A sea change
Jenny Matthews, founder of She of the Sea, discusses gender balance in the superyacht market…
Jenny Matthews, is the founder of She of the Sea and chief mate on board M/Y S
Gender balance across the world is approaching critical mass. Everywhere, more and more women are aspiring to be in – and acquiring – positions traditionally held by men. Equal opportunity in the workplace is happening as the mindset about leadership and capability becomes less about gender and more about competence and performance.
The maritime sectors are no different as new initiatives and groups arise, ushering in and facilitating this change. Women now have the opportunity to pursue fulfilling, rewarding careers at sea, from Maritime UK’s taskforce focused on increasing the presence of women in the merchant sector to the recent Volvo Ocean Race, where new rules saw significant numbers of women on board. A notable example was the Turn the Tide on Plastic team that carried a 50/50 gender-mixed crew, including skipper Dee Caffari, boat captain Liz Wardley and yachting’s own Bianca Cook.
Major UK training provider UKSA has committed to featuring more women in their advertising for deck and engineering roles, aiming to change the mentality about career pathways for their candidates. She Captain, founded by Anna Mourou Lange, and The Maiden Factor, led by Tracy Edwards, are two more examples of women the world over working and leading on the water.
In the superyacht world, are female deck roles becoming more common? Do we have the supply for the demand? Do young women entering the industry look at both interior, exterior and engine rooms as possible career paths? According to Erica Lay, founder of EL Crew CO and a crew recruiter for 11 years, the answer is an definite yes! Lay, who hails from a land-based engineering background, has witnessed more women stepping on deck, especially in the sailing department. Interestingly, more captains are requesting women on deck because they believe they tend to work a little harder and go that extra mile. These women feel they have to prove themselves worthy.
"Interestingly, more captains are requesting women on deck because they believe they tend to work a little harder and go that extra mile. These women feel they have to prove themselves worthy."
Of course, this doesn’t imply that gender alone is the determining factor for crew performance. However, it does reveal that being a minority in any field can often serve as an incentive, together with the responsibility to represent women well and to prove oneself in traditional male roles. Positive changes in the atmosphere on board have been noted; mixed teams clearly work well together. Crews are now utilising complementary abilities, bringing out strengths, harnessing and heightening the advantages diversity brings.
As first officer, I have joined a yacht working with an incredible female captain of 20 years. The vessel next to us is running with a female first officer, a female deckhand and a female second engineer. Walking through the marinas these days and observing the deck teams is proof that these roles are happily and effectively becoming less and less exclusively male.
She of the Sea is a new platform for women in yachting, working or interested in a broader selection of career options. Our website, provides space for the female maritime community to connect, grow and, importantly, inspire the next generation of women. This not-for-profit site features resources such as detailed pathways to Officer of the Watch (OOW) and other qualifications. Featured articles explore leadership development and mindset, with profiles of women in the industry leading the way. The ‘Who is She?’ page enables women to create their own profiles about their career paths – inspiring, encouraging and, in some cases, warning those considering a career on deck or in the engine room. The conversation isn’t about who does it better, it’s about us all being better. Mentorship is key; experienced women networking with those starting their careers, offering support and advice to those climbing the ranks.
The response to the platform has been overwhelming, from both men and women in the industry. People are excited to see the unity, visibility and awareness of the career path being raised. The benefits of mentoring, community, encouragement and first-hand information is as genderless as hair colour, with both men and women encouraged to contribute to, and engage with, the site.
Still very much in its infancy, She of the Sea is run by women currently working in the industry keen to pass on their experiences, connect with others doing the same and be part of driving our industry to higher levels of performance and excellence. Working at sea can sometimes be isolating, even from our peers, so the sense of connection with a larger community working on the same path is an exciting change, and a positive sign for things to come.
This article will appear in full in the next issue of The Crew Report.
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