Having climbed the ranks at a young age, and now chief stewardess on board 72m motoryacht 'Titania', Zyanya Sebastian speaks to The Crew Report about the barriers that exist in the industry and how these can be overcome.

Stepping on board Titania during the MYBA Charter Show’s Chef Competition was a unique experience. Greeted by a team of masked stewardesses, dining on board was more like a theatrical performance as each course was presented with perfected synchronisation and gravitas. Behind this well-executed team was chief stewardess Zyanya Sebastian who, at 25 years old, has had to overcome a number of barriers in the industry because of her age. Chief stewing since she was 23, Sebastian has climbed the ranks quickly, so it was interesting to learn just how she reached where she is today.


 The interior crew of M/Y Titania during the MYBA Charter Show. Credit: Luke Sprague

“In one of my first stew positions I had the most fantastic chief steward,” Sebastian explains. “He put a lot of energy into my service skills and I advanced quickly because of the training he gave me.” Sebastian progressed to a head of service position on board Alpha Nero, but subsequently found herself in a difficult situation. “When I came to leave I was in a really awkward position,” she says. “I wanted a second stewardess position because I had valuable, relevant experience but I couldn’t find anything. I was repeatedly told that either I had great experience but I was too young, or that I was the perfect age but had too much experience. I was in limbo for about four months.”

Even once Sebastian had secured a senior position on board a new yacht, she found herself faced with the same age-related prejudices. “I was chief stew when a new captain came on the boat. I really wanted to employ one candidate as our head of housekeeping; she was twenty-three and she had the experience to carry it through. The new captain refused, as apparently he did not believe in hiring anyone under the age of twenty-six. At this point I told him that I was twenty-four and automatically he saw me in a different light and our on-board relationship completely changed.”


“So many boats, if they want to keep crew, try and withhold training. I have seen it a few times on different boats.” - Chief stewardess Zyanya Sebastian

 
Dismissing credible candidates because of their age could create a situation in which a great deal of qualified and professional crew are unable to progress in the industry, potentially damaging the quality of crew for the future. Yet Sebastian acknowledges that age discrimination is not the only barrier she has experienced. “So many boats, if they want to keep crew, try and withhold training. I have seen it a few times on different boats,” she says. “One boat separated the service and the housekeeping departments so that there was no crossover at all. I remember when the two crew that worked in the laundry went on leave one year, I was the only member of staff in the interior staff that knew how to operate it.”


Motoryacht Titania. Credit: Ed Holt

This is an attitude that Sebastian strongly avoids on Titania. “On this boat everyone does absolutely everything,” she explains. “Because when you do become a second stew, your chief stew is going to expect you to go down to the laundry and make sure it’s being done properly. How are you going to do that if you’ve never done laundry yourself?” Sebastian believes this mentality actually increases crew longevity in the long run. “If you are getting something back from the boat then you are going to stay. You are here to progress, and holding people back is not helpful to the industry.”

The industry cannot afford to hold back and deter professional crew. Hindering crew career progression through discrimination, by withholding proper training or any other way, is counterproductive. Leaders in the industry have a responsibility to nurture and encourage ambitious individuals in order to move the superyacht crew profession forward so that the whole industry can benefit.

This article can be read in full in issue 65 of The Crew Report.