- Superyacht crewmember Jenny Matthews founded She of the Sea in 2018 as a community to connect female deck and engineering crew.
- Along with her business partner Natasha Ambrose, Matthews has grown the company into an initiative aimed at making the yachting industry more diverse, racially and along gender lines.
- They’re pushing to change how women are viewed and portrayed in yachting and the talent shortage it’s creating.
- Are you a woman working in yachting with a story to share? Email Hillary Hoffower at [email protected].
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The day Jenny Matthews joined the yachting industry, she knew she wanted to be a captain.
Eight years later in 2018, she was well on her way, having just passed an exam to become officer of the watch (OOW), a high-ranking deck role on a superyacht.
“I got a lot of amazing feedback from my peers,” she told Business Insider. “They were like, ‘Congratulations! Did you know that there’s less than 10 women that had those tickets?'”
As their words sank in, Matthews realised they rang true to her own experience: “I realised I had actually never seen or worked with another woman in my entire career in either of the deck or engineering departments,” she said.
Matthews turned to an existing Facebook group dedicated to women who work on deck. Turns out, the gender disparity wasn’t quite as dire as her peers had made it out to be; there were actually more than 10 women with an OOW certificate in the group alone. But Matthews said she was “flooded with responses” from women who had no idea the others existed.
“I was so compelled by what these women were saying,” she said. “Everything just blew up from there.”
And so began She of the Sea, a new community Matthews created as a way for female deck and engineering crew to connect because they’re “few and far between” in these male-dominated roles. Two years later, it has evolved into an industry-wide initiative aiming to diversify yachting along gender lines and also racially.
“How can we move past the sexy woman holding the bottle of champagne while the man drives around, to present women as the intelligent experts and passionate seafarers and corporate leaders that they are?” she said.
From building a community to demanding action
Matthews said She of the Sea “went off with a bang” when it first launched in 2018, but didn’t progress much the first year while she worked full-time as an OOW. Things kicked up when Natasha Ambrose, a chief mate for seven-plus years, jumped on board a year in.
Ambrose was one of the first to respond to her call-out in the Facebook group from Matthews seeking female OOWs. The two formed a friendship that developed into a partnership, and eventually into a romance – they’re now engaged. “We had such synergy and passion for this,” Matthews said.
While She of the Sea started out as an informative online space (with a Facebook group and website where women could share their experiences and jobs), it eventually became an action-based, concerted effort to diversify yachting.
Today, it has four key components: a pledge committing to make the industry more diverse; community outreach to young women who might be interested in a yachting career through collaborations with schools and STEM programs; raising visibility and awareness through webinars and events; and hosting a mentorship program, which has been paused amid the pandemic.
Working on She of the Sea full-time in 2019, Matthews added, was when they really started to see progress. She oversees the big picture, creating the blueprint for change and impact, while Ambrose translates that big picture into reality by doing research and forming personal relationships.
Their first six months were dedicated to research and development. They formed an advisory board and pro bono legal team who oversee everything She of the Sea produces, from the pledge creation to round table discussions and webinars. “You never want to be the smartest person in the room,” Matthews said.
Over the past six months, She of the Sea has successfully pushed for change in the yachting world, with 40-plus companies (from shipyards and crew agencies to management companies) signing its pledge.
Above all, She of the Sea is a passion project. So far, Matthews estimates, they have invested €30,000 ($US35,000) of their own money into the company. Self-funding, as opposed to seeking outside investors, keeps their message “authentic and pure,” she said.
She of the Sea’s initiative is filling a hole in the industry
Women, Matthews said, don’t have the same opportunities as men to get jobs and the opportunities to progress once they’re in those jobs. But what Matthews said she’s really pushing for is changing the visual and verbal representation of women in yachting media, advertising, conversations, and events, which fosters many of the barriers they face.
On a broader level, what they’re really addressing is the sustainability of the rapidly expanding industry, she said. While the demand for talent is astronomical, she explained, there’s a talent shortage because people aren’t looking at the right qualities if they’re selecting roles based on gender or race.
Matthews said that only 60 women have qualified as senior seafarers in the past 14 years, per the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. (Business Insider was not able to independently verify the figure.)
“If we’re only looking at the males or the crew that fit the cookie cutter picture that we have, we miss out on an incredible amount of talent,” she said. “If we want the best people, we have to value people based on their competency rather than any other irrelevant factor.”
Currently, Matthews and Ambrose are getting ready to launch an interactive community app for She of the Sea members. They’re also creating a flagship apparel line with all proceeds going back to the community, and have begun hosting Instagram live events and webinars featuring inspiring women in the industry.
But Matthews’ overall goal is that in five to 10 years, She of the Sea won’t have to exist. “I hope that we won’t have to champion change, that that change would have already happened,” she said. “And we can all sit back and laugh that we even had to have a platform for getting this to happen.”
Are you a woman working in yachting with a story to share? Email Hillary Hoffower at [email protected].
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