About a year ago, I requested a digital image from an early iteration of Dall-E, Open AI’s image creator, using the prompts “female sailors and boating” and “women and yachting”. The results were eye-opening: fashionably dressed women posed on the foredeck in wide-brimmed sunhats and not a female skipper to be seen. This is the “real world” perception that we have created, with women on boats reduced to objectified accessories.
Viewed from the inside, things are only marginally better, a rough count of female managers and harbour masters show that numbers amount to less than 15% of the total and a quick glance around international tables of decision makers indicate that very few women have yet to be invited to the party.
It’s true that up until fairly recently, many harbour master positions were filled by men retiring from the merchant navy, which has shaped the profile. The IMO tells us that female representing in the global seafarer workforce comprises 1.2% according to the 2021 study – and this is a significant improvement on the previous report.
Again, a visit to an average marina (other than in the Netherlands!) may well demonstrate a problem with workplace segregation, with female employees occupying positions such as reception staff or marketing, and male employees dominating dock staff, marina management and boatyard roles. (This is of course not to say that some marinas and larger groups are not actively pursuing a more equitable working environment, but these appear to be very much in the minority.)
How then to address the source of the problem? Firstly, we need a competent and comprehensive report in order to obtain a baseline understanding of female representation across the board. Secondly, we need to develop a strategy to improve these figures and incorporate workplace diversity tools and methodologies. Finally, we need to create guidelines for marinas to follow, to be able to implement gender equality techniques in their own facilities.
This will take a wide and inclusive group of vital partnerships and stakeholders, including outside experts to bring in knowhow and to develop industry statistics. We’ll need to look how discrimination can manifest (salaries, employment and promotional opportunities, workplace behaviour, decision-making processes, language and images used in communication, etc.) and start deconstructing barriers to greater accessibility.
This will only work if we have enough support and collective commitment throughout the community. It also counts on having shared vision and the dedication to stay the course.
Contact your national marine association and make your voice heard.