On the eve of its Annual General Meeting in Manhattan, Alexandra Anagnostis Irons, founder and president of Total Marine Solutions and current president of WISTA USA, discusses the role of Women's International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) in the modern maritime community.
As President of the Board of WISTA USA, you are the face of the world’s largest woman’s maritime networking group. What are your goals for the organization under your tenure and what is the vision for the future when it comes to WISTA itself?
It has truly been an honor being President of WISTA USA for the past two years. As you know, WISTA is a networking organization for women at management level in the maritime industry. Included in our mission, “WISTA strives to facilitate the exchange of contacts, information and experiences among its members, promote and facilitate the education of its members, and liaison with other related institutions and organizations worldwide”. My goal for WISTA USA includes pushing the profile to ensure WISTA is recognized worldwide as the quality organization it is and included in some of the industry think-tank activities. And as a “numbers person”, I’d like to see our membership hit 500 in 2015.
WISTA International celebrated its 40th Anniversary last year at our Annual International Conference held in Limassol, Cyprus. The members and guests – more than 300 in attendance from 33 countries – were treated to a conference of exceptional standards. Those of us from WISTA USA were taking copious notes as we will have the pleasure to host the International conference in the fall of 2016.
You are also involved with the Seafarers’ House Port Everglades as well as NAMEPA and SNAME. Beyond the networking opportunities that those affiliations entail, what’s the biggest take-away from your clearly busy and widespread industry collaboration efforts?
Ha – I get this question a lot, especially at home: what’s the value proposition here?
Being on the Board of Seafarers’ House of Port Everglades is rewarding on so many fronts. The biggest take-away for me personally is the opportunity to contribute my time, energy and financial resources to give back in some fashion to the mariners who are so vital to our everyday lives. Rose George subtitled her novel “Ninety Percent of Everything” as “Inside Shipping, the invisible industry that puts clothes on your back, gas in your car, and food on your plate” and she hit the nail on the head. What do we need to do to get our industry recognized? People talk about unmanned engine rooms and some even go so far to talk about unmanned ships. I sincerely hope that before we ever reach that point, the shipping industry and those who sail aboard the ships are visible and recognized for all they do.
I enjoy my work on the Executive Committee for SNAME’s Southeast Section especially since I am neither a marine engineer nor naval architect. I have so much to learn from those who are. SNAME is an incredible resource within our industry and I’m just glad they let us “outsiders” in to benefit from their knowledge and innovation.
Being a part of NAMEPA is only natural for me personally and in my role as President of Total Marine Solutions. The success NAMEPA has had in a short five years in furthering the effort to “Save our Seas” is incredible. The collaborations developed and resources made available to industry and government to learn about the challenges faced by our industry is unlike anything built before NAMEPA’s inception. Being a part of NAMEPA, and now as a Board member, provides a platform to not only spread the message and mission of my organization as it relates to compliance but gets me a seat at the table to learn more about what is happening on a number of environmental fronts.
WISTA is a networking organization for women at management level in the maritime industry. You’ve been involved with the organization at the highest levels, helping to foster its many missions. But, what has it done for you personally?
WISTA has helped me fine tune my time management and organizational skills, that’s for sure. Seriously though, WISTA has afforded me the opportunity to meet some extraordinary women and men within our industry. Business relationships have been developed, I’ve travel to regions of the world I may not have otherwise. Perhaps most important to me is that WISTA allowed me to meet some women who I now consider some of my closest friends.
What is the biggest value that WISTA provides to its membership – and for that matter – the global maritime community at large? Give us an example of that in action.
WISTA is really a way to connect people within our industry. This was actually the theme of the International Conference in Cyprus last October. “Networking” is a term used too freely but when done right, as WISTA does it, the return is invaluable.
You ask for an example in action and I struggle to put one into words. It’s funny – I feel like you’re asking for the secret handshake. But I want to give you one… Let’s refer back to some of my extra-curricular activities – I’m a part of NAMEPA because of WISTA. I met Carleen Lyden-Kluss thanks to WISTA. I’m involved with Seafarers House of PEV thanks to WISTA. Our WISTA USA Florida Chapter wanted to get involved with a local organization and “adopted” the Seafarers House as our charity of choice. These connections which once you’re apart of WISTA seem seamless, are so valuable.
In what country does WISTA have the biggest membership? What’s the next ‘big’ thing for the organization?
I was hoping you’d ask this question! The country or NWA (National WISTA Association) with the largest membership to date is USA, and we continue to grow. We stand at 447 members which represents 19.6% of our total international membership.
To the question of what’s on the horizon for the organization, our International Executive Committee is actually pulling together feedback from the thirty-three (33) NWA’s to build out a strategic plan for the future. We have a great ExCo term in place today with prominent members from within our industry (including our own Jeanne Grasso of Blank Rome and immediate past President of WISTA USA) who will take WISTA to the next level. That level will include branding our organization for immediate recognition and building strategic co-operations with other leading maritime organizations such as the IMO, International Chamber of Shipping, InterManager, INTERTANKO, IAPH, WMU, ILO, YoungShip and others.
The role of women in the maritime industry is growing, but is not yet representative of the numbers of women professionals in business, and perhaps those who would like be on this side of the ledger. What can be done about that?
You’re right, the role of women in the maritime industry is growing and we are seeing some very impressive appointments at some of the highest levels. I realize that shipping has traditionally been a male-dominated industry and look forward to seeing the percentage of women increase over the years. This increase, or balance of the ledger, needs to be a result of having the same opportunities and succeeding in the key positions, not simply a desire to meet diversity quotas. As the opportunities expand within our industry, we need to ensure this message is heard by women in the industry or those interested in joining. This is where organizations like WISTA excel.
Does your organization (TMS) actively recruit women for maritime roles? In what ways do they (you) put this into practice?
We actively recruit the best person to fill positions within TMS, regardless of gender. I’ve been asked the question that if two candidates of the opposite sex were equally capable of the job, would I award it to the female. My answer is no two candidates are rarely ever equally capable. I look beyond gender to persistence, flexibility, desire to learn and drive to succeed. The candidate expressing these interpersonal traits notwithstanding the technical requirements is the one I would select.
As a woman in the maritime industry – but at the same time an accomplished professional – what is your impression of the opportunities available to woman today on the water or in the maritime office? What can we do to better those odds?
The opportunities afforded to women today both on the water and ashore are growing and this is a great sign and a great tribute to those women who blazed much of the trail. We can all do our share to make certain this continues by doing our part to unveil the mystery of our industry, market the opportunities within shipping to kids at grade school level so that girls and boys alike realize the great potential which exists inside Shipping.
This industry isn’t for everyone, a fact we all recognize. For those with a passion for it, it’s our responsibility to herald the value of being a part of this great community and invite others in.
WISTA USA AGM & Conference
When Friday, May 15, 2015
8:30am - 5:30 pm
Where Seward & Kissel LLP office
One Battery Park Plaza, First Floor, New York, NY, 10004
How Much Registration fee: $100 per person
AGM Dinner: $100 per person