The Port of East London’s Sharon Sijako is one of three women captaining a commercial harbour in South Africa.
The 50-year-old, who was born in Mdantsane near East London, is the second female, after Jacqueline Brown, to be at the helm of her hometown’s 120-year-old harbour.
Sijako is responsible for ensuring that everything at the port, which employs more than 350 people and can accommodate 11 commercial ships, runs like clockwork.
Her career with Transnet began nearly 25 years ago and she worked at the ports of Richards Bay and Port Elizabeth before moving the Port of East London in 1998. She held various posts there and just before her appointment as port manager in 2017, she was the senior operations manager, a position she held for three-and-a-half years.
Having grown up near the harbour, Sijako says ships and the sea have always fascinated her and this helped her choose her career.
She says the maritime industry is exciting with new challenges every day.
After passing matric, Sijako moved to Cape Town where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences and an Honours Degree in Business Administration from the University of the Western Cape.
“It is important to have women in leadership positions across all industries and sectors to ensure we bring diversity to our management structures and to accurately reflect the communities in which we operate,” Sijako says.
Having women in top jobs will also send a message to young women that they can do any job and that there is no such thing as jobs for men or jobs for women.
It is hard, she says, to make time for your family while proving yourself at work but it can be done with determination and hard work.
Sijako advises those looking to make a career in the maritime sector to study towards a qualification in fields such as marine biology, maritime law and other relevant qualifications.
“I would also encourage women interested in the maritime industry to develop a skills in finance, human resources and business administration,” says Sijako.