Female shipping officer told to ‘try cruise industry instead’ on job application

Sophia Walker believes she was a victim of sex discrimination

Sophia Walker believes she was a victim of sex discrimination

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A former student at Fleetwood Nautical Campus claims she was the victim of sex discrimination after a shipping firm refused her an interview saying she would be better off working on a cruise ship.

Sophia Walker, who had qualified as a deck officer after completing courses at the college, was invited back to the campus along with 10 male candidates for the deck officer job interview.

Not even getting the interview is blatant gender discrimination and clearly shows that even in the 21st century this kind of thing is still happening in male dominated industries

But Miss Walker, 24, who now lives in Kettering, Northamptonshire, never got the chance to speak to a representative of Wallem Ship Management, an international shipping firm based in Hong Kong.

She says the only reason she did not get even the opportunity of an interview with the company was clearly because she was a woman.

Miss Walker says emails between a college tutor, Jonathan Ward, and Brian Phipps of Wallem Ship Management make clear why she was not granted an interview – namely that the company did could not offer the right on-board environment in this case and would not take any female staff on.

She says it shows the kind of discrimination women still face in male-dominated industries.

Miss Walker feels the company and the college should look into the way the matter was handled.

However, Wallem insists it does not discriminate against women, says it employs more than 50 female staff in various roles and was only guilty in this instance of a poorly worded email which did not explain the situation fully.

Blackpool and The Fylde College says it promotes equality in all forms and has written to Wallem stating it finds the shipping company’s behaviour unacceptable.

Miss Walker said: “Not even getting the interview is blatant gender discrimination and clearly shows that even in the 21st century this kind of thing is still happening in male dominated industries.

“This happened despite all the time and effort I spent gaining my qualification at Fleetwood.”

In one email seen by TheGazette, Mr Phipps tells the tutor: “Wallem is an equal opportunity company but we WILL not offer places for the female cadets [deck officers] because we can’t offer the appropriate onboard environment to make it work.

“In my opinion girls have a place and a chance to succeed, but it needs to be got right from the outset.

“I would suppose the cruise industry is the most appropriate (indeed the Captain of the Queen Victoria, on which I cruised recently, was a lady).”

Yet Miss Walker says she had already successfully served her cadetship on both an emergency response and rescue vessel and on chemical tankers.

She said; “I am a qualified deck hand and gained all my qualifications at Fleetwood Nautical Campus. I have served on tankers, yet I am not given the opportunity of an interview despite the Wallem representative stating he would see all the candidates.

“A copy of one email was sent by the tutor to the other 10 male deck officer candidates and I sustained deep humiliation – they were being encouraged to view me as inferior to them ­wholly because of my gender. 

“Jonathan Ward in his email stated: ‘Sophia, sorry about the omission’ – meaning the fact I could not have an interview because I am of the female gender.”

In a statement, Blackpool and The Fylde College stated: “At Blackpool and The Fylde College, we work tirelessly to assist and support current and former students to secure employment. This includes offering courses which are fully aligned to employer skills requirements, CV and interview preparation, hosting careers fairs on College premises, vacancy matching service, work placement opportunities and letting companies use our facilities free of charge to undertake their employee selection process.

“Blackpool and The Fylde College actively promotes equality in all forms.

“We are not aware of having had any previous dealings with the company concerned. When the incident was brought to our attention, immediate action was taken to withdraw the use of our facilities for selection purposes. We have written to the company to reinforce that the College finds the shipping company’s behaviour unacceptable.

“We cannot go into specific details concerning particular individuals.”

A senior Wallem staff member said there was no reason Miss Walker could not be employed by the company but in this instance there were concerns because she would have been the only woman taken on.

The company wanted to ensure it had a suitable environment in place before female staff were employed.