Girls on Deck: A Community that Inspires

21 June 2016 By Hillary Hoffower

What happens when a dynamic duo teams up to help shatteryachting’s glass ceiling? The growing and inspiring community known as Girls on Deck iscreated, of course.

An initiative designed to encourage gender equality withinthe yachting industry and help women take on “male-dominated,” roles, Girls onDeck is the brainchild of Bosun Sophie Jordan and The Crew Coach AlisonRentoul.

“Girls on Deck was born solely out of my frustration througha particularly hard time I was going through,” says Jordan. “I had a couple of‘leaders’ around me that I felt weren’t understanding my worth on deck, and Iwas finding it hard to find the support I needed on a personal level.”

While Jordan says she’s been lucky to have great captainsand first officers who have encouraged and supported her through her deckcareers, such as Capt. Leigh Everington, who has tirelessly fought uphillbattles to persuade others to give her a chance, she’s also had to proveherself on many occasions.

“I’ve often been told that women aren’t physically strongenough, but there’s nothing on deck that I can’t do as well as the boys,” shesays. “I used to carry a thirty-five meter line by myself and purposely go viathe bridge so that the captain would see me.”

Jordan added that if she needed a hand with something, therewas always another crewmember close by — the same as if she helped a chefprepare food, for example. “We work as a crew, and I really don’t see whygender should be an issue,” she says. “In some cases, I think women have abetter eye for detail on deck.”

Although she’s experienced a lot of sexism and has had tostick up for herself, it’s through these experiences that Jordan’s learned tosupport other women who may be going through the same thing.

Crediting her deck career to Rentoul, who encouraged her topursue her deck dreams when she arrived in the Mediterranean four years ago, itwas a no-brainer that, following her frustration, Jordan reached out to her tosee if she knew of any social media sites where she could connect with otherwomen. Little did Jordan know, Rentoul had been thinking of starting up asocial media group like this for a long time.

“As a career coach, I often work with females who are tryingto get ahead in traditionally male-dominated roles, and I thought it would begreat to create a community to connect them,” says Rentoul. “ Sophie is one ofmy clients, and we were chatting about it and we decided to just go for it!”

And go for it they did — the two developed the group with atrio of goals, the first being to raise awareness of the inequality in theindustry, encouraging yachts to address the balance by seeking out females forthese roles, says Rentoul. The second goal is to encourage more females topursue these roles if that’s their passion, and the third encompasses a muchbroader scope. “It would be great to achieve some wider goals for encouragingand highlighting gender equality in the world, which is why we are aligned withthe United Nations Global Goals,” says Rentoul, referring to Girl on Deck’s incorporationof Goal 5 of the UN’s Global Goals, which is to “achieve gender equality andempower all women and girls.”

Boasting more than 1,000 members, the Facebook communitylooks like it’s well on its way to achieving these goals. Rentoul, who has beenthrilled with the response and popularity, feels like they’re filling a needthat was definitely there.

Jordan is equally thrilled. “I really feel that we areexperiencing a shift of opinion within yachting at the moment. We are seeing alot more women breaking into the industry, and I am really proud of the groupand all of the positive feedback we’ve received,” she says, adding that womenhave written to both her and Rentoul to say the group has inspired them andthat the community provides them with the support they need to achieve theircareer goals.

Want to join? Whether male or female, request to join andyou’ll be accepted. Rentoul says meet-ups and live webinars to discuss what thegroup can do to create positive changes for gender equality are planned for thefuture, so stay tuned!

“I still think we have a long way to go to prove our worthto engineers, officers, captains, and sailors alike,” says Jordan. “I don’t seeus burning our bras at the top of any masts as, obviously, that would be an ISMnightmare, but we’d just like to remind a few people that it’s 2016 and thatmaybe having a girl in the engine room, on deck, or on the bridge would be anasset to your crew. I would certainly like to thank every captain who hassupported that idea so far!”

Photo of Rachael Pewsey