“Tide has not yet turned” – nonprofit calls for equity in the seafood industry

Speaking at a special event at Seafood Expo Global, Marie Christine Monfort, the executive director International Organisation for Women in the Seafood Industry (WSI) said women still face extraordinary obstacles in obtaining positions of leadership in the industry.

Monfort was taking part in the first ever “Women in Leadership in the Seafood Industry,” sponsored by expo organizer Diversified Communications and the Mission of Canada to the European Union, which took place on Wednesday, 8 May. Also participating was Tesa Diaz-Faes Santiago, director of communications for Grupo Nueva Pescanova; Dan Costello, Ambassador of the Mission of Canada to the European Union; Clearwater Seafoods CEO Ian Smith; British Columbia [Canada] Seafood Alliance Executive Director Christina Burridge; Sunrise Fish Farms Owner and General Manager Laura Halfyard; and Mary Larkin, president of Diversified Communications. [Editor’s note: Diversified Communications also owns and operates SeafoodSource]. 

The 90-minute event covered “What Government and the Private Sector Can do to Support the Inclusion and Advancement of Women in the Seafood Industry,” and panelists discussed their experiences and examples of what they are doing to attract, support, and promote women at all levels. 

Monfort stressed the importance of including and advancing women in the industry – something she said is still not being done extensively, despite substantial data showing that doing so improves overall business performance. 

Monfort founded her nonprofit in 2016 and has advanced several initiatives to foster discussion and action on the issue of gender equity in the seafood industry. She said she has been encouraged by the response her organization has received from women, but has been dismayed by what she said has been a dismissal of the issues raised by organization amongst many men in the industry.

“We received diverse responses. The most common was a patronizing attitude, saying ‘Oh yes, we understand you, poor girl.’ Then we had a second attitude, even worse, the denier, who said, ‘No, no, there are no problems, that maybe 20 or 30 years ago there were problems, but things have been fixed.’ The third reaction has been curiosity, and that is the reaction of people who have never had the understanding that things can be done differently,” Monfort said.

Larkin said while the industry is currently split roughly equally in terms of men and women, there is still a significant gap between the sexes at senior leadership levels.

“My head still has bruises from hitting the glass ceiling,” Larkin said.

While both Larkin and Monfort expressed their personal antipathy toward setting quotas for female participation at the leadership level, whether in company or nonprofit management or government-related seafood organizations, Monfort said they have been shown to work at leveling the playing field.

“Philosophically, I’m against quotas – I think that everyone should have chances to have their ability and capability rewarded,” Monfort said. “But practically, if we do not implement quotas, [things] will not change. We see the impact of quotas in Norway, Iceland, and other countries, and it’s the truth that they make a difference.”

While many men have become supportive of the effort toward gender equity, some men are just tired of the conversation, Larkin said. She asked Monfort whether she had felt a shift in how the women’s equity movement has been received since WSI’s founding.

“Some men have shown their willingness to change and turn the industry into a more socially progressive place, but we are far from total acceptance. It’s hard to get men into the discussion,” Monfort acknowledged. “I’m optimistic. I can’t say tide has turned yet. But we are working on it.” 


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