GENDER EQUALITY –
MIND THE GAP
By Anna Percival
(This complete editorial can be found at: www.yachtingmatters.com Edition 30)
In my last article, written at the beginning of my maternity leave, I focused on the impending arrival of my twins, and how women on yachts have little choice when it comes to having a family and a yachting career simultaneously.
Since the arrival of our boy/girl twins in July, I’ve become even more aware of the gender gap in our society.
We don’t dress the twins in the stereotypical blue and pink, in fact we chose to dress them both in neutral colours from birth. They’re tiny humans, who don’t need to be identified as anything other than that at the moment.
People stop us and ask what sex they are (one lady told me that I should dress them in gender specific colours, so people would be able to tell for themselves). I want to ask them why it matters – would it make a difference to how special they are, or how lucky we are to have them? Do they plan to treat the babies differently once they know which gender they are?
At one of this week’s ‘Mummy & Me’ groups, a well-meaning lady was talking to my daughter, and calling her ‘he’, because she was wearing a blue and white striped babygro. Society tells us that boys wear one thing, while girls wear another. It tells us that we must differentiate between them from birth.
How can we get away from gender stereotypes when people are forcing them onto our seven month old babies? It is widely recognised that yachting isn’t particularly politically correct, and that some of the things that go on regarding hiring and firing would never stand on dry land (we still hope that MLC will fix this, but that remains to be seen), but if polite society still accepts casual sexism, how will we ever combat this on board?
Doing some research for this article, I looked at many job adverts for interior crew, in particular an advert for a Chief Stew caught my eye. The repeated use of the word ‘she’ in the job description told me that the crew agent and yacht haven’t even considered that the ideal candidate may be male. The job title was ‘Chief Stewardess’ – I’ve yet to come across a crew agent who titles these jobs as ‘Chief Steward/ess’.
The advert also stated that the ideal candidate was between 20 and 30 years old. This brings us to the age old (excuse the pun) notion that the older a male captain or chief engineer gets, the better he is at his job. The running joke at JPMA is that our instructors have all reached the full ‘captain status’ of having white hair and a beard. The way they look automatically commands respect from the younger students, as they ‘clearly know what they’re talking about’.
However, a female stew will probably be put out to pasture before she’s 35. Her experience counts for nothing, and she’s replaced with a younger model. How is this acceptable? Surely her skills and experience are valuable?
As a training provider, we often receive calls from young people who want to get into yachting. They ask what courses they will need to do, so I ask them what department they see themselves working in.
I’ve lost count of the number of girls who assume they can only work as a stewardess, but they’ve been sailing dinghies since they could walk, have numerous small boat qualifications and countless miles under their belts. Why does it never occur to them that they're in a position to become a deckhand? Why do they feel they have to work as interior crew, when they're clearly deckies?
In the same vein, I was approached recently by a young man who works in a fine dining restaurant here in Hoylake (OK – maybe I forced him to tell me what he was going to do after his A-Levels, like an overbearing auntie, whilst he served my crème brûlée…) He began his career as a kitchen porter, moving onto waiting on, and is now a supervisor. His impression was that in order to join a superyacht, he’d need to go on deck. He has no sailing experience, and no strong desire to graduate to deck or engineering officer – would you hire him as a deckie? He is, however, slightly obsessed with wine and coffee (in a good way, rather than in the way most of us are). He’s written his own wine bible, so he knows what to recommend to diners to complement their chosen meal, and what he can’t draw on top of a cappuccino isn’t worth attempting. He’s a born steward, but he didn’t even realise this was an option for him. Before he’s even set foot into the yachting world, society has told him that men sail, whilst women serve the drinks.
This stems from something that all parents should work towards fixing. I recently read an article written by Doug Zeigler, in which he talks about his son, and how he loves kissing him. He talks about how he thinks we do a “gross disservice” to our sons by not showing them the love they need and deserve. Instead, many men avoid contact with their sons and teach them to toughen up and not cry. Most often starting around the time our sons enter kindergarten, we’ve replaced kisses with abrupt pats on the head and holding them at arm’s length, teaching them to hold everyone at a distance. We think it prepares them for the adult world. However, what it really does teach them is that feelings are invalid and their worth as a man is tied directly to how “manly” they are.
Gloria Steinem said it best - “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons like our daughters.”
There’s no denying that biology can play a part – men are typically stronger than women, therefore can be viewed as more suited to working on deck. However plenty of women are also sufficiently strong for the job. The need for stewardesses to be attractive and young is only down to the preferences of the predominantly male owners. A man could do the job just as well.
If ability to do the role is how deckies are measured, then the same should be applied to steward/esses. Do they know their stuff? Are they going to bring experience to the crew?
Many of you may have met my father, John Percival, and know that he was a big character with strong opinions. My parents instilled in me the same confidence: to stand up for myself, make myself heard, and to know that I’m equal to any man. I regularly attend meetings with other training providers and the MCA, and quite often I’m the only woman present. I’m known for speaking my mind, and I’d hope that my views are held in the same regard as any of the men present. At 5ft 2in I don’t profess to be deckhand material, but why can’t any woman strive to equal a man in a deck or engineering role?
There are a fair number of female captains/engineers and male stews out there, but it’s not nearly enough. How can we promote change in an industry seemingly stuck in stereotypes?
Crew agents, Captains, Chief Stews, Chief Engineers take note – we entered the 21st century a long time ago, perhaps it’s time the yachting industry caught up. Women and men are achieving in the same shore based roles, there needn’t be a gender gap when we’re all created equal in our ability to succeed. Next time you’re recruiting, maybe you could think outside the box, and at least consider someone who doesn’t fit the stereotype of your on board department.
Anna Percival-Harris is Managing Director and co-founder of JPMA/Hoylake Sailing School, a yacht training provider based in Hoylake, UK.
Contact Anna: [email protected]