We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny Matthews, Founder of She of the Sea, and Anna Schroeder, Marketing Director of Pantaenius Yacht Insurance, to discuss the similarities between the visions of both companies, how they found themselves in their current roles and how the future looks for eradicating bias across all sectors, including the yachting industry.
To begin, Jenny, where did the vision for She of the Sea come from?
I started She of the Sea after I passed the Officer Of the Watch 3000GT oral exam. I was met with enthusiastic congratulations from my peers, however, this was followed up by a startling statistic that stopped me in my tracks; “ Congratulations, did you know there are fewer than 10 women in the industry with this ticket!”. At first I didn’t think it could be possible, but when I thought about it, in 8 years at sea, I had never seen another woman in either the deck OR engineering departments and only 2 other women in all the courses I had completed on my way to Officer.
I asked a simple question “who else is out there?” on social media, and after an overwhelming response from women all over the world, She of the Sea was born! Natasha Ambrose was one of the first other Officers to raise their hands to the question. Together, we are proud to be connecting with the many exciting sectors that make up the Yachting industry about this exciting and important conversation. Interestingly, what started as a desire to connect with other women at sea on the same career path has evolved into a powerful and universal vision that is resonating with all genders, both in the shore side community, and those at sea. That vision is realising a high performance, competency focused yachting industry, regardless of gender.
Anna, how was it that you came to work for Pantaenius? Did you always want to join the family business?
When you grow up with sailing, water sports and the whole industry around it, a certain interest is naturally pre-programmed. However, my decision to join Pantaenius was not always as clear as it seems. My father always left the choice open to me. It was my brother who finally convinced me. After school, I started working in the fashion industry but the culture there didn’t suit me at all. So I gave the insurance industry a chance and started working for major carriers in London and Munich, in the marine underwriting sector. When Pantaenius was looking for a new marketing director – the division had traditionally been in my family’s hands – I finally made the move and have never regretted it to this day. In marketing, I am able to combine my creativity and analytical skills with what I had learned during my studies and previous positions. In the end, this is where everything comes together, from product development to customer management.
Jenny, can you tell us a little more about your background?
As I joined yachting at 19 already determined to be a Captain, the majority of my adult life has been spent either at sea or in the classroom. Like most Kiwi’s, my early years revolved around the ocean, and more specifically around rowing. I proudly represented the Silver Fern as part of the international pre-elite team as a coxswain at age 17. Considering the role of a coxswain is to facilitate the absolute highest performance of the team, it couldn’t have been better training for my career in yachting, especially the psychology of crew synergy and performance.
Jenny, have you found equality to be an issue for you in your own career?
This is a really interesting point. Initially, I had no real concept of what impact going against gender norms had on my career. It wasn’t until I started frequently hearing the same stories from other women, and then VERY different accounts from my male peers, that we started to see stark disparities between our experiences. We then started to look at the mountain of research into the subjects of diversity and inclusion from other industries and realised that this conversation was in no way a “ yachting” one. There have been a few key factors identified that contribute to the current landscape, and as you can imagine, they are fascinating, complex and sometimes confronting.
For example, the difference in narrative delivered by those who fit the ‘traditional’ profile at the beginning of their careers, is very different from those who don’t. Additionally, simple things like verbal and visual representation (or lack thereof) have an incredible impact on the perception we all hold about who can (and cannot) perform different roles. Outdated stigmas attached to a woman’s ability to perform in these roles contribute to a very clear opportunity gap that has a huge impact on progression and promotion. These many different conscious, and unconscious, biases we all possess play significant roles in the current state of affairs. Interestingly, there are also elements that can, in the end, be an advantage. Take for example the responsibility that many minorities feel to outperform their peers to “earn“ their seat at the table. The feeling of having to be the absolute best just to be considered or respected drives many to ensure they top all their classes and maintain impeccable standards. Something that those who do not feel such pressure, may not necessarily feel the need to aspire to. These examples, of course, do not exclusively apply to women in deck and engineering departments, but can be seen to be present for any minority in any number of industries and professions.
Anna, the same question to you. Has equality been an issue for you in your own career?
