A deep-rooted love for the sea and an adventurous spirit led Ally Cedeno to a seafaring career. A desire to connect with other women in the maritime and offshore industries inspired her to create Women Offshore, a nonprofit organization for women working on the water. In a Q&A, Cedeno talks about her 10-year career as a sailor and her vision for the Women Offshore organization.
What inspired you to create Women Offshore?
I spent 10 years at sea, often as the only woman on board or one of few. Working on a ship is already an isolating experience and the social isolation sometimes led me to think that I didn’t belong in this industry. That changed in 2015 when I joined a ship where there were several women on board. Without realizing it, we mentored each other. I found camaraderie and a sense of belonging that I had never known before. I thrived on that vessel. I was promoted and soon found myself flying to a new ship being built in South Korea. Then, it happened again. I was the only woman on board. I wanted that to change because I relied on the women I met on the last vessel. I realized that if I could connect with them and others online, then perhaps the sense of belonging and camaraderie I had found could be shared with any woman already working in the industry or considering it. That’s when Women Offshore was born.
Tell us about the organizations values and goals.
Our values are to empower and connect female seafarers around the world. Our goal is to meet individual needs — especially for women near the confidence gap, who think they don’t belong on the water. I want to use Women Offshore to step over that confidence gap, demonstrating that women can thrive in the maritime and offshore energy industries.
How did you first become involved in the offshore and maritime industries?
When I was 6 or 7 years old, my dad taught me how to sail. I remember standing next to him on a dock and looking at the little sailboat he had rigged up for me. He gave me some specific instructions and then helped me get into the boat. I fell in love with sailing that day and knew I was meant to spend my life on the water.
Tell us more about the services you offer at Women Offshore?
We’re a nonprofit, connecting over 500 women seafarers via an online community, including a virtual mentoring program for 150 female seafarers around the world. We also host an annual conference in Houston. This year, we welcomed almost 200 attendees, including men, representing 20 countries. It was only our second conference, and I couldn’t be prouder of how it turned out.
What are some challenges you faced as an offshore worker? What helped you overcome them?
Working on board as the only woman can be an isolating experience. I have known this in my own career and have observed it in interviews with women around the world. Unfortunately, bias, prejudice, and abuse towards women exist in all bodies of water and each can push women away from a long-term career. Women Offshore connects a community both online and in person to offer support, understanding, and resources in overcoming the social and physical isolation of working at sea.
Specific to travel, when I go offshore, the trips can be complicated. A flight only takes you so far. Getting to the end ship or vessel can involve a chartered flight, helicopter ride, bus or crew boat transfer. The organizations I’ve worked for have multiple teams in place to manage all the travel and logistics associated with getting me to work.
BCD’s recently expanded Energy, Resources & Marine practice is a first-rate example of an agency that prioritizes providing safe travels to inherently risky destinations and meeting the specialized needs of crew and corporate travelers.
What should women know or consider before pursuing a career in the offshore and maritime industries?
There are so many different long-term career opportunities for women in this male-dominated industry. You may just be amazed at how women are accomplishing their career dreams on the water. You can read more about it at WomenOffshore.org.
Where would you like to see the industry go?
I would like to see more companies publicly state their diversity goals and how they create an inclusive environment. It has been exciting seeing those who have and how they are achieving their goals.
What is the No. 1 thing companies can do to support women working offshore?
A respectful workplace for all is the ultimate support for women who work at sea. Supporting women in the workplace comes down to a creating an inclusive work environment through multiple priorities, including:
- Actively recruiting more women to the field
- Ensuring hiring and promotions are fair
- Developing and selecting leaders who champion diversity
- Formal and informal mentoring programs
- Enforcing personal safety policies
- Leadership training
Tell us about your most memorable business travel experience.
I worked a rotation in a shipyard in South Korea for about half of 2017. Every month, I traveled from Seattle to South Korea. Most trips were easy; flights arrived and departed smoothly and on time. Occasionally, I ventured outside the city to learn about the culture and admire the beautiful countryside.
For fun: What’s your one must-have travel item?
I almost always have a good neck pillow on me. I’ve settled on a brace style that wraps around my head It provides a lot of support when I sleep on long flights.