Seafood industry gender report highlights ongoing inequality

Published on
July 10, 2018

WSI, the international organization for women in the seafood industry, released the results of its “Gender on the Agenda” survey, which sought to identify perceptions of position, role, and responsibilities occupied by women in the seafood industry.

The survey evidenced gender-based discrimination at work, unfavorable working conditions, strong prejudices, and unequal opportunities for women. Unsurprisingly, these hurdles were found to make the industry unattractive to women, especially for those with the freedom or ability to choose a different profession.  

Carried out online between September and December 2017, WSI’s survey attracted 700 responses from male and female seafood professionals, anxious to help fill knowledge gaps about gender issues and to feed the debate on this issue. 

“The ultimate aim was to identify new ways to address the challenge,” WSI Co-Founder and President Marie Christine Monfort told SeafoodSource. “The world has already woken up to the need for environmental sustainability in the seafood industry, and we believe that alleviating gender inequalities will soon be at the forefront of the agenda as well.” 

The percentage of women reporting a perception of gender inequality was 61 percent compared to 48 percent of men. A breakdown of the results found some interesting differences, with 50 percent of the NGO sector reporting inequality and 64 percent of the fishing industry. Differences were also noted by continent, with 64 percent of South American respondents perceiving inequality but only 40 percent of Scandinavians. 

“Scandinavia was the only region where positive opinions outweighed negative ones, which is in line with the macro gender inequality index which ranks Denmark, Iceland, and Norway at the top of countries closest to full gender equality,” Monfort said.

Asked which gender issues were discussed in their workplace, discrimination was mentioned by 33 percent of women and 8 percent of men, unequal opportunities for career progression by 49 percent of women and 32 percent of men, and a lack of female candidates for positions by 39 percent of women and 71 percent of men. This is despite the fact that women make up roughly half of the global seafood workforce.

Some respondents reported that tackling gender inequality, which requires dedicated resources, was a low priority, with other issues being higher up the agenda. For example, in countries including the U.S.A. and South Africa, the focus was found to be more on tackling racial diversity than gender equality.

One of the biggest barriers to women entering the seafood industry, mentioned by 90 percent of respondents, was a lack of information or incentive at the school level. 

“Strong gender norms and stereotypes are preventing educational advisers from orienting potential female candidates towards fishing, fish farming, and engineering, which is something that urgently needs to be addressed,” Natalia Briceño-Lagos, the report’s co-author, said. 

A large majority of respondents believed that the recruitment process was influenced by unconscious bias, that workplace conditions were often unfavourable to women, and a lack of female role models stifled ambition. Such attitudes help to create a vicious circle of gender inequality, leading to a lack of interest by men in changing the situation.

“Highlighting the gender gap, making the invisible visible, and raising the consciousness of leaders that their business is based on gender inequalities, is the first move to address the challenge and make changes happen,” Briceño-Lagos said.

She added that in order to raise consciousness, the issue firstly needs to be recognized, then responsibilities need to be taken on by nations at macro level, and by companies at micro level.

“National legal frameworks on gender mainstreaming are beginning to help. but more gender awareness programs need to be developed by private industry,” she said. 

Companies can already get a third-party audit with the aim of achieving a gender equality certification such as EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality Certification), or GEEIS (Gender Equality for European and International Standard), but this needs to be more widely publicized in the seafood industry.

“Bringing men into the conversation for change is very important as they are currently in the strongest position to influence the business environment. Interestingly, our survey found differences in men’s reactions depending on their personal situation; if they had close female relatives in the industry, they were more likely to be open to the discussion,” Monfort said.

She believes that all stakeholders including international organizations, national institutions, private corporations, professional associations, trade unions and NGOs, need to be at the table addressing gender equality issues in a pragmatic and constructive way. 

“The time has come to start a wide-ranging dialogue on this key element of social sustainability and we will be calling for regional dialogues on the subject, inspired by WWF’s Aquaculture Dialogues, possibly starting with a meeting in Europe,” Monfort said. “The ultimate aim may not be to develop standards per se, but to inspire positive action which will help us to move towards more inclusiveness and gender equality.”

Photo courtesy of WSI

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