There are few individuals who are as articulate about or committed to the cause of turning Dubai into a global shipping hub than United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based German lawyer Jasamin Fichte.

Setting up Fichte & Co. in 2005, Jasamin Fichte has championed the cause at hundreds of conferences and is frequently the standout individual making practical suggestions to drive Dubai forward in the daunting but winnable battle for it to become a worldwide maritime centre.

According to her website, she was recently appointed by Sultan bin Sulayem, chairman of Dubai Maritime City Authority and chief executive officer of DP World, to chair the Dubai Maritime Advisory Council, a body given the mandate to advise the government on ways to improve Dubai’s maritime infrastructure. She is also founder and first president of the UAE branch of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) and studied law in Hamburg, Germany, and maritime law in Southampton, United Kingdom.

“I needed to be twice as good and work twice as hard as my male competitors to be considered on their level” -Jasamin Fichte, Managing Partner.

“There aren’t ‘lots of women who are getting ahead.’ It’s more the case that the very few women who make it to top are so rare that they stand out from the crowd,” she said.

“Women normally go into the maritime industry if they have family links or family business. With no connections, it is quite rare as the maritime industry still has a reputation of being male-driven and not the most forward-thinking. Crews still tumbles backwards when women dare to step on board.

“I stumbled into shipping accidentally as I was specialising in insurance law and had a marine insurance matter on my desk. That was my first involvement. I was also lucky, as the senior lawyer I worked for at that time had daughters of my age, and was thus understanding and supportive, and helped a lot along the way,” she added.

“I started out when male colleagues alone would be taken to sea trials or meetings with clients, whilst I learned that I needed to be twice as good and work twice as hard as my male competitors to be considered ‘on their level’.”

Fichte does not mince words when it comes to the trials faced by women in shipping. “In London, we learned that we have to dress and behave like men to be considered serious. A pretty face would not benefit your career. I still come across many women who are harder to deal with than men on a professional level, and I do think that this is because they believe they ‘have to stand by their man’.

“In the UAE, my initial experience was that men would be polite and try to flirt with you. However, the moment they saw that you knew what you were taking about, they would respect and promote you. I had an older Emirati client who would proudly introduce me by saying ‘meet my lady lawyer’.

“Society in the Middle East is changing at a rapid pace and all men have daughters, wives, sisters, and nieces who want to participate in the development of the country and pursue their careers and I have seen a great deal of support for these endeavours. If you look at the number of female employees in government-related industries like UAE ports, you would be impressed.”

The inclusivity to allow more women’s voices to be heard at the management level is improving, she said. “We are on the right track, as the first point is awareness. A director, board member, or chief executive needs to be aware that his management team [should not consist] only of men – and that diversity is good for his business.

“If you want to keep good employees, you cannot ask a woman to decide between her career and her family plans. Women who become mothers don’t ‘lose their brains’. They are just adding to their already busy schedules. But they need support from both their families and their companies. They need flexi- timing, and a management that is understanding.

“In the UAE, we have a very short maternity leave allowance, and that forces female employees to resign. We at Fichte & Co. have increased maternity leave periods, and cover maternity in our insurance, to send a clear signal to our female staff that we want them to return.

“I also think we are one of the few companies here to offer paternity leave, to show our male staff that they need to get actively involved in family growth and that we understand that. Obviously, we have [introduced these steps] as I am the managing partner and a working mother myself. Make these [simple] changes and you will have the best and most loyal staff you could ever wish for.”

This article is published in Fairplay.