Advancement of women in sailing

Published on March 3rd, 2020

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
I’m a huge fan of the Sailing Leadership Forum hosted by US Sailing. Held biennially, it brings together so many of the contributors in the sport for good vibes and motivation. I’ve gone to them all.

I was happy to contribute to two panel discussions at the 2020 forum:
– Hear Sailing Influencers debate their opinions on the hot topics in our Sport.
– Recruiting & Retaining Women Sailors, Coaches, and Leaders.

I felt confident to participate in the hot topics discussion, but the women’s session proved to be an education for me. While I’m not hesitant to lean into a discussion, this was a chance to learn by listening.

Sure, I witnessed my mom crewing for my dad, my wife and I have sailed together for over 30 years, and Scuttlebutt regularly addresses the issue of women in sailing. Yet, I was not prepared for what was to come.

Led by Elizabeth Kratzig, with fellow panelists Betsy Alison, Nicole Breault, Dawn Riley, and Taran Teague, I was amid people who have been leaning in hard all their lives.

We had an organizational meeting in advance where we flushed out our experiences, and it was where the minority experience began for me. I’ve never been a minority. I’m a white, 57-year-old male in sailing. Most people who sail look like me.

But being in a panel of all women, speaking to an audience of nearly all women, I was less sure of myself. While I in no way suddenly felt like what it was to be a minority, I certainly gained a greater appreciation for the difference.

Dawn asked me if I have ever struggled with opportunity. I said no. Anything I wanted to do in sailing, with energy and ambition, I could pursue. But I also had witnessed gender bias. I’d seen males as more accepting of my sailing ability and suggestions than women.

If there is an interest to address the status of women being a minority in the sport, opportunity is a significant factor; everything builds off of it. We can’t just say we want more women in sailing; we have to change for it to occur. Here are some of my takeaways and opinions:

• Men need to advocate for women when they witness gender bias.

• Rule mandates to increase female participation are not preferred, but this form of artificially creating opportunity is needed in the absence of opportunity so as to promote change.

• Examples matter. We aspire to roles which are held by people that resemble us. When I saw male and female coaches of a junior program gather in a fleet of dinghies, and all the females were the crew, I wondered how young girls in that program could aspire to helming when their coaches didn’t.

• Be cognizant of phrasing. Don’t reference gender (or race, religion, etc) unless it is relevant. Women who sail are sailors, not women sailors. Doing otherwise limits their inclusion.

• When Jennifer Lopez and Shakira performed at the Super Bowl halftime show, their outfits and routine were roundly referred to as Stripper Bowl on social media. For such a widely watched sports event which includes this stage for entertainment, did their performance harm women who seek space in a male environment?

• Participation in the Clipper 2019-20 Round the World Yacht Race is nearly gender balanced. Why? There is strict training for all crew which levels the playing field and provides an environment to gain confidence.

• My wife is a yacht club member, and I assumed I had member privileges to her club. A lot of other spouses did too, and when it became known the by-laws provided none, yet spouses were running committees and representing the club, the by-laws were changed to better reflect the times. Encouraging all genders to participate increases participation.

• After a NBA game, one player was critical of an opponent, saying how “he’s got a lot of female tendencies on the court, flopping and throwing his head back the entire game. It’s a man’s game and you just get tired of it…he’s very womanlike.” How can women advance when their gender is used as a degrading adjective?

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