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Leaders and entrepreneurs – gender presence

Are women the drivers of innovation in the blue economy?
One aspect of leadership in fisheries and aquaculture is a derivate of the business and may be considered a prerequisite for a competitive edge, environmental knowledge and innovation development in the sector, namely research leadership. In the subsection we divide leadership and entrepreneurship and women´s presence in those fields into Research and Development and business and economic sectors related to the blue economy.
Even if we do not have bulletproof statistics to prove it, it is striking how many women are working in research and development related to the marine and blue environment, maybe even to the extent that they outnumber their male peers or are in the majority? In terms of developing tools for innovation uptake in the marine sector we claim that women are quite active.
Wherever you look, numerous women are engaged in blue economy initiatives around the Nordic countries, such as in Blue Bio Match (blubioclusters.eu) and ocean clusters (such as the Iceland Ocean Cluster). They are networking, serving as incubators for innovations (e.g. the Innovatum Science Park in Sweden), or driving research. They are, for example, working on multi-use and energy efficiency questions. They are promoting low-trophic aquaculture in multi-use scenarios in North and Baltic seas (Olamur, 2023). They are present in large numbers at SWEMARC (Swedish Mariculture Research Centre) at Gothenburg University. They are promoting regenerative community aquaculture. They are working on ocean and water restoration where climate change mitigation and efforts to improve biodiversity are needed. They are engaged in devising ways, measures and policies to free seas and rivers from plastic litter. They are involved in developing high-value biotech, medicinal and edible products from the sea, including working on macro algae and seaweed production. They are working on research and development to improve the blue environment and economy, and they are involved in circular solutions in the seafood and aquaculture industry. In other words, there are numerous female R&D leaders and entrepreneurs, but we do not have the statistics to support our observations.
According to the findings of a recently completed project titled GenderBaltic, women account for up to 40% of chief scientists on research ships (Hamann et al., 2020).
WinBig is a new, Europe-wide project on women in the blue economy, focusing on gender roles and leadership while highlighting capacity gaps (https://winbigproject.eu/). WinBig regards gender diversity as important for achieving equality and tackling ocean sustainability challenges. However, women are less likely to be in leadership positions within academic interdisciplinary marine research institutions. The project aims to highlight the non-gendered and gendered challenges experienced by leaders that affect their role, mental wellbeing, success and career progression. Accordingly, it intends to present actionable strategies, systems and processes that can be implemented by academic interdisciplinary marine research institutions and the scientific community to improve gender equality. It will be interesting to follow their research and outreach work in the coming years.
Very few studies have been conducted exclusively on female leaders in the maritime sector or on the position of women on the boards of companies in the fishing industry. In Iceland, three independent efforts have been made to map the leadership landscape at Icelandic fishing companies. The first was initiated by a ministerial committee in 2005, with a survey conducted among the 23 largest companies by turnover. Eighteen of the companies responded, comprising over 20% of total labour employed in the sector (Karlsdóttir, 2006). The ratio of women on the boards of the companies participating in the survey was low. According to data provided by respondents, ten out of 73 board members were women, corresponding to just 14% (Karlsdóttir, 2006). Moreover, the respondents seemed to agree that women tend to apply for middle management positions, such as human resource management jobs, rather than going for the position of managing director or chief financial officer (ibid, p.77). In 2017, the Icelandic Association of Women in the Marine Industry (see also p. 46) conducted a survey among its members on leadership. The results revealed that the larger the companies grew, the fewer women were in leadership roles. In spite of legislation clearly defining gender equality policies and the responsibility of companies in Iceland, 42% of all the responding companies had no women in executive roles. No company employing over 20 people had women in managerial roles (Rannsóknarstofnun Háskólans á Akureyri, 2017, pp. 30-31).
A more recent Icelandic study conducted research on the experiences of women who sit on the boards of Icelandic fishing companies (Óladóttir & Pétursdóttir, 2018). It seems to be typical across Nordic nations in the maritime sector that there are not many women in such positions, with some sitting on more than one board. In Iceland in 2010, 10.7% of the managers of fishery companies were female. Eleven years later (in 2021) the figure was 10.8% (Háskóli Islands, 2022). The main findings show that those who do sit on the boards of fishing companies are generally satisfied with their position within the industry, despite the fact that the fishing industry is considered to be a very masculine world. Interviews were conducted with nine women who sit on the boards of fishing companies with the aim of shedding light on their working lives and how they experience the industry and what could be done better.
The results show that the fishing industry has a strong history and traditions that are difficult, but not impossible, to change. While women are gaining ground in the maritime industry, gender-based stereotypes are extremely strong in the industry and men's jobs within the industry have generally enjoyed much more respect than women's jobs. However, the interviewees do not perceive any negative attitudes from the opposite sex, even though it took some time to get into the industry, and they feel that they are listened to and that their voice resonates equally with the men (Óladóttir & Pétursdóttir, 2018).
Figure 52. Chairman of board, largest fishery companies, share by gender.
Source: Combination of company websites, annual reports and Nordic Market AB websites
Figure 53. Managing Directors, largest fishery companies, share by gender.
Source: Combination of company websites, annual reports and Nordic Market AB websites