The Board of Pilotage Commissioners in Washington state is looking for data about women currently serving as pilots in U.S. ports.
The board, which is appealing a 2014 court decision that awarded $3.6 million to a female mariner who filed a discrimination suit, is preparing a plan to diversify its workforce.
That case — filed by Capt. Katharine Sweeney, a seasoned mariner who was pursuing a ship’s pilot license in Puget Sound — and the failure of the commission to file annual reports over the past few years prompted the Washington state Legislature to mandate the study with a $30,000 appropriation.
The commission is gathering information on best practices in recruiting pilots and is trying to get an accurate count of how many women are working as pilots. Sheri Tonn, a Washington state pilotage commissioner who is working on the study, told me this week that there are no national statistics available and meaningful data is difficult to come by. She has contacted national associations representing pilots but none keep stats on the gender breakdown of their members.
Washington state regulates pilots through the commission and requires them to be onboard every large ship moving through Puget Sound. Becoming a pilot requires years of training and testing — many have served years on workboats — and the job is considered the top of the maritime profession, with an elite pay scale to match it. Pilots in Washington state make about $346,000 a year.
But there has never been a female pilot in the state. Sweeney, who served seven years as captain of a container ship, went through the pilot training and exams but the commissioners voted against giving her a license. She claimed the all-male evaluating committee discriminated against her, and she won her case. The state is appealing.
Tonn said the Pilotage Commission is developing a “diversity action plan” that will recommend ways to make this elite cadre of mariners more ethnically as well as gender diverse. “There’s a long way to go,” she said, “but this is a start.”
If you can provide information about women pilots, please contact Sheri.