Empowering Women in Hydrography: A Transformative Three-Year Journey Towards Gender Equality

Published: 07/03/2024 - 11:34

Like other disciplines within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), hydrography exhibits a gender imbalance, particularly in advanced career stages. Currently, just over 10% of the 99 Member States of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) have a female National Hydrographer. And while women represent roughly half the population, only 24.8% of them occupy leadership positions with national hydrographic offices. In today’s competitive world, organizations need qualified employees to help them achieve their objectives. By not tapping into half of the available talent pool, they could be missing out.  

Acknowledging this disparity, the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the Canadian Hydrographic Service collaboratively initiated a Canadian-funded, groundbreaking three-year project titled "Empowering Women in Hydrography," aimed at fostering gender equality in the field.

Launched in April 2021, the project has orchestrated a series of activities and outreach initiatives, engaging IHO Member States. Thanks to a financial contribution from Denmark and Norway, at-sea opportunities offered by France and the USA, and active support from the UK, the project will continue in 2024.

In the first three years since its launch, the EWH project has provided a unique opportunity for the Hydrographic Community to address the issue of gender equality in a concrete manner through a series of initiatives at the international level that have seen the full participation of IHO Member States and a significant increase in collaboration with international and intergovernmental organizations. The aspect that requires particular and constant attention is that of leadership, where - in the hydrographic sphere and more generally in the field of ocean sciences - it is necessary to concentrate efforts and define a shared strategy at the global level to get a more coherent and coordinated approach.

IHO Director Luigi Sinapi

As the Empowering Women in Hydrography project progresses, it stands as a catalyst for change within the hydrography sector. Through collaborative efforts, outreach initiatives, and a commitment to gender equality, the project is not only addressing existing disparities but also shaping a future where women play integral roles in leadership and technical capacities within the global hydrographic community. The impact of this initiative extends beyond the three-year timeline, leaving a lasting legacy of empowerment, inclusivity, and excellence.

The project was kick-started with a webinar in September 2021, serving as the launchpad for initial planning and proposal discussions. This marked the beginning of a concerted effort to socialize the establishment of a new IHO work programme item - "Empowering Women in Hydrography (EWH)."

Dr. Mathias Jonas, IHO Secretary General, summarizes the issue well:

 The IHO is an organization focused on technical aspects. But this is only one side of the coin. Qualified people are needed to carry out hydrography as a technical discipline.

With changing work environments, organizations greatly benefit from attracting and retaining talent.

Below are some of the achievements of the project over the past 3 years. Future activities will depend on any contributions from Member States.

Year One Achievements:

  • Successful organization of a virtual kick-off meeting, bringing together the project team and key stakeholders.
  • Implementation of outreach activities, including interviews with women in hydrography and the creation of articles for dissemination across the IHO’s EWH website and other media platforms. Portraits from Around the World
  • Administration of a baseline survey amongst the IHO Member Staes to determine the percentage of women employed in the hydrographic offices and the percentage of women in leadership positions. Data collected from 44 of its Member States revealed that men hold 80% of the leadership roles in the combined hydrographic offices and make up approximately 75% of total staff. Out of 10786 employees, 2737 are women, and only 306 of these occupy leadership roles.
  • Support for a 4-month internship at the IHO Secretariat, actively participating in outreach projects and conducting interviews.
  • Hosting of a webinar, featuring Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20 first, and IHO Director Luigi Sinapi, discussing 3 ways to achieve gender- balance and empower leaders within an organization with a special focus on unconscious bias and the role men should play in all of this.
  • Support for three internships to participate in the review process of submitted programmes to the International Board on Standards of Competence for Hydrographic Surveyors and Nautical Cartographers (IBSC), by VTC with in-person participation in the IBSC45 Meeting.

Year Two Achievements:

  • Continued implementation of outreach activities, including interviews with women in hydrography from countries including Australia, Brazil, Columbia, France, Italy, Kenya, and the United States and the creation of articles for dissemination across various media platforms. Portraits from Around the World
  • Hosting of EWH conference on International Women’s Day discussing equality in the workplace in conjunction with the Scientific Centre of Monaco (CSM), and the Women's Rights Committee of the Government of Monaco, in partnership with the Monegasque Association for Sustainable Finance (AMFID) and SheCanHeCan.
  • Achieving recognition of the EWH project as an UN Ocean Decade Action highlighting the importance of the initiative in creating a sustainable future of the ocean.
  • Launching of the EWH Mentorship Programme.
  • Hosting of a webinar, featuring Michelle P. King, author of The Fix, discussing how organizations can create an environment where women and men can apply their capabilities in new, innovative, and creative ways to solve the problems at hand and ways to promote inclusive leadership.

Year Three Achievements to Date:

  • Hosting of EWH symposium, featuring Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20 first, aligning with the IHO Assembly meeting, fostering increased engagement and understanding.
  • Support for participation of five female candidates from five different countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Fiji, and Iceland) in the IHO Assembly.
  • Support for NOAA’s at-sea experiences with participants from countries including Argentina, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Suriname.
  • Support for an IC-ENC Knowledgebase secondment designed to give the secondee the opportunity to lead on the continuous improvement of the IC-ENC Knowledgebase. The secondment was awarded to a candidate from Brazil.
  • Monitoring and guiding of the EWH Mentorship Programme.
  • Continued implementation of outreach activities, including interviews with women in hydrography and the creation of articles for dissemination across various media platforms. Portraits from Around the World


The Empowering Women in Hydrography project has had the following impact:

  • More exposure to and interest in participating in IHO bodies.
  • Increased participation of women in IHO bodies, fostering a more diverse community.
  • Greater understanding of the IHO's global context, contributing to enhanced international collaboration.
  • Development of leadership skills and competencies.
  • Increased visibility of career possibilities in both leadership and technical roles.
  • Expanded professional networking opportunities within the international hydrographic community.

The IHO thanks all Member States who contribute to this initiative, either by providing financial support, in-kind support or simply participating in the various actions.

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Last modified: 07/03/2024 - 15:53