My name is John Nicholls. I’m 49, I’ve been a chief officer working on yachts up to 50m for 10 years, I have a <500gt yacht licence and I've spent the last six months as captain cruising with guests and running a refit.
They say finding your first captain role is not easy in this industry. The jobs are rarely advertised and it is often who you know, not what you know. However, based on the information above, how would you rate my chances – as good as the next man’s? What if I told you my name isn’t John? It’s Tania. Be honest, did my chances suddenly plummet?
It’s OK. I would have had the same reaction and I’ve been trying to figure out why. What is stopping me from achieving my goal? Is it me, or the self-absorbed industry I work in? Is it society in general or my biology? What is my problem? I’m qualified and experienced, but for some reason I have to admit that I cannot find the enthusiasm to pursue the next step. Strange, given the thousands of euros I’ve spent and the energy I’ve exerted getting to this position. So I’ve been looking at the literature to help me think it through.
Apparently success is as much about confidence as it is competence. It has to be real – none of that faked bluster that people can spot a mile away. People are drawn to real confidence, not repelled by it. This is where men get the jump on women – they have a natural tendency to overestimate their potential and abilities; women tend to underestimate them. Men really do believe they are more capable than they are; women believe they are less capable, even though they are actually about the same. So if confidence is a requirement of success, this puts women at a disadvantage.
So why do they so frequently lack confidence? Risk taking, perseverance and failure are essential building blocks for confidence. As children, girls are protected from harm, taught not to interrupt and are rewarded for being good. Boys are expected to be pushy, boisterous and are rewarded for risk taking. Because of this differing experience, boys come to see failure as evidence that something is difficult; girls see failure as evidence that they were never good enough and should not continue to try.
The result is a woman who is capable but needs to build confidence surrounded by people who worry about her capability and would feel more comfortable if she were a he.
That said, there are determined skilled women out there with enough confidence to put themselves in places of employment with authority. Their next barrier to success is twofold. First, people generally prefer to have a man in charge, especially when the going gets tough, and second, men may perceive women in power as a threat to their masculinity. The result is a woman who is capable but needs to build confidence surrounded by people who worry about her capability and would feel more comfortable if she were a he. It’s not overt, it’s just a feeling on both sides that something isn’t right.
It’s not a case of who is at fault, it’s a case of this being the way our society and culture function today. The only fault is if, having defined the problem, we fail to do anything about it. My generation has had so many more opportunities than my mother’s and we now need to make sure that the young ones coming through have even more opportunities. Ensuring that will take positive action from all levels of the industry.
On a personal level, I’ve decided that I have a job that is very sweet, and while it remains so I’ll stay put. While I feel I am perfectly capable of taking on a superyacht captain role, I think I will need a lot of luck to find an opportunity working for an open-minded yacht owner with an open-minded, secure crew, who are willing to trust and not be threatened by taking instruction from a woman; a woman who, although competent, will not initially be brimming with unfounded confidence. And until I find that job, I don’t think becoming a captain will be a fun experience, so I’m not in a hurry to lose what I have.
Don’t miss our article on gender roles on board, ‘It’s a boy-girl thing’, in issue 78 of The Crew Report, out May 2016.