Evie Masmata still remembers the day she and a team of colleagues at Pioneer Marine went out to inspect a company vessel moored off Piraeus. “When the ship’s crew saw a party of seven women and a single man approaching, their jaws just dropped,” she says. First-time visitors to Pioneer Marine’s offices in southern Athens are similarly surprised to realise that 50% of the employees are female. “They don’t expect to see such a high share of women, especially in a shipping company,” says chief financial officer Korinna Tapaktsoglou, a member of the senior executive team. She and 13 female colleagues make up half of Pioneer Marine’s total staff in Greece, where the Oslo-listed dry bulk handysize company has its headquarters. This is not the result of any gender-driven agenda or policy, Tapaktsoglou and chief executive Torben Janholt insist. It evolved naturally, as part of an unbiased management style to create a balanced and harmonious team. Female employment is spreading in the maritime world. However, Pioneer Marine is at the forefront of that trend.
It employs women not just in parts of the business where gender equality is already well established, such as crewing and legal, but also in corners still considered a male bastion: three of its five operation managers are female, including Masmata. Getting a foothold in that department was not easy, she says. At the beginning, some masters were reluctant to take advice from anybody who was not a master, let alone from a woman. “Girls entering the business have it much easier now,” she observes. Firm support from management and male colleagues has been key to overcoming such hurdles. With its international background, its Danish chief executive, and a US fund — Garrison Investment Group — as its majority shareholder, the corporate culture favours equal opportunities.
Even Pioneer Marine has some way to go: there is no woman on the board of directors, and the technical department is still very much a male affair. However, in any other respect, it stands heads and shoulders above what some of its female employees have experienced or heard about in business life.