Breaking the glass ceiling: Women in the fishing industry


4th Nov 2021 Life

Breaking the glass ceiling: Women in the fishing industry

Traditionally, fishing fleets have long depended on female workers to process their catch.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ‘herring lassies’ would follow the boats down the east coast of Scotland, gutting and salt-pickling their catch. In North-Western Spain, ‘the mariscadoras’ would work in groups, picking clams and cockles out of the sandbanks of Galacia. And in Norway, fisherwomen would mend nets, bait long-lines, and clean boats.

Indeed, for centuries, women have formed the integral backbone of the fisheries industry, playing crucial roles in pre- and post-harvesting tasks. But their contribution has not always been recognised, with many traditionally female tasks considered a mere extension of a woman’s duties in a fishing household.

As María Caldeiro, the General Director of FUNDAMAR explains, ‘Their work was just as necessary as men’s, but it was considered something complementary, and was not recognised socially or economically.’

Yet soon, this would begin to change.

Indeed, in recent years the fishing industry has undergone a transformation, with private businesses taking active steps to narrow the gender gap. For example, in June 2018, Nueva Pescanova group, one of Europe’s largest fishing and fish processing companies, created Women in Pescanova (WIP) to boost the visibility of women, improve integration and promotion practices, and support female talent.

Similarly, The Salmon Industry Association of Chile (SalmonChile) created a working group with the objective of increasing the participation of women in the industry, striving to advance women into management roles.

Russia’s leading fishing business Norebo has also taken active steps to empower women, supporting a growing number to take up roles historically viewed as the preserve of men.

‘At our onshore facility women are present in all positions – technical staff, quality department, processing, management,’ explains Yuliya Krivoshlykova, Norebo’s Deputy Head Director for Polar Sea+ factory in Murmansk. ‘There was even a crane operator in the technical service.’

Krivoshlykova continues, equal opportunity is a core value at Norebo, and has never ‘encountered any situations when the position was given to someone on the basis of their gender.’

Following this renewed commitment to gender parity, the fisheries industry has witnessed tangible change. Indeed, today, women represent roughly 13% of capture fishery employees, 25% of the workforce in aquaculture, and more than 50% in seafood processing.

As Torunn Halhjem, Director International Sales at Polar Bear Enterprise, Russia and ex-Senior Director of Global Species at Trident Seafood, reflects, ‘In the last five years, it seems women’s participation has exploded. It’s wonderful to see so many women come into our industry.’

Crucially, as an increasing number of women choose to join the fishing industry, several are now also beginning to climb the ranks and secure leadership positions.

‘Women are stepping up and taking charge of their careers, and more are completing advanced degrees and aquaculture training,’ said Kristin Storry, Certification and Regulatory Affairs Manager, Grieg Seafood BC. ‘More women are becoming directors, managers, and assistant managers where before that was uncommon.’

Of course, there is still room for further progress. Nonetheless, the pace of change suggests women will play an increasingly large role in the fishing industry in the years to come. This will not only lead to a wealth of opportunity for women but also a string of benefits for fishing businesses themselves.

Indeed, the benefits of a diverse workforce are well reported.  One 2017 study by Boston Consulting Group found that diverse companies produce 19% more revenue. This is because a diverse workforce allows for a wider array of insights, ideas, and approaches, which drives innovation and strengthens problem-solving.

Some employers also find women to have unique qualities that can strengthen the workforce. As Joe Bundrant, CEO of Trident Seafoods reflects, ‘Women bring diverse and more creative way of thinking. They are excellent at developing relationships and are brilliant problem solvers.’

Importantly, diversity can also translate to increased profits, with McKinsey & Co finding that the top performing companies have the most diverse leadership teams. As this report shows, diversity is not just a metric to aim for but is an integral part of a successful revenue generating business.

For these reasons and more, many fishing businesses have welcomed the increased participation of women in the industry, and are beginning to take further action to encourage more women into the sector. For example, many businesses are starting to offer increased flexible working patterns and mentorship programmes.

It is apparent the fisheries industry has undergone a fundamental transformation, with leading businesses such as Norebo taking active steps to empower and support women into the industry, offering them a highly rewarding and stimulating careers and professional growth.

With change in our midst, there is today, ‘No career obstacles when we talk about women in the fishing industry,’ explains Oxana Stolbova, Norebo’s Technical Development Specialist for Fleet. And with the industry now encouraging more and more women into it, there is ‘No reason why women shouldn’t be given the opportunity to reach the highest level,’ explains George McCrae, secretary of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association.

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