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Surviving, or even thriving within the male-dominated shipping industry? Yet another inspiring woman leading the way

Tête-à-tête with Adonis Violaris of Cyprus Shipping News

Katerina Raptaki, Digital Transformation, Cyber Security and e-Governance specialist, Navios Group of Companies
Former president of AMMITEC – current member of the BoD

Katerina has a leading position in the ICT department of Navios Group of companies, one of the top global brands in seaborne shipping, including 2 NYSE-listed companies, with branches in cities all over the world, owning and managing more than 200 vessels. She is also the former president and current member of the BoD of AMMITEC, the Association of IT Managers in Shipping.

She has graduated from the National Technical University of Athens (EMP) with a degree in Naval / Mechanical Engineering and has a 35-years’ experience in IT and Communications. With more than 22 years in Shipping, having deep knowledge and experience in Marine Satellite systems, Shipping software, Business Analytics, Cyber Security, Risk Management, Compliance and IT Governance, Katerina has been holding managerial positions in various companies in Engineering & Shipping sector.

Katerina is sought after as a speaker and a visionary thought leader around the world. Speaking at varied audiences from conferences to industry groups, you can talk to her about most aspects of Digital transformation in Maritime. She definitely has a valuable lesson to teach you!

  • Let’s start with the woman behind the IT legend of the Greek Shipping IT industry. How would you describe yourself in 5 words?

Ambitious, logical, reckless, dynamic and problem-solver.

  • You graduated from the Naval / Mechanical engineering School of National Technical University of Athens: Being a woman, was this a challenging selection of career path?

Indeed, even the studies at this school were a real challenge! I can’t even recall how many times I was asked by my teachers and even my colleagues “isn’t it a bit strange for a woman to choose this field study?” Even my family and close friends weren’t very supportive! But I was a bit stubborn and was sure I could make it work!

Traveling in South America
  • How about your career path? What was your motivation or inspiration in choosing the Shipping Industry?

I was actually pretty lucky; right after I got my Polytechnic degree, I found a job in IT (software support engineer), which, back then in 1987 was almost non-existent as a full-time position. This is how I found myself in this emerging space and became an “expert” in IT, in an era when most IT professionals didn’t even have a degree, but only practical experience or had attended some short courses or seminars on the topic.

After a few years, I discovered a career in the maritime industry quite by accident. A shipping company was seeking an IT manager and, apparently, with my experience in IT and my Naval Engineering Polytechnic degree, I was a good fit!

This was a life-changing move and all I experienced ever since, was (and still is) beyond my imagination!

After almost 3 years in this shipping company, I took the game to the next level and found myself in Navios that clearly was a shift in my career and my life in general! Huge daily challenges, demanding projects in a rapidly evolving organization where goalposts kept changing, but, on the other hand, an ideal environment and role for someone who is passionate about continuous improvement and effectiveness.

Attending conferences during Covid-19 times
  • Women in the maritime community: Closing a gender gap as wide as the ocean?

While it is true to say that shipping is regarded as an old boys’ club, my overall experience has been very positive. I have been greatly supported by the companies I have worked for and have not really found being a woman in shipping a detriment. There have, of course, been cases where I was treated with skepticism, suspicion or even disbelief (I remember some vendor who phoned the company and insisted that he wanted to speak to some “Mr. Raptakis” and when I explained that it was me he should speak to, he blatantly confessed that he expected to speak to a man, not a woman!!).

At the same time though, I was rewarded with recognition and appreciation from my peers and the Shipping community in general. This resulted in my active participation in AMMITEC, the Association of IT Managers in Maritime, of which I was one of the funding members and ultimately the President for 4 years. I am still a very active member of the BoD and spend a lot of time and energy in the promotion of the Association and its goals around the world.

  • Is there prejudice against women in shipping?

Of course! Despite shipping being a multi-national industry, and, sadly, traditionally men-dominated on board the ships, we still see less women at the office; let alone the vessels!

Certainly, there are more and more brilliant women in administrative positions (Finance, legal, claims, HR) but there is still a long way to go at the purely “ship-related” or technical departments, like Operations, Chartering, Technical, ISM. Obviously we all know that ship-related hours can be very tough, and also these positions require a lot of traveling, but, as technology advances, no one needs to be glued to their desk to carry out his/her duties! Women can claim their role as valuable members of the maritime workforce.

Pilio Makrinitsa
  • Shipping and the Covid pandemic: How has technology affected (or facilitated) the shipping companies operations? What kind of role is digitalisation playing in the maritime industry?

Shipping is well known for its slow adoption of technology and yet this time managed to turn vice into a virtue and creativity!

