes suffered because doctors worked in different ways. “We developed a digital plan to take away their paperwork which horrified them, but they quickly became interested in being able to compare and benchmark with their colleagues and see where they worked differently.”

Seafarers are certainly among those who would welcome a reduction in paperwork, but as she added “people outside shipping feel there’s little resource to think about transformation, but when they come together it can be achieved, people can work on these complex issues.”

The panel had earlier heard an inspirational presentation by 16-year-old Femi Owolade-Coombes, hacking enabler and entrepreneur, who despite his tender years had advice for shipping in identifying and attracting young talent.

His shortlist began with the value of collaboration; he set up regular groups once he noticed his coding sessions were attracting a dedicated, engaged group. He is equally accepting that enterprise can be the goal of collaborative learning; whether teaching SEO or pitching venture capital funds.

Lastly, he stressed the need for diversity and inclusion. Owolade-Coombes’ coding workshops and groups deliberately involve young people from BAME communities, have 50% female representation and include neurodiverse participants.

“Your board should reflect diversity because a greater range of contributors creates more inclusive leadership,” he said. “You need a diverse but inclusive culture. People need help to express opinions freely and inclusive leadership means accepting differences and being transparent with people about routes of progression if you want to attract and retain them.”

HUB Ocean CEO Kimberly Mathisen picked up on the theme of skills and recruitment, pointing to two operative principles: purpose and personal growth. “If you want to attract young people you won’t be anywhere if your organisation doesn’t offer both those things,” she said.

In particular, the modest role so far played by digital technology in shipping is in contrast with the attention it has received in mainstream business. “If sustainability burns as brightly outside the industry, then it’s time for shipping to grab hold of it too. Shipping has purpose and we can engage in a transformation by leading with purpose.”

That requires a culture of learning that may not have caught to the industry yet, where training is still a process of compliance, top-up and requirement rather than personal growth.

“If your corporate learning is still once or twice a year you need to change to a process that’s portable stackable and consumable,” she said. “I love KPIs but in the past we have measured the wrong kind of thing and then we beat up people. We need to turn short term miserable conversations into long term positive ones.”

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