Beatrice Engels is in her third year of the sea captain programme at the Maritime Academy in Kalmar. Unlike some of her course mates, she says she was lucky during her onboard training and did not experience serious harassment. But working on board as a woman is still tough, she explains, which is why she took the offer to be a mentee in the Redo project mentoring programme last autumn.
“It is very special working at sea when you’re a woman,” says Beatrice Engels. “There are many challenges you have to cope with. I saw the mentoring programme as a chance to become part of a community, as well as getting tips and advice from someone who has been in shipping for a long time.”
Her mentor works as a first mate on tankers. They meet and have coffee or eat sushi together, and Beatrice Engels can talk with her about situations she has experienced during her internships on board. She also gets to share her mentor’s experiences.
It is very special working at sea when you’re a woman
“She’s given me a great deal of knowledge and insights, but we have also developed a stable relationship and become friends. She has been really supportive and helpful.”
They follow the mentoring programme plan, in which each meeting has a specific discussion theme. The last time they met, they talked about the challenge of combining long periods away from home with family life and friends.
“We talked about how to take care of your relationships and what to do if you have to miss a friend’s wedding because you’re at sea, for example. We were honest with each other about what we enjoy in life and what we would like to change. It was quite an emotional meeting.”
Some of the hardest things to deal with as a nautical officer student on board, says Beatrice Engels, are uncomfortable situations. These are not necessarily obvious cases of bullying or harassment, but are often much more subtle signals that are still clear and create an awkward atmosphere.
“I’ve not experienced serious harassment, but I’ve experienced microaggression several times, which has really made me angry – like someone talking to you in a condescending way. These situations can be more difficult to deal with than when someone is openly insulting, and sometimes you almost start to wonder whether it’s your fault.”
I’ve not experienced serious harassment, but I’ve experienced microaggression several times, which has really made me angry.
Beatrice Engels really appreciates being able to discuss events like this with her mentor.
“She has described how she reacted when she felt harassed or uncomfortable and what she thinks works in such situations. Things she regrets doing or not doing. I remember that kind of tips and advice.”
Since Beatrice Engels started her nautical officer training in 2020, many of her classmates have quit, including at least five women. She does not know the reasons for all of these cases, but sexual harassment caused at least one of them.
“She was directly harassed and felt so bad that she chose to leave the programme. She also had a family situation that contributed to the decision. Another student quit because she felt it was too hard being the only woman on board.”
Beatrice Engels plans to finish the course and she is convinced that she has chosen the right profession. Being the only woman on board is stressful though, and she hopes that more women will join the shipping industry.
“The worst thing is probably that you feel so isolated as the only woman. You don’t have much in common with middle-aged men who only want to talk about football and how to build the best carport. You can pretend and go along with it for a while, but that doesn’t really get you anywhere. On my second internship, I was the only woman on board for 5 ½ months, and it was really hard. But I do love working at sea, doing different jobs and always on the go. It suits me.”