As the early effects of the pandemic began to be felt, the ability of shipping companies to adapt, so as to ensure unhindered transportation of goods around the globe, played a critical role in overcoming this awkward situation: Travelling restrictions, port closures, crew changes prohibition, vessels access to the strict minimum and, of course, specialized third parties, such as inspectors, surveyors and auditors couldn’t carry out their duties!

At the same time, of course, ships were still required to remain compliant and therefore, inspections had to be conducted in an alternative way.

Despite the flexibility and tolerance that classification societies or other industry key parties might show due to Covid, the safety of the ship can’t be neglected.
Under the pressure of the pandemic and the urge of finding plausible solutions, the maritime community proved to be very creative: Remote working, remote meetings and now the revolutionary remote surveys are the new shipping reality!

Ship owners, managers, Class, port state control, flag authorities, charterers, hull underwriters and P&I Clubs, all agree to a common denominator: Ensure the ship is and remains safe, seaworthy and in compliance with all applicable regulations!

Mobile applications, to be used via the phone or tablet, with customizable checklists and possibility to attach photos, audio and video, along with text and comments, were only some of the available tools. Also, VR glasses, versatile action cameras and even drones. Just a small part of the new toolset of a shipping company executive! It looks like we are at the era of “remote everything”!!

A small break during the interview
  • Is there, in your opinion, any particular element in woman nature that adds up something important in the domain of technology and, in particular, in shipping?

Of course!!! After all, “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus”!

Some of the commonly agreed features of women brain are multi-tasking, analytical thinking, empathy and emotional quotient.

Women have taken on multiple roles to adapt to changes in society today. They continue meeting household and family responsibilities, while at the same time working and trying to maintain personal interests. The only way to respond to these daily challenges is to enhance their multi-tasking capabilities, which is also a precious skill in their professional life and career.

Furthermore, their analytical thinking is another critical component that gives one the ability to solve problems quickly and effectively. It involves a methodical step-by-step approach to thinking that allows you to break down complex problems into single and manageable components. Obviously this is a skill which is critical in the workplace and especially for those involved in technological projects. Shipping is a very complex industry and therefore this skill is invaluable.

Finally, there is one more thing which we usually tend to disregard: women have much higher EQ and also empathy. Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they are feeling. These two elements result to better communication skills, ability to be the glue in a team and of course flexibility and efficiency.

Posidonia 2022
  • Within this historically male dominated industry, IMO has been making a concerted effort to help the industry move forward and support women to achieve a representation that is in keeping with twenty-first century expectations. What is your message to young women who are thinking of entering this exciting world?

This perception of shipping being men’s only strongholds is one that refuses to die. But it’s not true; although it’s certainly true that men far outnumber women in maritime.

It’s completely understandable that this environment might feel unwelcoming or, in some cases, even intimidating to women, but the myth needs to be dispelled. And that needs to come from shipping companies themselves.

Nothing is for granted and nothing will just been given to you!

You have to fight for everything and got to go out there and be the best you can be.

You can’t just go with your wings weighed down! No woman will ever get a role that she has not fought for! It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, continuous upskilling and learning! You have to be competent, attentive to details, accurate and adaptive. Complacency is not an option at any age or from any position!

  • What are your hobbies?

I LOVE music, reading, swimming (I am very lucky to live near the sea and in a country where one can swim all year long without ending up in ICU!!) and traveling. I am a somewhat fearless and venturesome traveler and enjoy the thrill of discovering new places. I am also passionate about mathematics and still find some time to challenge myself with a new equation!

Finally, I consider myself as an active supporter and defender of animals’ rights and fight for their welfare.

“a decade ago: Time is relentless!”
  • What is your recipe for success?

Hard work, hard work and hard work. Oh, and a little bit of luck. Of course I believe in luck, but I’d rather call it serendipity, when things come together seemingly at random, but it’s not random really!

  • Have there been any days in your life that you did not think about your job?

Hell, no! Not a single one! After all, it’s impossible; the phone keeps ringing all day long!

  • Who would you be today if you had not chosen shipping?

I think I might be a quite successful engineer, or maybe an IT professional, but most probably nothing more than this. I would be anonymous, lost in the crowd and I don’t know if I would be thrilled with my professional life; while now I am passionate with what I do!

  • You mentioned “music”: what genre?

Growing up in a family where music was an almost daily occurrence, I grew up with the main proponents of the folk, popular and “Éntechno” genre of music.

Following after that, when I was probably about 10 or so, that’s when I discovered rock and heavy metal, and fell absolutely in love with this genre.

I am passionate about music and have a deep belief that life would be quite meaningless without it. I like live performances and frequently go to concerts with my friends. When COVID-19 emerged, I almost suffered from depression for having to live almost 2 years away from my favourite bands! As the concert business amped up again, I got my life back!!

One last shot before goodbyes
  • What is your moto?

We have two lives; the second begins when we realise that we only have one! (Confucius)

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