Women still underrepresented in seafood industry

Published on
December 7, 2016

A new survey proves that women are still drastically under-represented in the global seafood sector.

In early 2015, the FAO commissioned a report on the role of women in the seafood industry. According to Audun Lem, the deputy director of the FAO Policy and Economics Division, who commissioned the work, its aim was to help industry to recognize the potential for attracting qualified women into the sector, because they are important for its successful future.

The report pointed out that for more than 30 years, research had been carried out, reports published, and debates organized on the issue of discrimination against women, but in the seafood industry the level of awareness about the important role they play remained very limited amongst stakeholders.

At the time, Lem hoped that by disseminating the findings, it would bring about greater awareness of gender issues and become a catalyst for change. A major aim was to encourage more women to consider the seafood industry as an attractive career choice.

“First, it needs to shake off its image as a male dominated ‘club’ and careful handling will be needed to overcome ingrained cultural differences,” said its author, seafood market analyst Marie Christine Monfort.

Fast forward two years, and it appears that little has changed. Monfort recently completed a short survey for her own interest and found very little difference in how women are treated in and by the industry.

“I undertook an analysis of the 2016 list of the 100 top seafood companies, which confirmed an ongoing, flagrant gender imbalance in the seafood industry,” she said.

Monfort looked at the gender of leaders of the world’s current top 100 seafood companies, and obtained executive and non-executive board details for 71 of these. The information was compared to a 2014 listing. She found that seven newcomers had appeared, which prevented a direct comparison, but it showed enough to confirm her suspicion that the gender situation had not progressed.

“Over half (38) of the 71 seafood companies I studied have 100 percent male boards, with no woman holding leadership responsibilities. An exclusively male leadership team is nowadays a very rare situation in a large listed group. By contrast, none of the sample has a 100 percent female leadership team,” said Monfort.

She was not surprised to find that overall, 84 percent of the companies have fewer than 20 percent female representation on their boards.

“Of the 762 people sitting on an advisory board, executive committee or in some case on both, just 69 of them were women in the 71 companies analyzed. This translates into a 9.1 percent female representation, confirming that this year, once again, the seafood industry retains its male DNA at top level,” she said.

Monfort also looked at the results by country, and found that Norway had the best representation of women at 31 percent, followed by China at 20 percent, Iceland at 17 percent, and Denmark and Canada both at 14 percent. The U.S.A. fared less well with just 6 percent female representation whilst the U.K. had 4 percent. Chile and Japan sat at the bottom of the league with just 2 percent of females on their boards.

“Japan was a surprise, given that the Japanese seafood company Marusen Chiyoda Suisan is the only one of the top 100 headed up by a woman. This compares with 7 percent of all companies in the FTSE 100 companies listed at the London Stock Market,” she said.

The outstanding position of Norway is partly explained by a 2003 law requiring that at least 40 percent of public limited company board members be women. The impact of the law has long been debated, but all agree that without regulatory intervention, women would not have access to these top positions in such proportions.

According to Monfort, this situation does not trickle down amongst the ranks in Norway, with the proportion of women at executive and senior management positions at noticeably lower ratios, likely due to the fact that no regulations have been passed requiring female participation at the executive level.

“Cultural barriers are one of the major explanations for women being barred from decision-making positions, [even though] many studies around the world have provided evidences that gender diversity and inclusiveness enhances corporate performance,” she said.

Monfort believes that the time has come in the seafood industry to provoke change and to tolerate – if not actively encourage – women to participate more widely at decision- making levels.

To this end, Monfort and a handful of colleagues involved in gender equality efforts are setting up a new organization, the International Association for Women in The Seafood Industry (WSI), to raise awareness of women’s contribution to the sector.

“Our aim is to run specific projects, the first of which is to take a stand at the triennial Icelandic Fisheries Exhibition next year. We will make visible what remains invisible most of the time; women actively involved in our industry!” she said.

The group is also setting up a pilot training and mentoring program for young female students and professionals who want to progress in the industry. They have already gained support from the Universidade de Vigo (Spain) and Université de Rennes (France). A dozen people will be invited to spend a week in Iceland at a training seminar, including a visit to the exhibition.

“We are hoping that seafood companies will encourage their employees to get involved, whatever sphere of the industry they are involved in,” said Monfort.

For the time being, WIS is setting up a website that should go live in January 2017, and Monfort anticipates keen interest in their activities.

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