First officer gives advice she would have liked to hear when new in shipping

Dare to take your place as part of the crew, be clear and don’t hesitate in your decisions. This is first officer Agnes Olsson’s best strategy for new employees on board and the advice she gives to her mentee in the Redo project.

The Redo project mentoring programme is run in collaboration with Wista Sweden, of which Agnes Olsson is a member. Her mentee is studying the sea captain programme in Gothenburg and they are now halfway through the mentoring programme. Their next meeting will be at the six-month checkpoint.

“I think it works really well,” says Agnes Olsson. “Admittedly, my mentee and I have been out of sync and when I have come home she has gone to work as a trainee, so we have not been able to meet. But we use digital communcations, which you have to do in this sector.”

Each meeting has a discussion theme, but Agnes Olsson says they also talk about other issues. Leadership is a topic they have taken up several times.

“As a cadet, you have a special role on board and you experience many different types of leadership. We talk a lot about real situations we’ve been through and how to handle them. I have also studied some leadership theory which I try to include in our conversations.”

You mustn’t be shy and keep a low profile, since that could be seen as insecurity and those who don’t want you there will take advantage right away. Never give people the opportunity to question you

As a cadet and a woman, finding your own leadership style is important, according to Agnes Olsson. She has studied her colleagues and learned from those she thinks are good managers.

“The strategy I’ve used in recent years is to take space from day one. “Hello, here I am and I am the one who is doing this job”. You mustn’t be shy and keep a low profile, since that could be seen as insecurity and those who don’t want you there will take advantage right away. Never give people the opportunity to question you,” she says.

Agnes Olsson can see there is a need for a mentoring programme for women nautical officer trainees. Since she graduated as a sea captain in 2016, she has faced prejudices and people who believe that women are not suitable as officers.

“Women working in the service department are accepted, but I have met both men and women who think that women should not be nautical officers. If there are more women, it is usually easier to gain respect. You don’t stand out as much, you’re not that woman. On my currrent ship there are three women that work on the bridge, although we are not usually there at the same time.”

Agnes Olsson has worked almost entirely in international shipping. She is currently working for Royal Caribbean on Allure of the Seas, which cruises between the American South Coast and Mexico, but she has also worked on other ships. How she has been treated as a woman on board depends to some extent on the shipping company’s attitude towards equality issues, she says.

“You notice that some shipping companies are actively working with this and have made a lot of progress, while others have a poor attitude. But the atmosphere also depends on the crew on board. Even on ships whose companies do not work with these issues, the climate may be great just because the employees on board are so good.”

At Royal Caribbean, there are clear limits for how to behave towards each other, which creates a fairly good sense of cooperation, she says.

“The shipping company has a tough attitude towards all forms of crime, which is necessary for it to function. There are around 2,000 of us in the crew with different nationalities so they have to be strict. One positive spin-off is that gender equality issues are also given space.”

For Agnes Olsson, being a mentor means that she can help others in a way that she would have liked to have experienced as a newcomer to shipping. But she says that the programme is also valuable in her current post.

“Being a mentor is a fantastic way of developing your leadership. In the future I will be working more with personnel issues and have responsibility for cadets, and I will apply the structure found in the Redo project. It’s a great basis for discussions which can be used in different contexts.”

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