The Case for Gender Equality

Published on August 3rd, 2021

Lydia Mullan, managing editor of Sail, offers that as companies and organizations look toward holistic approaches to improve workplace morale, addressing gender bias needs to be near the top of the list.


“There are usually a lot more girls in bikinis here to send us off,” one of the bowmen pouts as we do a lap of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay on the way out to the 12 Metre World Championships. I brace myself against a sidestay, trying to line up a good photo of America’s Cup veteran Dick Enersen at the helm. He’s too far away to hear any of this, so his crew continues.

“You could make up for it by taking your clothes off.”

“I am at work,” I remind him tersely, gesturing to the logo of the magazine I write for embroidered on my cap.

“Uh oh, someone’s gonna get me-too’d,” another teases.

“Oh man, can you guys believe all that me-too bullshit?” someone asks. What he’s really asking is, “None of you guys are going to back this girl up if I make her uncomfortable, right?”

It’s only 11 a.m., and it’s already been a long day of comments: “What career didn’t pan out for a girl like you to end up in sailing?” or “I want to introduce you to my son. You look like the kind of girl I want having my grandbabies.”

I’ve had more than my share of practice, but I’m never satisfied with how I respond to that sort of thing. I’m reluctant to risk a righteous indignation explosion torching the rapport I’ve built with an interview subject. There’s no good answer. I check my watch. I have five more hours until we’ll be back on shore.

It’s not just professional sailing that struggles with sexism; the marine industry as a whole is behind the times when it comes to accepting female professionals.

A 2015 study by BIMCO, the world’s largest direct-membership organization for ship owners, charterers, ship brokers and agents, and the International Chamber of Shipping found that women represented only 2 percent of professional seafarers worldwide. The problem isn’t just that there aren’t enough women working in the industry; it’s also that the culture can be misogynistic and hostile to those few who stick it out.

Experts say that a minority needs to make up at least 20 percent of a team in order to shift the culture. Some marine professions are predominantly female, but as a whole, the industry isn’t close to that threshold, which creates a catch-22. How do you get more female participants in order to improve the industry culture if the industry culture is too sexist to attract female participants? – Full report

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