Spotlight on Singapore’s Maritime Champions: Ms. Tan Beng Tee, Executive Director, Singapore Maritime Foundation

In celebration of the International Day for Women in Maritime, John Sze, our Deputy Managing Partner, sat down with Ms. Tan Beng Tee, Executive Director of the Singapore Maritime Foundation, on her journey as a leader in Maritime Singapore, and her thoughts and tips women who are starting their careers in the Maritime sector.

Beng Tee, you were instrumental in the growth of Singapore as an International Maritime Centre. What were the significant roles that women in the Maritime industry played, in shaping and building Singapore into the top global maritime centre? What do you still see as the headwinds facing women in the maritime industry and what do you think we can do more to change that?

Generally, diversity—in terms of the types of companies and the demographics of the workforce—makes Singapore a more attractive International Maritime Centre. Over the years, the number of women entering the different segments of the maritime industry has increased. It is most encouraging and gratifying to see that many of them are recognised for their abilities and professionalism in their respective roles, and in the process raised the profile of Maritime Singapore. Some notable individuals include Gina Lee-Wan, Gan Sue Ann, Su Yin Anand, Lim Ying Ying, Angeline Teo. In recent years we see more assume leadership roles and for some, take the honour of being the first female to lead the organisation. My previous Chief Executive Ms. Quah Ley Hoon when I was at the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is an excellent example. Others include Caroline Yang, who leads the Singapore Shipping Association, Mary Liew who is the General Secretary of the Singapore Maritime Officers Union, and Bernice Yeoh, the Executive Director of the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration. There are many more women in the maritime ecosystem who are contributing to Singapore’s growth as a global hub port and international maritime centre in their own ways. I salute all women in the Singapore maritime ecosystem.

Historically, there are some roles that are more technical, and male dominated. Hence certain perceptions may have been formed over the years. For such roles, I hope that employers would be open minded and willing to make adjustments. My other observation is that Management in general are beginning to value and embrace diversity be it in terms of gender, views or experience. Inclusion has become more salient in the workplace today. Given that women have multiple roles, both at home and at work, it would also be useful to have more sharing sessions amongst women, perhaps the veterans with the younger ones on their career journeys, pain points, lessons learnt. These would serve as a source of encouragement and motivation.

As Executive Director of the Singapore Maritime Foundation, what are the initiatives that have been undertaken to attract more female talents into the maritime industry, and have you seen any positive results from those initiatives?

At the Singapore Maritime Foundation, we make a conscious effort to profile females in the maritime industry across diverse roles from seafarers to engineers to lawyers, and more. In our Own Your Future talent attraction and industry branding campaign, females are also prominently featured. We need to dispel the notion that the maritime industry is male dominated and to illustrate that the sector offers an exciting array of job opportunities which otherwise may not be apparent.

We do see results in terms of female participation in our scholarships, internships and case competitions. For instance, the ratio of males to females in our scholarships awarded is about equal. Also, at the recent MaritimeONE Case Summit 2023, a team comprising two students from the National University of Singapore—both females—emerged champion for the challenge statement provided by Rio Tinto.

What words of encouragement do you have for women who are just starting out in their career in the maritime industry?

I have found the maritime industry to be exciting, challenging and rewarding. It is one of the most fulfilling portfolios that I have handled in my career. Coming from a non-maritime background, I learnt how maritime works and made lasting friendships with many of the industry veterans who were willing to show me the ropes and gave me opportunities to ask questions freely.

My advice for young people just embarking on a career in maritime is the same, whether they are male or female—be steadfast,curious, and decisive. Maritime is a global industry and is on the cusp of one of the most significant waves of transformation in recent times. This is an exciting time to be joining the industry, provided you demonstrate commitment so that your employers will invest in you, be curious so that you will learn and not be insular, and be decisive so that you will seize opportunities that come along your way. For those who wish to expand their horizon, do note that maritime is a global industry offering opportunities for overseas postings, which broadens perspectives, experience and personal growth.

There have been many occasions in recent years where certain roles, traditionally thought to be only suitable men, are now helmed by women who have proven more than capable of doing a “man’s job”. Can you highlight some examples (or one example) of women who have broken through such myths or taboos? What are the particular maritime sectors where you are heartened to see a strong growth of female leadership in the maritime sector, and how can we learn from these sectors?

Technology is a great leveller. Take for instance the job of a crane operator at the port which has for a long time been largely a man’s job. With technology, such jobs can now be done remotely from a control centre. What used to be a man’s job is now gender neutral. Today, if you visit PSA’s control centre, you can find female operators controlling the massive cranes as competently as their male counterparts.  Technology can further level the playing field and provide equal opportunities for the workforce.

Maritime companies can keep an open mind when deciding the best fit for a job. I see a number of them doing that and placing women in leadership positions both in Singapore and in other countries. Examples are Laure Baratgin who heads the commercial operations of Rio Tinto in Singapore, Tay Ai Lin, Senior Vice President, Global HR at Ocean Network Express, Yngvil Asheim, Chief Executive Officer of BW LNG. These female leaders are forerunners, and there will be many more to come as companies embrace diversity and inclusion.

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