The fashion industry, as I experienced it briefly, was much more colourful than the insurance or financial world, but it was also very homogeneous and not necessarily more open. What is clear, however, is that the insurance world in particular, as represented today by Lloyds in London, for example, is clearly a male domain. Women need a thick skin to assert themselves here. In one of my graduate programmes I was the only woman among thirty colleagues. At the same time, this exotic status gave me the chance to be seen, so to speak. Even though there are many negative clichés about so-called quota women in the industry, we should use this opportunity to make ourselves and others heard. Perhaps it also helped me growing up with two older brothers. That’s where you quickly learn to assert yourself.
Jenny, when you began the She of the Sea initiative did you find you had instant support or did you face opposition?
We were, and still do, find ourselves to be welcomed with great enthusiasm and engagement by both the shore and sea sectors! Of course, there will be those that are challenged by a change to the norm, however the feedback has overwhelmingly been “thank god, it was about time“. Interestingly this has come from all genders, with very strong support from the males in the industry. It is clear that the men are championing the women in their lives, the ones working next to them, their partners and their daughters. Our analytics even show that of all the individuals visiting our website, 49% are male, reflecting the core ethos of diversity and inclusion and performance, as opposed to gender. The conversation is not about who does it better, but how we can all be better together, and that conversation is relevant to all of us, regardless of any other factors.
Jenny, what changes would you like to see in the industry in say, the next 5 years?
I always say I don’t want to see any more female Captains, only Captains. The best-case scenario is that there is no need for platforms like She of the Sea to exist. For us to all have a giggle that we needed an International Women’s Day. For gender to disappear from the conversation completely. I believe that our industry will truly embody its position as “cutting edge” when we are 100% focused on recruiting, cultivating and promoting the best people for the job, regardless of gender, age, nationality, sexuality… the list goes on. It’s clear the industry is very much evolving from its wildest days, and as the fleet grows in size and number, the conversation of equality and diversity in our teams is part of that maturation.
Anna, do you think equality and diversity are an issue in the yachting industry, both onboard and ashore? If so, why do you think that is?
From my personal experience, the yachting industry has the same problems as many other industries. Of course, a lot is done for diversity and just because of the strong internationality of the industry, many and very different cultural and political influences have an impact on the industry, but leadership positions are still mainly held by men. In my opinion, this is due to the fact that even today, women generally still have to choose between family and career. If the balancing act is really to succeed, a lot of support from the family and professional environment is required.
Anna, today, Pantaenius has a very diverse team. Was that always the case? And, if it wasn’t, was there a conscious decision made to have a more balanced male/female team?
Indeed, Pantaenius has always been a very diverse company with many women in management positions. My father did not force this, but he distributed promotion opportunities equally and had the same expectations of all employees. Thus it happened that our branches in England, Spain, Sweden or Germany, for example, had female managers in areas from IT to sales and even female managing directors at an early age.
My father also never differentiated between me and my brothers; it was clear to him that if we wanted to join the company, we would all have the same rights and obligations.
Today, my brothers and I naturally try to keep this recipe for success alive and support and encourage women in the company.
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Jenny, what do you think the advantages are of having a diverse team within a company? What are companies that still lack a proper strategy to diversify their staffing mix missing out on?
There is an incredible amount of data out there now that has shifted the conversation around diversity and inclusion from “is it good?” to “how best do we facilitate it within our organisations and harness the benefits”. Organisations such as McKinsey & Company, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley have released studies showing the many performance and economic benefits of diverse teams in all senses of the word, not just gender. The statistics clearly show the financial, performance and leadership advantages of diverse teams, that those organisations who do not actively work towards a diverse makeup, risk losing their competitive edge. This is so much so that Goldman and Sachs recently announced that it will no longer even take a company public unless there is at least one diverse board member, and VC firms are releasing statements essentially warning companies to heed the data and take action, lest they be left behind.
There isn’t an industry or organisation out there that can afford to dismiss the advantage gained by creating diverse and inclusive teams. We are seeing huge funding and widely publicised campaigns from many global industries, including the likes of aviation and shipping, aimed at increasing their levels of diversity and inclusion (Google Captain Kate McCue). This is mirrored in sectors such as law and finance, as industries are no longer looking to see who is doing it, but who is doing it best and how.
