Women in shipping - Sue Terpilowski, president, Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association UK

Sue Terpilowski

Sue Terpilowski. Credit: Sue Terpilowski

A career in journalism and public relations has honed Sue Terpilowski’s ability to package and deliver messages to large audiences – a skill that comes in handy for her role as the president of the UK branch of Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association (WISTA). While her path to this role was serendipitous, it is one that she has embraced.

“For a long time I didn’t know WISTA existed,” she admits sheepishly, confessing that this was the case even though she has been involved in the maritime sector since 2000. “In 2009, they pitched to do an international conference at the [International Maritime Organization] and Maria Dixon [then president of WISTA UK] and Philippa Wright asked if I could come to the committee meeting to talk them through the facets of running the conference and were so taken with my presentation that they asked me to join in as an external helper to run the conference.”

The conference was a big success and not only brought Terpilowski professional satisfaction but also provided her with the opportunity to do more for the community. “I felt the need to give back to the industry, and I just wish I’d had it for support when I joined the maritime sector, as it could have helped me,” she says, recalling that she joined the association as a member and was invited to join the executive committee. “When Maria stepped down [in December 2014], I took over and the members voted me in as president. I was very touched,” she says.

The UK national has gotten her teeth into the opportunity, not only spearheading a number of industry initiatives under the WISTA banner in addition to her full-time job as the managing director of PR company Image Line, but also taking on the position of chair of the Maritime UK Women in Maritime taskforce. “Maritime UK women’s transport committee aims to bring more radical change in the industry and not just get more women into the industry, but also to progress their careers,” she says.

Terpilowski is keen to tackle the ‘leaky pipeline’ in maritime, where women are recruited for lower end jobs, but seem to fall through the cracks along the career path to management. “When you look at the number of women in middle management, the statistics drop to single digits. Women who leave to go on maternity almost always go to other industries when returning to the workforce and we need to see what we can do about making sure that they come back to our sector,” she says emphatically.

The committee is to implement two major initiatives over the coming year, the first of which is a charter designed to commit companies to being more inclusive and progressive – commitments that should make the working environment more women-friendly. The second initiative is even more ambitious. “We are going to launch a benchmark survey to find out what the real situation is across the maritime world including boating, yachting, fishing, merchant navy, and even cruise ships – although not the hospitality side – to get the figures for how many women work in these sectors and what their job functions are,” she says, adding that the results of this survey will be announced at a joint WISTA-Maritime UK conference.

“We are also forming subgroups [in Maritime UK] to look at recruitment processes and best practices that can be migrated over from other sectors that have good retention and career progression for women,” Terpilowski continues, adding that in the longer term, there will be a focus on the gender pay gap and steps that can be taken to ensure equal remuneration. “These subgroups are open to everyone in the industry as we are eager to get a multiplicity of views.”

The Image Line MD is also looking to kick off an informal mentoring scheme through WISTA, which she believes would be extremely useful. “As a woman, I want to help other women enjoy this sector that has given me both good times and also fantastic friends,” she explains, adding that she has benefitted from guidance from a number of people both within the maritime and PR sectors. “It was such a great help to have my mentor Martin Pritchard – who has sadly passed away – give me practical advice when I was setting my business up, such as how to register it and sort my accounts. He was also great to talk to if I was having a bad day and could use guidance.”

While Terpilowski recalls the maritime industry being less welcoming of women in the past, particularly in instances when some clients were uncomfortable talking to a woman about business, she feels that the times have changed. “I used to have to allow a male colleague to front the business in some cases, but times have certainly changed, and I haven’t encountered that for quite a few years. This could be because I’m more known on the speaking circuit and I do still hear horrific stories, but these seem to be lessening,” she says, adding that she would like to see many changes over the next five years including a boycott of conference panels where there are no women speakers, more inclusive language in recruitment for the sector, and a greater examination of conscious and unconscious bias.

“Personally speaking, I don’t believe in having quotas for women, but would prefer to show best practice and case studies that can work to inspire others,” she adds.