Q&A with Marie Monfort

Marie Christine Monfort, a French seafood consultant and economist, is on a mission; a mission to promote gender equality in the seafood industry. Nicki Holmyard spoke to Monfort to find out the significance of this and what could be achieved.

NH: You recently undertook a study that showed only one woman in the top job in the world’s 100 largest seafood companies. How did this compare with other industries?

MCM: According to the Fortune 100 index, 8 percent of U.S. listed companies are led by women, and 4 percent of the FTSE 100 companies in the U.K. The seafood industry has only one woman leader in the top 100 seafood companies, Yoshiko Ishibashi, president of the Japanese wholesaler Marusen Chiyoda Suisan.

When I looked at the corporate governance structure for 68 of the world's largest 100 seafood companies as defined by a news website, I found that 55 percent of them were run exclusively by men.

From limited data it seems that the situation in the fishing industry is worse than other traditional male dominated businesses such as construction, mining and oil. In these industries the issue of gender balance is being addressed to help with a recruitment shortage; in the seafood industry little is being done.

After the first workshop on Women in Aquaculture organised by FAO back in 1987, pioneers like Meryl Williams, former director general of the WorldFish Center, Marilyn Porter, University of Newfoundland, Canada, and Siri Gerrard, professor at the University of Tromsø, Norway, affiliated with the Centre of Women and Gender Research and a handful of other researchers. Thanks to them we can start understanding how industry deals with gender diversity, but more research is needed.

Their latest research findings will be presented at the 5th Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries symposium in Lucknow, India, 12 to 15 November 2014, as part of the 10th Indian Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum.

NH: Do you believe that including women in top positions or on Boards would make a difference to the industry?

MCM: I don’t think that the seafood industry needs to recruit more women for the sake of it, but more for the sake of industry competitiveness. This industry needs talent and it would be foolish not to tap into the huge reservoir of clever and inspired women. The benefits that a company gains from promoting diversity have been evidenced in many research studies including Deloitte and McKinsey.

Thus far, fishing and fish farming industries have not shown outstanding economic, environmental nor social performances. I have no doubt that these businesses would do better or at least no worse, if run by women.

NH: Are any countries better than others at including women in positions of responsibility?

MCM: Generally, Nordic countries in Europe have better gender balanced teams. This may be ingrained in their culture, but would it be the same if had it not been enforced by law? Norway leads by example; of the six listed companies in the seafood top 100, 33 percent have female directors and 40+ percent have women on their boards of directors, as required by law. However on executive committees, the percentage of women drops to 20 percent.

Iceland has only 7 percent of woman holding directors’ position in their three largest seafood businesses, but in smaller companies, women seem to be innovative and successful leaders. For example, Lysi hf, a world leader in seafood-based oil and ingredients, was founded and is currently run by a woman, as is Valafell, a salt fish company and Marz Seafood.

NH: What can be done to change the status quo?

MCM: We first need to understand the real reasons for the low level of women leaders and I see that little is done to attract, retain and promote them. I strongly advocate the development of networks in which women can share experience, support each other, foster their skills, coach and mentor other women, and enhance their visibility. Aquaculture without Frontiers is setting up just such a group.

I believe that every stakeholder has a role to play in raising awareness of why gender equality matters. Public institutions, media, workers’ unions and every man and woman in industry could advocate for change. Above all we need to convince policy makers and regulatory bodies that change is beneficial.

Although my brief study was made on women in leading positions, imbalance is found at all levels and in-depth research would help to document it.

NH: How can people get involved in change?

MCM: Well, there are two things that could be done. Firstly, at meetings, observe the gender balance around the table or on the podium and find out who is listed on the company organization chart. If it does not reflect the reality of the business, then challenge the management.

Secondly, the media also has a role to play. Young women seafood professionals need encouragement and inspiration, but female role models are not visible in our industry. I invite SeafoodSource to portray an inspirational seafood female personality on a regular basis. How about that for a start?


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