International Women’s Day – An interview with Louise Bigley (Commercial Assistant)

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, we asked team member Louise Bigley about her journey in the maritime industry, and her current role.

What does your role involve? 

I am a Commercial Assistant for Bibby Marine working predominantly with the W2W vessels. I liaise with clients routinely and manage their account with Bibby. I provide updates, support and manage shipboard projects and commercial developments from ashore. I am currently a project manager for a long –term internal office development project, looking at ways to streamline processes and procedures within Bibby. Whenever possible, I also manage public events for our vessels such as open days, and large-scale events such as vessel launch & delivery.  

Have you always been interested in the marine industry? 

Yes, I was obsessed with joining the Royal Navy as a young teen. So much so, I had the papers ready for my parents to sign at the age of 16 (you need parental consent at that age)! Unfortunately, they did not agree as they thought I was too inexperienced. I redirected my efforts and attempted to become a P.E. teacher but I found that the role didn’t sit right with me. I wanted something more challenging with greater variety. At the age of 20 I came across a lost family member who was a 2nd Officer in the Merchant Navy. He reignited my passions for the job and educated me on the world of the Merchant Navy. I felt ready, so I signed up and started my journey as a Deck Cadet. In between my studies and education in Glasgow, I travelled all around Europe, the Mediterranean and North & South America. I met so many wonderful people from all diverse backgrounds and cultures along the way, I was able to experience the majesty of the sea and the vast intricacies of vessel operation, engineering, and sea life. It lived up to the expectations I had when I was 16.  

What do you like most about your role? 

What I enjoy most about my role is being surrounded by my team who do nothing but support and encourage me to be better and aim high. The whole working environment in Bibby has been positive since day one. This level of support has boosted my drive for greater achievements and for that I feel blessed.  Additionally, I also love the fact I still get to experience ships and be a part of the day-to-day operations from back office.

Before joining Bibby Marine I had not experienced a ship in the design of an SOV along with any of its features. Being introduced to the W2W gangway system for me was fantastic. I have experienced pilot ladder boarding in difficult conditions and it is genuinely petrifying – one slip or hand misplacement and you’re injured, or worse. Having the use of the W2W system removes that risk and dramatically improves the safety of those onboard who must disembark to differing structures. The technological and engineering feats of our vessels have astounded me from day one and continue to this day. Not to mention the living aboard standards. I was lucky enough to experience first-hand one of our Wavemaster vessels in a Beaufort Force 9/10 and slept like a baby!

Another thing I have thoroughly enjoyed in my time at Bibby Marine is seeing the Crew development on our vessel the Bibby Wavemaster Horizon. She was delivered in October 2019 and has since then been operating off the coast of Germany in Hohe See Wind Farm. The crew initially were mostly new to the vessel, with the exception of a couple of high-ranking officers. All of them have now developed into a strong unit who continue to deliver excellent service to Bibby Marine and the client.  It’s truly been an enjoyable experience to see it unfold as time has gone on, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they will be this time next year.

Have you faced any barriers working in a male dominated industry? 

Yes – the barriers ranged depending on the culture, age, and the nationalities I came across at sea. I had expected the barriers coming into the industry, so it was not a large shock, but I do believe you need to have a thick skin and a determined mindset to manage well in the industry. For myself, it was educational as I got to see first-hand the varied points of views on a female being in a male-dominated industry. Most interactions were positive, and a lot of Seafaring men valued the idea of women taking careers in the Marine industry. I will forever be grateful to their kind words and positive encouragement. A lot of the negative views I came across as a woman in the marine industry came from either the misconception about gender roles, integrated negative societal and cultural norms, and sexism. I think there will always be varied barriers as a minority in any situation. What we should focus upon is education and being open to having those difficult conversations and breaking down those barriers.  

What advice would you give women looking to join our industry? 

For ladies joining the seafaring industry I would suggest they do their research on what type of vessels/sub-industry they would like to work on. I was a bit of a green horn when I applied for my cadetship and did not realise I could have chosen. There are many diverse types of vessels and interesting areas to work within the marine industry. If I had known at the time, I would have specified what vessels I wanted to work on and pushed for it. Take your time, do your research and be picky!  

How would you describe Bibby Marine in 4 words? 

Nurturing, Innovative, Motivating & Collaborative. 

Who (in your opinion) do you think is the most inspirational woman in history? Why have you picked her?

One woman that always stood out to me was Amelia Earhart. She is a prime example of a woman breaking stereotypes of what woman can and cannot do in male-dominated industries. She was a beacon for the feminist movement and her words still ring true today. Here’s a few of my favourite quotes of hers: 

“Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others”  

I absolutely love the encouragement to view other’s failures as a level to achieve. Thus, it takes away the notion of a failure, and turns it into an achievement.  

“[Women] must pay for everything…. They do get more glory than men for comparable feats. But, also, women get more notoriety when they crash.” 

I believe this rings true today – there is a large push for women in the marine industry and we are being celebrated for it. However, being immediately recognised as a ‘female cadet’ or ‘female officer’ within the marine industry sets that expectation that every action will be scrutinised, resulting in a large positive or large negative response. We need to move away from this systematic gender–title identification. This will open the scope for recognising the actual achievement and not the gender, further promoting equality.  

“The most effective way to do it is to do it” 

And this one is my favourite – no nonsense– just get it done Ladies!!  

What words of advice would you give to young women who are beginning their careers? 

I would tell them our capabilities as women are only limited by our mindset and that you can do anything you want to. Be open to learning about new cultures and speaking about your own. Inform and educate if something makes you uncomfortable. Know that there is always support for you; speak and you will find it. Take the right opportunities for you and be vocal about what you want. Finally, acknowledge that you absolutely deserve your achievements, whatever they may be. 

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