Women in shipping prepare for WISTA International Conference in Montréal in October, as membership numbers climb By James Brewer
Canada is about to host the annual conference of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association – the first time the event has been staged in the nation that flies the Maple Leaf flag.
The advance comes at a point where WISTA is showing remarkable membership growth, not least in Canada itself, and it is a reminder of that country’s massive significance in the maritime sphere. WISTA internationally has set a new target of more than doubling membership numbers to 4, 000 by 2020.
Having achieved a dramatic increase in its national membership, WISTA Canada has been winning the kind of solid support needed from the shipping sector to organise successfully an event as multi-faceted as the highpoint of the WISTA year, the international conference and annual general meeting. Venues are chosen for the international gathering based on the organisational skill and determination of national sections, and the 33rd in the series will open at the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montréal, on Wednesday October 2 2013 with a packed programme continuing on the Thursday and Friday.
Female executives from many nations in shipping and related businesses and services such as banking, insurance, law and government, will convene in the largest city in the second largest city in Canada after Toronto.
Under the theme chosen by WISTA Canada, “Navigating the Seas of Change, ” speakers and discussion sessions will seek to bring new perspectives to economic, environmental, and political challenges facing the shipping industry.
WISTA Canada is strongly supported by the Port of Montréal and many key players in the Canadian marine community.
The event will begin with the annual meeting and general assembly of WISTA members, followed by welcome addresses from senior figures. Heading the roster of scheduled speakers is the Hon Lisa Raitt, Canada’s federal transport minister. Ms Raitt has a maritime background: before being elected in 2008 to the Canadian House of Commons, she was president and chief executive of Toronto Port Authority. Also on the platform at an early stage will be Sylvie Vachon, president and chief executive of the Port of Montreal; Rod Jones, president and chief executive of the CSL Group; and Karin Orsel, WISTA International president, who among other responsibilities is a vice-chair of the International Chamber of Shipping.
Mr Jones heads the Montreal-based provider of dry bulk cargo shipment and delivery services CSL, that describes itself as “the world’s largest owner and operator of self-unloading vessels.” 2013 has been a banner year for CSL, because in June one of its core entities, Canada Steamship Lines, which at its inception ran the largest fleet of passengerships (50 of them) on North American inland waters, marked its centennial. These days Canada Steamship Lines is a cargo carrier, operating modern self-unloaders, bulk carriers and transshipment units on the Great Lakes and St Lawrence Seaway. CSL group ships deliver more than 70m tonnes of dry bulk cargo a year for customers around the world in industries ranging from construction and steel to energy and agri-business. This involves iron ore, grain, coal, salt, aggregates and sugar.
WISTA Canada was formed in 1998 but activity fell off, and the association was revived in 2008. It began in Montréal where most members are currently located. Since Andrea Sterling – a lawyer at Robinson Sheppard Shapiro of Montréal – became president in 2011, she and vice-president May Jensen and their board have placed emphasis on developing awareness and membership in other regions. This is a difficult task, given the large geographical area and diverse shipping interests of Canada. For example, the businesses in the eastern region concentrate on short-range shipping on the St Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes, whereas the west coast specialises in container shipping as a gateway to Asia.
Ms Sterling said that to face the challenge of location and diversity in shipping, WISTA Canada has organised four regional chapters: Atlantic, Eastern, Central and Western. “In this way, local issues and interests may be addressed within each chapter, ” she told us. “Also, the regional chapters enable greater member participation in local events.”
Under this approach, the number of individual Canadian members has risen to more than 100, putting them in the top half dozen in numerical terms of WISTA national associations.
WISTA International president Karin Orsel praised her Canadian colleagues for the “fabulous job” they have done in building this year’s conference. “They had only 37 members in 2011 and 2012 but still decided to make a bid to host the conference this year. I would call that a bold decision and I have a lot of respect for the professional way they as team have handled the whole conference organisation.”
Ms Orsel, who is chief executive of Management Facilities Group, based in the Dutch port of Delfzijl, said that WISTA overall was growing way faster than predicted in 2011. Currently there are 1, 879 members in 32 countries. “We have made a new forecast based on the growth over the past years and a future growth of 10% per year. This would result in a membership of 2, 500 in the year 2015 and an impressive number of 4, 000 individuals in 2020.”
She said: “All in all, we look back at a very successful year but there is always room for improvement.”
Ms Sterling said that favourite WISTA activities include the western chapter’s summer cruise and the eastern chapter’s ‘lunch and learn’ seminars with impressive guest speakers. “In order to unite the chapters, we send out newsletters to inform all members of what is going on in other regions, ” she said. Further, the annual general meeting every December attracts members from across the country and provides an opportunity for all to meet and to exchange views.
“One of our future goals is to increase membership and develop mentoring programmes for the upcoming shipping generation, ” said Ms Sterling. “Certainly, the International Conference being held in Canada this year has raised awareness and interest throughout the country, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Shipping is seeing more and more women in management and leadership positions, and the popularity of the conference is recognition of our growing role. We are thrilled to be hosting the conference and are optimistic for the future of WISTA in Canada.”
Please see www.wistacan.net for the conference programme and sponsor list to date.-