It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a room with such positive female energy. Women came to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., from all over the country last week to talk frankly about what life is like on the water, and how women are changing the face of the maritime industry.
It was the Seventh annual Women on the Water (WOW) Conference, which rotates each year among the six maritime academies and focuses on mentoring female cadets about the opportunities and challenges they face on vessels, on shore and in the boardrooms of maritime companies.
The conference touched on an array of topics, from financial planning and developing interviewing skills to dealing with the media during a maritime crisis, and it was evident by the quality and caliber of the maritime professionals who were speakers that women have taken huge strides in the industry.
Former Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry was a standout speaker. She had just stepped off a plane from a business trip to Europe, but didn’t miss a beat in sharing her passion for maritime careers and assuring the young female midshipmen who had gathered from Texas, New York, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan that they had made a great choice in attending maritime schools and aspiring to serve the nation in the maritime trades.
“This is not an easy field for women,” she told the audience, which also included a handful of male cadets. “But there are opportunities for great careers for each and everyone of you.” And Landry should know. She was a trailblazer in her own right, reaching the rank of rear admiral in the Coast Guard before retiring in 2011. She served as commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District in New Orleans, charged with coordinating the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and then the Coast Guard response of the historic 2011 Mississippi River floods. These experiences have made her an expert on disaster response and preparedness, and she now serves as a civilian, directing incident management and preparedness at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington.
She was bullish in her remarks about the industry. “You will have ups and downs, but men have them too,” she said. “You will still need to perform and pull your weight.” She also assured the cadets that they can indeed balance work at sea with family life, as she has done, being married to another Coast Guard officer and raising two children while performing demanding work around the country.
Cadets at the conference were also standouts. This was a strong reflection of themselves as young women but also showed the quality of the education they are receiving at maritime schools. It was truly impressive to speak with many of them, and learn about how well versed they are about oil spills, the Jones Act, engineering, cybersecurity and networking for jobs, among many other topics. Just about all the cadets I spoke with passed me their business cards (now that was a first for me, we didn’t have business cards when I was in college!), and they offered well-reasoned responses as to why they have chosen maritime careers.
It felt good to have them all onboard.