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Captain Barbara Charlton maintains an even course over 17 years of ship handling

6 March 2020

Maritime master Captain Barbara Charlton loves the mental challenge of ship handling and further stretches the brain cells as an associate lecturer

Why did you choose a career at sea?

I went to sea to travel. I was working on a passenger tall ship calling at places away from mainstream cruise ships. As the ship visited ports I had the chance (and energy at that age) to go ashore and explore.

I was working as a deck hand and ordinary seaman for four years before I was able to finance my officer of the watch (OOW) course.

Tell us some of your career highlights so far – and challenges

For many years I worked for various cruise line companies. However, lack of promotions and challenges made me look the other way.

I am working as a master now where I do what I love – ship handling. The mental challenge is fulfilled by working as an associate lecturer.

When male seafarers impose their will with a decision it is perceived as assertion. When a female does the same it is aggression. As there are few female leaders male counterparts cannot compute to see them in decisive roles, as if female were made only for caring side of the social structure.

It does raise my eyebrows when people say 'You are a female captain? You have done well for yourself'. Then I ask myself what is the difference?

I deal with different perceptions by speaking up and discussing the issue with whoever I feel treated me differently. I discuss the broader picture, including any stigmas of how a group of people are perceived. For example, certain nationalities. As people are different, we should accept them the way there are and focus on utilising their best traits.

It is not about being right or wrong – there is no universal truth. Provoking a thought is good ground for broadening our understanding for others.

Until there is no need to talk about gender equality, there will be an issue of perception and inability to see each other simply as other human beings Captain Barbara Charlton

How can women be made to feel welcome and retained in a career at sea?

Until there will be no need to talk about gender equality, there will be an issue of perception and inability to see each other simply as other human beings. Females are not the same as men. They operate to deliver the same goals as men and seafarers will have to get used to the way they manage their duties.

I am not a mother and I cannot express how parental bond affects a career. However so far, having worked at sea for 17 years, I hardly see any female seafarers coming back to the deep-sea jobs after having a child. I believe this is the biggest issue for retention.

Similarly, on shore side career – although women come back after a maternity, they seem to miss out on promotions or pay increases as they [are perceived] as not having contributed to the business while caring for a child.

I believe it is understandable on the promotion side as there is less experience than if female stayed in the job. As the father is usually older than the mother (statistically) they are further in their career hence it is more financially viable for female to take time oft to look after child. This is therefore a self-perpetuating process that contributes towards the division.

What are the best things about your job?

Ship handling as a master and continuous investment in personal human capital as an associate lecturer.

Would you recommend seafaring as a career?

Yes. I have given up on the cruise line career, but the future might prove me wrong. I will continue in a direction for mental challenge and ship handling wherever it comes from. That's of course with appropriate renumeration.

Tell us one thing that people may not know about your job?

Captain is one of the few positions in the economy where company policies and decisions can be overruled. That is because of the burden as much as the privilege of responsibility for lives, environment and property.


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