Sanjam Sahi Gupta, Director, Sitara Shipping
It’s important to equip women with the right skills to enable them to reach leadership positions.

This industry is an amazing place to be in. There are times when I feel more change is needed - but instead of complaining we need to be the change and lead by example.

My father Capt. SS Sahi is a Master Mariner who left the sea to set up his shipping business. It was normal for me to visit the port and go onboard the ships that came to our agency. The dinner table conversations were usually about ships and cargo and about business associates from different parts of the world. As I grew up, I became fascinated with how cargo moved and the different cultures and languages I was exposed to.

In the early 90’s when containerization was gaining momentum, we got into the NVOCC business (Non-Vessel Owning Common Carrier; the operation comprises of sales, stuffing and transport of containers to gateway ports), following which, my sister Sumi and I joined the family business in 2001 (my mum handles the finances, and it is in every aspect a complete family business!). So, my major experience has been in the container trade, but since we handle projects, I also have experience in breakbulk and chartering.

Compared to 2001 when we were the only women in the room, sidelined and presumed to be of little importance by the male employees, things today are much better as the male mindset seems to have changed enough to accept women employees. This industry is an amazing place to be in. There are times when I feel more change is needed - but instead of complaining we need to be the change and lead by example. My dad once said to me, “If you don’t like something, quit complaining or waiting for others to drive change – simply step up.” So here I am trying to do my bit and be an advocate for diversity.

With new technologies in the Logistics Industry you don’t need to have a strong back - you need to have a strong mind!

Today, being taken seriously, being considered good enough to handle work, and being treated with respect and support (apart from some random sexist remarks or being talked down to - mansplaining is the word), I feel fortunate to be in the logistics industry.

People joke that our company should be called Sita Shipping as we have so many women working here. The fact is that we believe in equal opportunity. Once a client walked in and saw only women - it was the finance section - and he was amazed! If it was up to me, I would have hired women in operations too - unfortunately no female candidates have applied. However, I think talent is gender neutral. Today, with new technologies you don’t need to have a strong back - you need to have a strong mind!

Lack of role models is one reason why we don't have so many women leaders.

In 2018, after I won the SANDVIK gender award, I was funded for my survey on women in maritime (it is available at https://maritimesheeo.com/report2019.pdf). We found that there were very few women in leadership positions. Lack of role models is one reason why we don't have so many women leaders, and that’s how the idea came about to create the next generation of women maritime leaders.

Sitara Shipping

It’s important to equip women with the right skills to enable them to reach leadership positions. We launched the leadership accelerator program for women in maritime. The first batch will be funded by the IMO in keeping with the UN International Women’s Day 2021 theme: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world”.

Unless we recognize and applaud the change makers and best practices, and show how easy it can be - others will not follow.

I think the government within its own organizations has done great and it’s the private sector that needs to catch up now. There is a great need for gender sensitization - onboard and onshore. This is the tough part as it can’t be “measured”. But then again tools like the Norwegian SHE index rank companies on how they fare with regard to gender diversity. Unless we recognize and applaud the change makers and best practices, and show how easy it can be - others will not follow. We need to prove the business case for diversity. As a businessperson, I know how important it is, especially when markets are tough. So, for those who are cynical - if we can show the direct connection between a higher gender ratio and business performance then everyone will be easily converted. One step in this direction was the Maritime SheEO Survey supported by the Dutch consulate in 2021 (It can be found at https://maritimesheeo.com/report2020.pdf).

Sitara Shipping

The Women's International Shipping and Trading Association in India (WISTA) is helping connect and empower women in the shipping industry.

Since the time my sister Sumi Sahi Dutt and I launched WISTA in 2012, I have seen the Association grow. Headed by our President Sumiit Sharma, it is truly the voice for women in shipping in India. It provides a platform for women to learn, network, mentor and get mentored. It provides a safe place where women can speak about their issues - personal and professional and have a support group.

This is the best time to enter the industry - you have the power to disrupt the industry with your ideas. Women bring certain skills to the table which are unique, so highlight your strengths, be bold, be brave, and believe in yourself.

Sitara Shipping

These are exciting times for Indian shipping industry - the entire way we do business is being disrupted.

New ideas, innovation and technological advances will make our industry more efficient. This also means huge opportunities for entrepreneurs and young people will also have so many career opportunities - especially the women. I like working with young people because along with them I learn so much, and I feel that one needs to shape the future of the industry - what better way than mentoring young minds.

India has an advantage due to our young population; if we can skill our youth keeping in mind the careers of tomorrow then there is no stopping us. But this means we need to revamp the entire education system. In the next five years, I believe the industry will be more efficient, more effective, and will provide better support to exporters and importers. There will be greater transparency, but our customs processes need to be simplified. Lower costs and better services will be assured. I believe that it’s not only about doing the right things but also doing them right.
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