In this Q&A, mentees Sarah and Christine share their program experiences. Sarah, a 2018 graduate of Great Lakes Maritime Academy, is just under a year into her role with Transocean. Christine is a 2001 graduate of State University Of New York Maritime College and holds a Master Unlimited Oceans license. She’s a pilot trainee in Southeast Alaska.
Working on the water is far from the typical 9-5 job. How did you both get involved in the marine and offshore industry?
Sarah: My dad worked his way up from an apprentice at a shipyard to an engineer – he loved being on the water. He used to work three months offshore and had six weeks off with the family. The industry was in a good place, so his company would fly the family out to visit him. I remember him thoroughly enjoying his job, and never bringing back home stress from work when he returned from offshore. His passion for the industry influenced my decision to work deckside, as opposed to shoreside.
Christine: I remember hearing sea stories from my grandfather, a Navy vet. That piqued my curiosity to attend a maritime academy, but it was after my first time out to sea on a cadet ship that I was truly hooked.
Working offshore comes with its own set of challenges, some of which are unique to women. What have you seen or experienced?
Christine: As a cadet you get sea time, but until you are in your first working role offshore, you don’t have any context for the question, “Is this normal?” Things have changed over the years, but you think of scenarios like not having a female suit on board, open showers, or having to travel 12 hours with frozen breast milk. Becoming a mother is, of course, a scenario unique to women. Now, there are enough women who have had children and continue to sail to set a precedent. They can advise women on what to talk to their doctors about and what to tell HR to get appropriate leave.
There are also plenty of challenging situations that could apply to anyone regardless of gender. For example, drinking on board is technically illegal, but what do you say when the person drinking is your boss and chief mate? Having a group that you can turn to and ask if a situation is common or how they might handle it is key to finding your sense of belonging on board.
Sarah: I get a lot of comments when I’m handed a tool onsite asking, “Oh, do you actually know how to use that?” Which can be awkward as I don’t know if I need to demonstrate my skill set as a newer team member or if it’s an inappropriate gender-related joke.
What benefits have you seen in your pairing and connecting with other women in the community?
Sarah: I was actually part of the tester group for Women Offshore and have seen the value of the networking within this program since my first year at school. Social media has made it so easy to rally as a group with women and individuals facing similar challenges you have.
Being able to hear from these people and organizations to understand differences between the energy and marine sectors has opened up opportunities and career paths I didn’t even know about. It took me a while to get a job after graduating, and these groups along with advice from Christine really kept me motivated to pursue roles offshore. Christine encouraged me to take courses, look at scholarships and attend local events to gain experience towards that goal.
Christine: The community you build throughout your career is the sounding board we all need to consider a different perspective. I had a mentor named Bob, who really encouraged me to consider a long-term approach when I was debating whether to pursue my chief mate license. I had the experience, but also knew I might not ever sail as a chief mate. I was thinking tactically – more years of school, travel back and forth – but he encouraged me to think of what that license and title could mean for my career.
Did having your own mentors inspire you to become one?
Christine: I’ve been fortunate to have a variety of mentors throughout my career. Looking back, I can see just how much they helped shape where I am today. In 2017, I attended grad school and was asked, “What is your legacy as a leader?” Knowing there is a tremendous gap between women in our industry, I want my legacy to be sharing the knowledge I have gained with the women who choose to walk this path.
Being a mentor this past year, and listening to Sarah’s challenges, reminds me what it’s like to start your career. But also, how it’s changed over the years compared to when I was in her shoes. Challenges still exist but might be different to what women leaders once faced. It’s important for us to understand how things have changed, so we can make a difference for the young women climbing the ranks.
Thank you both so much for your time, it’s exciting to see women coming together and successfully growing in their careers. To wrap us up, I have some rapid-fire travel questions:
Must have item when traveling?
– Sarah: Inflatable travel pillow, I can sleep anywhere.
– Christine: Packing cubes; three months away from home means these are key.
Best place you’ve traveled to with work?
– Christine: Singapore; I love the food, history and culture.
– Sarah: Alaska in the fall; sunrise over the mountains is breathtaking.
Food you miss when you’re offshore?
– Sarah: Good pizza.
– Christine: Is it bad if I say chocolate?
Do you have a final piece of advice you’d like to share with women pursuing their careers?
Both: Reach out and connect. Ask for help. Your community can provide a lot of value.