Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) is an international organization for women in management positions involved in the maritime transportation business and related trades worldwide. It is a major player in attracting more women to the industry and in supporting women in management positions. With networking, education and mentoring in focus, WISTA seeks to enhance members’ competence and empower career success.

WISTA has over 18,000 members in 33 countries. At the time of print Swabha Wickramasinghe has been elected as the new President of WISTA Sri Lanka.

The Backbone of WISTA Sri Lanka

Shipping and logistics; a trade which spans thousands of years, with men setting sail in search of opportunities has evolved into a lucrative trade through time. The maritime industry is a burgeoning trade which has spanned geographical enterprises the world over.

I was privileged to meet five amazing women who have reached the zenith of their careers in a field which was predominantly a man’s sphere. Their individual stories and combined efforts have empowered a number of young girls who aspire to take on the mantle in the world of shipping.

The ladies had taken on family businesses or established their own shipping related companies, finding their scope in heading organizations as most of them had grown up steeped in the very hold of the shipping industry.

 “Our main goal is to create networking among the women within the Shipping & Logistics trade while training and mentoring junior female staff already employed in the Shipping field,” said Diruni A. Chanmugam of Sherman Logistics (Pvt) Ltd, adding that “WISTA provides a platform for us to share ideas and draw strength from each other. It is also an eye-opener for each of us who are compelled to address the various issues faced by the women in the relevant field.” 

Initially the industry experts were reticent and skeptical of these ladies but they have proved their worth and the success of their organizations lay claim to that. “There were restrictions but gradually acceptance led to a futuristic approach,” stated Swabha Wickramasinghe, ( current President of WISTA ), Director Marketing of Worldlink Shipping who was encouraged by her sister to focus on the task at hand and the achieve the ultimate goal. “ Twenty years ago we forayed into a male dominated trade and we succeeded due to being strong headed. However, I have gained more confidence through WISTA as it is a collective voice for us ladies in this trade,” said she.

Rukshila Antony De Saram, a Naval Architect, who belongs to the third generation of her family owned company, C.G.V. Antony & Sons (Pte) Ltd.  informed that, “WISTA has gained popularity and respect as we have unwittingly created a sense of worth and recognition.”

Ishani Cadera of Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (Private) claimed that this trade does not molly coddle a woman, “women in this trade need to work like a ‘man’ and not accept to be patronized or treated in a chivalrous manner merely for being a woman.”  Surmise it to say they cannot accept to be favoured only respected for taking on the stirrups.

Paving the Way for Brighter Prospects for Women in Shipping

“WISTA also enables us to identify the capabilities of women and how women can be incorporated into unprecedented fields within the industry,stated Shehara Jayawardana of McLarens Holdings Ltd who referred to the first set of female Gantry Operators who were recruited in March this year as the perfect example of the potential created through WISTA as the organization works closely with the Mahapola Training Institute, the Ports authority, Colombo International Nautical and Engineering College (CINEC) , International Chartered Ship brokers (ICS) , Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Kotalawela Defense Academy University students and Girls schools located in the country.

They hold a number of awareness programmes with regard to the career opportunities available for women in the shipping trade. These programs are targeted towards girls who are intent on pursuing studies in this bustling sphere. WISTA further streamlines certain processes with regard to the education and securing a prospective job in this field.

The vast array of possibilities open to girls and women in shipping is not relegated to the back office as we see a gradual change in perception towards employing girls for posts which were hitherto held solely by men. The myth which revolved around women being too fragile is dissipating rapidly thanks to the emerging knowledge created by WISTA.

WISTA is not a feminist movement ready to bludgeon the opposition but an organization which compliments the maritime community of Sri Lanka and the world.

A Diversified Approach and a Wealth of Opportunities through WISTA

Shehara Jayawardane, immediate past President of WISTA Sri Lanka and Group Joint Managing Director of McLarens Holdings Limited added, “WISTA has enabled me to build rapports with the shipping counter parts the world over and form friendships based on shared interests and that alone can be a huge advantage. The links formed are an asset to all women. In the western world the ideas surrounding women shipping magnates is considered the norm while here WISTA played a massive role in giving us the much needed impetus to be recognized for the contribution we have made and can make towards the growth and innovative approach of the industry. Further WISTA has been instrumental in opening up dialogs and creating diverse branches of support for us in the shipping community.”

Wonder Women of the New World

The multi-faceted group has been growing exponentially with branches opening up in at an alarming rate in the developing countries as well. This proves the amazing skills of women in the maritime industry; WISTA is a force to reckon with as they brandish their varied strengths with zeal, they are daughters, wives and mothers who haul a tremendous load while maintaining their identity and individuality. They are the role models of the present era, the wonder women of the new world!

 

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About Rochelle Gunaratne

I believe that everyone has a story to tell and in turn, I love listening to those stories, attempting to paint a picture to my readers with my words. I may not be an artist or painter, but I believe words can create powerful images in ones mind and it is how we share our stories with others.
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