We believe this is why She of the Sea is being received with so much enthusiasm by the Yachting industry. The global conversation has been happening for years. Those organisations that represent our industry leaders recognise this, and by uniting these change-makers, we will see significant progress across all sectors, ultimately benefiting the industry as a whole.
Anna, what do you see are the advantages of having a diverse team within a company?
Insurance and risk management is a balancing act. Many options and interests have to be weighed up in order to ultimately offer a meaningful, efficient, but of course, also economic service for all parties involved. So we can only benefit from the diversity among our decision-makers. However, this certainly does not only apply to the insurance industry. Teams that are too homogeneous quickly settle on a so-called “silver bullet”, and alternative opinions and approaches are easily neglected. Look at a sailing yacht on the regatta course: the crew works like clockwork but it can only do that because it is made up of people who have specific individual skills. There are simply no plausible reasons for companies to ignore what is actually incredibly obvious.
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Are there any similarities between She Of The Sea and Pantaenius?
Jenny: From the individuals I have had the pleasure of connecting with in person from Pantaenius, it is clear that the message of diversity resonates strongly. I was delighted to connect with the likes of Mike Wimbridge, who could not have been more enthusiastic about the message, and after connecting with others in the organisation, it is inspiring to see this already taking place within such a big industry player. I believe that both organisations are committed to doing their part from their own platforms to see this industry at its absolute best, and recognise that diversity and inclusion are a big part of that conversation
Anna: I think what unites She of the Sea and Pantaenius is first of all the way we both see people and our vision of how we work together. Both organisations are characterised by a strong hands-on approach. As different as they are, both organisations are born from personal experience and the desire to solve a problem. We believe in personal responsibility, in the fact that we can all have a positive influence on our environment and fellow human beings, and that the best way to move forward is through partnership. Whether within the industry or with all those who use our services.
As a commercial enterprise, this is our driver of innovation. For She of the Sea this is the motivation to make the world a little better.
Apart from that, both organisations are of course about two things: a passion for yachting and girls who can handle saltwater.
What advice do you each have for women beginning a career in the yachting industry?
Jenny: I give the same advice I give to the young men joining the industry – that this is one of the most exciting careers you can have, and will be one of the most incredible opportunities for growth, but you have to be smart about it. A lot of crew entering the industry have no idea of the reality of day to day life on board. I was grateful to my mentor who shared the good along with the tough aspects, so I knew what may be ahead, and this level of preparedness is something I take care to pass on. My main advice to crew at the beginning of their career is to really get clear on their intentions and goals for their career and make a plan to achieve these. Additionally, as in life, surrounding yourself with like-minded and inspiring individuals is key.
Anna: It sounds like a cliché but follow your passion, then you will be good at what you do and ultimately successful. If you’re unsure, get a mentor. I don’t know why this concept is not lived out as strongly among women in the business world as among men. Of course, a little luck wouldn’t hurt either. In addition, there is always something to learn, and until society really lives and breathes diversity, it does no harm to have a little extra expertise as a woman. There may be cases, where you have to be more ambitious than your male counterparts, so you should always be aware of your strengths and continue to cultivate them. At the end of the day, however, you shouldn’t overrate the issues and thus restrict yourself in your personality. The best advice we should all take to heart is to be a positive example for the next generation.
Mike Wimbridge, Pantaenius’ Operations Director and Global Underwriter, also commented: “I would say that the vision for change that Anna and Jenny have, mirrors the fundamental basis underpinning Pantaenius. Mr. Baum senior (Anna’s Dad) was a pioneer of the field of yacht insurance. He had lots of friends who had boats to insure and the policy didn’t exist, so he wrote it himself. He made that first step, many years ago, and not only did it make Pantaenius what it is today but it also paved the way for the whole yacht insurance market to evolve. Once you have taken that first step, the sky’s the limit. Yes you want to make an immediate change but, what you really want is for the whole industry to start the same journey and make a lasting change.”
We thank Anna and Jenny for taking the time to share their inspirational insights. It’s a really thought-provoking conversation and one that we hope will lead to a change not just in yachting, but in life in general no matter who you are or where you are from.