I was two weeks into my training as a ship’s store clerk 30 years ago when it happened. A scraggly, unkempt, hot mess of a guy walked into the store. He was covered in blue bottom paint with globs of epoxy resin stuck in his dreadlocked hair. He came down the aisle I was stocking and asked me if we had any oakum. Surprisingly, I knew what that was and pointed him to the correct aisle before returning to my work.
My trainer had watched the interaction from across the store. “Why didn’t you walk him down and show him exactly where the oakum was and ask if there was anything else we could help him with?” he asked.
“Well, look at him,” I said. “Plus, he stinks.”
The trainer was not amused. “Do you know anything about him?” he asked. “He might be scruffy, but he owns a beautiful 62-foot schooner and spends tens of thousands of dollars in this store every year. You’ll see all kinds of people come in and out of this place, and they each have a story. You can’t judge them if you want to be successful here.”
Ouch. I felt awful for failing to make the guy feel welcome and provide him with the service for which our store was known. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I truly understood how that guy must have felt. I had just walked into a car dealership with my partner of nearly 20 years, and I immediately sensed an awkward energy among the salesmen as they tried to decide who had to wait on a same-sex couple. Two of them walked away to the vending machine. One faked an outgoing phone call. Another walked out of the showroom and onto the lot.
I knew what they were doing because I’d sold cars, too. We called it a “scramble” when someone came in the door that no one wanted to assist — for whatever judgmental, prejudiced reason.
Finally, a very nice Black gentleman helped us. I ended up buying a car there, but that memory isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
This issue of Soundings Trade Only has a theme of diversity and inclusion. As we put it together, I thought about how the marine industry has historically done an unremarkable job of welcoming people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community and others into our fold.
There are hundreds of thousands of folks who want to get into boating but don’t feel there’s a place at the marina for them. Often, it’s just easier for them to ignore the sport — just as they feel ignored by us. I’ve met dozens of people who have felt this way during my 32 years in the business.
Thankfully, some industry organizations — including the National Marine Manufactuers Association, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Outdoor Recreation Roundtable — are confronting this issue head-on. They’re using social media, multimedia campaigns and other tools to welcome those who may not previously have felt welcome into our boating family.
Have you looked recently at boatbuilder websites? You’ll likely be surprised by how many Black and Latino families are in the online marketing, shown having fun out on the water. Some of these websites are from huge boatbuilding operations, and others are by smaller, semicustom outfits. Taken together, this sort of visibility will create a more inviting feeling online for prospective boaters.
I’m proud of the coverage we put together for this issue, and I hope it inspires everyone in the industry to take a moment to think about inclusiveness. Our theme starts on the cover with a female tech working hard at the Lowe Boats factory. It continues in our interview with the NMMA’s Kevin Williams, who speaks about his experiences as a Black man in different industries, including marine.
In other articles and columns, NMMA president Frank Hugelmeyer discusses welcoming new audiences, and we showcase two Yamaha Marine female master technicians laying the foundation for future female service techs. I think you’ll also enjoy our interview with Navico’s chief sustainability officer, Tara Norton, whose work includes ensuring that everyone in the supply chain is treated with respect.
Many of us grew up in an era when we thought it was OK to ignore or dismiss people we assumed were not like us. I’m proud to have outgrown that thinking, and I’m glad to see our whole industry now on a path toward doing the same.
This article was originally published in the June 2022 issue.