Head Office, 17-27 Queen's Square
17-27 Queen's Square
North Yorkshire

In honour of International Day for Women in Maritime 2024, a special event was held in PD Ports’ historic boardroom to celebrate the talent and ingenuity of women across our business and to reconfirm our commitment to increasing representation and equality across our workforce.

The event was arranged by PD Ports’ women’s network group, led by key account manager Patti Burt, and featured speeches by chief finance officer Elizabeth Law , who is executive sponsor of the group, and executive chairman Jerry Hopkinson .

Three women with very different roles in the business – PD Ports’ incoming chief people and compliance officer Michelle Robson FCIPD; Melanie McDonald , head of steel logistics at Groveport, and Becky Williams, health, safety and environmental advisor at Teesport – each gave a speech looking at their career path and the challenges and opportunities they’ve encountered working in a male-dominated industry.

Michelle Robson – chief people and compliance officer

Michelle is new to PD Ports, joining as our new chief people officer with executive responsibility for a broad range of departments across the business.

During the Women in Maritime event she took the opportunity to explain about her career path to date, starting with a summer admin job at a shipyard in South Shields.

“I had no idea such a place even existed until I got there, but I loved it from the very start – I loved looking out of the window at the huge ships they were working on. I had wanted to do mechanical engineering – I’ve always been into working with my hands and understanding how stuff is put together – but there was a guy in the business who offered to sponsor me if I stayed with them another year. In the end I studied business, finance and law.

“When I was 19 I got the opportunity to work at Harland and Wolff, in Belfast, and just fell in love with the industry.

“I stayed in oil and gas for the next decade, working in Azerbaijan in a fabrication yard on the Caspian Sea, before moving to Kazakhstan. I was a young female and looked very different to the rest of the women there – every time I walked into a meeting or an event, the assumption was that I was there to translate for someone.

“I eventually decided it was time to move home to the UK and took a role at Sellafield, working in nuclear power, before moving home to the North East, at Formica, which is a business steeped in history.

“Since starting at PD Ports last month, I’ve been made so completely welcome, everyone I’ve met has been so warm and genuine. I love to be out and about in the business and am always up for a cup of tea and a catch up.”

Asked for her top three bits of advice for any woman working in ‘a man’s world’, she said: “First, don’t ever let anyone change who you are.

“Second, trust your gut. You will have a different point of view to almost everyone else in the room – trust it.

“Finally, seek allies. You can’t make inroads into a male-dominated industry alone. Women need people to support us in the push for inclusion and equality.“Very early on I learned that I needed to have a thick skin, but I’ve always felt that the community you work in makes a big difference as to whether you feel safe or not. When I worked offshore there were time when I was the only woman on the rig. There was banter but I knew it was all with good intent, they wanted to look after me.

“When the environment is wrong, the ‘banter’ doesn’t work – that’s when it’s not acceptable.”


Melanie McDonald – head of steel logistics

Mel joined PD Ports five months ago and is based at our Groveport complex, on the River Trent, which is a UK market leader for handling long steel products.

With a broad range of roles in her career to date, Mel gave insight into the differences between working in male and female-dominated industries and what motivates her to succeed.

“It’s an honour to be asked to take part in this event.

“There was talk earlier in this session about being a ‘strong woman’ – you don’t just become a strong woman, it’s a matter of perception. All of us are one thing on the outside, but something different inside.

“Often, we tend to conform, to be what others want you to be, because it’s easier. When you step out of those boxes, you will face a challenge, but it does get easier.

“I always encourage curiosity and challenge.

“I want to be the best that I can be, I want to be reliable, consistent, dedicated, honest and loyal. I always advise people to think of themselves as a brand, about how others perceive you.

“What I want men to realise is that you will always have a better team with a woman in it. We are an asset, so if you don’t want us on that team, it’s your loss.

Melanie enrolled on a YTS scheme at a waste management plant at 17.

“I quickly developed a thick skin for banter, as a 17-year-old. You’ve got to be strong enough to speak up.”

After spells in banking and teaching, Mel decided to go to university. While studying, she applied for an admin role with DHL, finding herself working in a warehouse.

“I knew all the various brands I was working with from the supermarket but I knew nothing about the supply chain. I’ve always been curious and I really wanted to understand the operation.

“It was quite a challenging environment – I learned a lot about what kind of leader I didn’t want to be.

“I could see all the things that would fix the warehouse and make it better and work more logically. I spent three years in that role and learnt like a sponge, everything about every bit of that company before going to work as a leader for a different operator with a focus on e-commerce, packing cosmetics orders for a High Street retailer.

“In the new role there were 1,200 people, of all different nationalities, who were picking orders and packing for distribution to customers. Women were good at that role because they are more dextrous than men and can multitask.

“I saw as well that women continuously improve things, without even trying to, they just do things that are common sense.”

Mel joined PD Ports in January as head of steel logistics at Groveport.

“There’s masses of opportunity at Groveport. It’s very male-dominated, there are only six women on the site. I want to make sure those women understand the can be whatever they want to be, in any part of the business.”

Explaining her approach to business, she said: “I always go with my gut. You’ll hear from your head and your heart, which will argue with each other, but I always trust my gut and that’s served me well.”

Becky Williams – health, safety and environment advisor, Teesport

Becky joined PD Ports in 2020, having previously working in business development for a local college, helping to find apprenticeship providers for a local college.

Having joined the company in a compliance role, she later moved across into health and safety.

“PD Ports is very male dominated – I think this event is the first I’ve ever attended with more women in the room than men.

“People in this business are so passionate about their department and they’ve been so supportive when there’s been something I didn’t know or terminology I didn’t understand – I just have to ask a question and they’re happy to help.

“It’s not necessarily about male and female – not everyone thinks the same way and that’s always something to keep in mind.”

Becky is expecting her first child later this summer and took the time to talk about her pregnancy journey in the company so far, including the support and positivity from her line manager, colleagues and HR department.

“Women are often nervous about getting pregnant or talking about menopause so I feel like we need to share positive stories and outcomes where we can.

“Women are powerful and focused – support them through their journey and any life challenges and they’ll give you so much in return.”

Posted in: CSR

Award Winning

PD Ports awarded Gold Status from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) for its commitment to health and safety excellence for the third consecutive year.

PD Ports - RoSPA Award Winner 2023