A female deck officer, Sophia Walker, was shut out of a chance for a job interview with the Wallem Ship Management in July, a Hong Kong-based international shipping company, because she was female, according to emails exchanged between Walker, college tutor Jonathan Ward, and Brian Phipps, a representative from Wallem.

An email dated July 18 from Phipps stated that “Wallem is an equal opportunity company but we WILL NOT offer places for the female cadets because we can’t offer the appropriate onboard environment to make it work.” Phipps further went on to say “I suppose the cruise industry is the most appropriate (indeed the Captain of the Queen Victoria, on which I cruised recently, was a lady.)”

The vehicles carrier, Thalatta. Photo: Wikicommons.

Walker, who trained as a deck officer at the Fleetwood Nautical Campus of Blackpool and the Fylde College in the UK, told HKFP that “for Wallem to view my valuable qualifications as worthless – purely because I am of the female gender, is very upsetting, frustrating, humiliating and demeaning to me,” and also said that she felt badly let down “that the Fleetwood tutor was actually complying with it – no interview for females.”

Ward said “Sophia, sorry about the omission,” when forwarding Phipps’ email to the interview candidates, including Walker.

Walker filed a complaint of discrimination after the incident, and in a letter dated August 10, 2016, Simon Doughty, Wallem Group CEO, told Walker that it had conducted an internal investigation on the matter, “the results of which are confidential,” and “consider the matter to be closed.”

Sophia Walker. Photo: Sophia Walker.

However, Walker said “it is total self-serving nonsense for Wallem to state ‘the results … are confidential’ – there is little point in complaining if the complainant is not allowed to know if their complaint is upheld or not.”

Phipps was suspended from his position following the complaint, and no interviews were conducted for any applicants from Fleetwood, according to Wallem. An apology was issued to Walker.

The shipping company also said in an email to HKFP that “it is an extremely unfortunate incident of very poor judgement by a single individual and does not in any way reflect the views held by the Wallem Group.” The company also said that “the individual in question is no longer in Wallem’s employment.”

Seagoing commercial vessels. Photo: Wikicommons.

When asked what she hoped to see changed to prevent further similar cases, Walker told HKFP that in her view, “it would be very difficult to prevent gender discrimination from reoccurring.”

“Simply because any genuine change has to come from the top of a Company – by example to employees. However if a gender discriminatory culture is entrenched and moreover approved at the core of the Company – nothing will change,” she said.

Wallem said in a statement that “we have a significant number of female seafarers serving within our fleet” and that “gender is not a factor.”

Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.