We asked Karen what it's like to work in shipping

How did your career in the maritime sector begin?

Accidentally, I moved to Liverpool in 2007, having taken voluntary redundancy and popped my CV on Monster (which might age me a little). I got interviews with two forwarders and a shipping line. I had no idea that there even was a shipping or maritime industry. I had never really considered how goods moved around the world, I just took it for granted that lots of things were made in other countries and somehow, they magically appeared in our shops, which, when you think of the size of our industry and how critical it is to modern day life (COVID really has reinforced this criticality), is crazy. As an industry, we are much more visible now than 15 years ago, but there’s more we can do to raise awareness of the myriad of careers available.

What do you like about working in this field?

This industry is so varied, particularly now, as shipping lines can and do offer much more than just port to port services. It is ever-evolving and adapting, and this creates so many opportunities. Whatever your skills, whether you’re a born negotiator or have a love of problem-solving there is a role for you in our industry. Since joining the industry, I’ve worked in sales, trade, projects and system deployment, process and continuous improvement. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to our head office in Marseille and agencies across the world, from Ghana to Shanghai to Finland. I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it. I’ve taken opportunities as and when they’ve presented themselves and learnt as much as I can every step of the way. There is always something new to learn and someone inspiring to learn from. I am now Customer Care Director for the UK – a position I was asked to fill for an interim period but very quickly fell in love with and made it known I wanted it for the long term. I was lucky enough to be offered the role permanently in November. I love helping our people to help our customers and spending every day improving things. Whether it’s a specific small but important task for today or the wider strategy for the coming years, everything we do is centered around our customers and making their journey and experience positive.

Shipping is often seen as a career for men, but what opportunities exist for women?

Our industry has traditionally been seen as slow to move with the times and embrace the benefits of diversity in the workforce, but change is happening. In the office environment, in particular, our gender balance has improved significantly. We have more to do collectively at senior levels, but I’ve seen the appetite to deliver equality. We must keep reviewing and adapting, and measuring our successes - diversity is crucial for a successful company, and if we don’t keep monitoring our progress we’ll stall.

Did you have to overcome any challenges in the industry? Tell us about your experience.

I used to think I’d been fortunate and avoided any lack of opportunity that being a woman in a male-dominated industry brings. What I believe now is that I wasn’t aware of when opportunities were not coming as quickly for me as they were for my male colleagues, who I may have been outperforming in terms of results in the business. Still, by not playing 5-a-side football or going on golf days, I look back and realise I was overlooked for these reasons. I have nothing against football or golf (which I play, but not through work), but this is an excellent example of where businesses have in the past made decisions perhaps based on unconscious (or conscious) biases that are not reflecting performance in the workplace.

Do the different backgrounds of your team help you do your job?

Absolutely! I’ve worked with several people during my career where I’ve thought, “Whatever the task if I had to put a team together, I’d want them on it.” More often than not, it’s a person who thinks completely differently to me. Different perspectives mean better and quicker problem-solving. I love it when someone walks into the room and says something completely out of leftfield that changes the way everyone approaches a problem. A huge contributor to how a person thinks is their lived experience; without diversity, you don’t have this and it’s to the proven detriment of the company (and its success).

Would you recommend a career in maritime to other women and why?

Absolutely. We are a growing and changing industry with such a wealth of opportunity. CSR has become a foundation of certainly CMA CGM’s corporate strategy and ensuring that we address the issues that have impeded equality in the workforce is fundamental to our success. Come and work in logistics and you’ll never look back - or leave!