I am where I wanted to be – an International Women’s Day special

Born and raised in Los Angeles County, California, a city known for and surrounded by some of the best beaches in the world, I always had a love for water and have been a competitive swimmer my whole life and so from an early age I knew I want to have a career that would keep me embracing my love for water, and shipping it turned out to be.  Originally, I wanted to go to US Coast Guard Academy but the thought of being on the other side of the country at the age of 17 changed my mind and I ended up going to college at California Maritime Academy, a college for merchant marines (this was my dad’s call: Thank you dad!). 

The Early Days 

After graduating from college, I sailed on commercial vessels for three years, I was not very fond of being that far out to sea with the same duty’s day to day, I would check days off my calendar one by one of when I got to go home, so I decided to move my career closer to the shore. I came back to work ashore at a tugboat company in San Francisco Bay as a fleet coordinator. Soon after 5 years in 2010 I joined Inchcape as boarding agent and since then have worked four separate roles leading to my current position of U.S.A/ Canada West Coast Manager and a mother of three (Wondering how I manage!?). 

Leslie Clements on a commercial vessel earlier in her career

Making friends was easy 

I always observed the comparatively less number of females in this industry since the beginning, from being one of the only 10 girls in the class of 100 in college to going onboard on the vessel and being 1 of the only two female crew members among 25 of us but let’s just say it worked as an advantage as we bonded and become friends very easily knowing we have to stick together to survive in a male dominated industry.  Working harder than others was in the fabric of who I am so it came easily to me.  

I wish I knew this  

What I have observed during my career is that the small number of women in maritime industry is not the just because it is unattractive, as is portrayed as challenging to women (Because Women love challenges!) but the main reason is the lack of knowledge among people about the endless possibilities that lie within this industry and the right way to approach it. Growing up I never knew how the shelves at target were filled with goods from outside the US, or how cars manufactured in other countries arrived. The ins and outs of this industry are vast, and I still learn every day. I would never have imagined I would end up in maritime school, and the interesting opportunities that would then unfold…I just wanted to be near water. Well, this is the beauty of this industry, that everything you learn onshore and, at the academy, could be taken offshore if you want to try something new as it prepares you with the experience of both worlds. this industry has so many roads that lead all different directions on possibilities of jobs, but they all are possible by your love of the industry and hard work.  

It’s all about Giving Back in any way possible 

The opportunity to get practical experience is a must when it comes to any industry. After graduating from college, I wanted to contribute to the alumina association but being a recent graduate, writing checks wasn’t an option for me yet, so I started exploring other ways of helping students with my time and finally during the second year of working at Inchcape, I started the internship program for maritime business students who usually don’t get an opportunity to sail and get the experience like other majors (for example Deck and engineer students). 

We started with taking two interns every summer for a period of four months where they shadowed me and learned the practical side of the business, and also got a chance to sail a vessel from start to finish in San Francisco Bay. We would also get involved with the Academy in other ways such as assisting lecturers with the lessons and giving presentations, participating in career fairs to give the students more information about opportunities in the industry and helping them prepare through mock interviews. This resulted in the students becoming more interested in the internship program and as I got more responsibility within Inchcape, I started bringing more interns and the number has now grown to around 40.  

THE BEST PART: We have met some of the most talented students and made forever relationships with a lot of interns. My team and I feel proud and happy when interns go back to complete their last year at college, and we get ‘thank you messages’ saying their experience with us helped them perform better in class and many of them even come back to fill a full-time role at Inchcape. It will be safe to say I have gotten some of the best employees straight out of that internship program, and some are still part of my management team 5+ years later.  The people that I work with are my pride, I encourage them to share knowledge, empower and develop each other so we are stronger together.                                   

Moreover, I am a member of different organizations that provides support to the people at different locations aspiring to be a part of maritime industry, one of them is WISTA (Women’s International Shipping Trading Association), the reason I got drawn towards this organization was the likeminded women coming together to network and share ideas, it gives me a sense of empowerment to talk to and hear from others who have gone through the same things as I have and understands it while sharing the same passion for the industry. Some of major works by them are the area of gender pay gap and, supporting and empowering young women in maritime industry. 

It’s the same ocean 

Men or women, we are all in the same ocean, everyone needs to work hard and smart to get to the shore of success, though women are at a slightly deeper end and so have to work a bit harder to prove themselves every step of the way. In my 20 years in the Maritime Industry, I see the shift happening between male & female representation and it is becoming more equal opportunity to someone that just wants to work hard, and it is refreshing. This of Course is not the same everywhere as the cultural and other influences vary at various locations in the world and so does the challenges that women face, but I hope the rest of the world can catch up to the US on this. 

Note for the Young ones 

GO FOR IT – No days are the same in this industry. If you like challenges and experiencing something new then this is the place for you to be. Be strong, be guided by your principals and LOVE for the industry and it will show in your work and get you far!