Jenny Matthews worked hard over a decade of crewing aboard superyachts, eventually earning her Chief Mate 3000 GT ticket. In all those years, however, she never worked with another woman on deck. That imbalance led Matthews to co-found She of the Sea in 2018 with another former crewmember, Natasha Ambrose.
What started as a conversation about gender is now a globally reaching nonprofit that industry players are increasingly supporting. The nonprofit’s work is revealing that diversity and inclusion are the tenets of true innovation and sustainability. She of the Sea prioritizes high performance and proficiency in yachting, irrespective of gender, race or any other dynamics.
It’s one thing to notice a lack of diversity but another to do something about it. What lit that fire for you?
I was getting all these congratulations when I passed my oral exam for my officer’s ticket, followed by, “Did you know that there’s less than 10 women with this ticket?” I thought, Surely that can’t be true. It sparked huge curiosity. And to be honest, She of the Sea never started as an action or impact community. First, it was just me saying, “Who else is out there?”
I went to the only place I knew of where there might be women with these tickets, a Facebook group called Girls on Deck. It’s a great community with about 4,000 members now. I posted, “I just passed my oral exam, and someone told me there’s only 10 of you out there. I don’t believe it. I need a show of hands.” It was an avalanche — an avalanche of women all saying the same thing, like, “I had no idea anybody else was out there.” I recognized this need to bring everybody together, and I didn’t have much idea of where it would go from there. But I sat down and Googled, “How do I build a website?” And it snowballed from there.
She of the Sea has a diversity pledge that requires companies to demonstrate they’re making a difference. How did you come up with that idea?
I replicated my own education journey in a way that would be palatable, understandable and actionable to the organizations, regardless of where they sat in the sectors. I went from saying, “Hey, there’s other women” to really understanding the power of diversity and inclusion, the incredible business cases behind it, and how critical it is to the sustainability of the industry.
Yachting, as you may have heard, is 10 years behind the rest of the world in quite a few crucial conversations, including diversity. There’s data-backed research and studies. For example, quotas do not work, so we know to avoid them. So we reached out to people like those on our advisory board to find what has worked in the rest of the world. We didn’t reinvent the wheel; we reshaped these commitments so that they would work in our unique landscape. It’s not that the yachting industry wasn’t ready or willing to do this; we needed to break down the barriers, and create the support and the accountability to get everyone singing off the same hymn sheet.
Twenty-seven companies are pledge signatories. When did most begin coming on board? Damen and Amels and HFW joined back in February 2020 when nobody really knew who we were, and [few were] talking about diversity and inclusion. It was amazing for them to recognize where this was going. The majority of our signatories came on last October through December and are just starting their diversity and inclusion journeys with us. Besides our signatories, which have certain requirements, we have non-governmental organizations and supporting organizations, which don’t have quite the same commitments, and those are growing a lot as well.
Your recent annual report assesses where our industry stands and where it needs to go. How did you create the baseline?
We spent a lot of time consulting with high-level corporate social responsibility professionals, and diversity and inclusion professionals, and we identified the global standards for reporting. We wanted this to speak the language of high-level corporate social responsibility and sustainability reporting. We found the IRIS standards, which are for impact investors, and also used the GRI standards, the most common for corporate sustainability reporting. All of these metrics are in line with the sustainability goals set out by the United Nations. We picked three main sustainable development goals, and aligned all of our metrics to the social impact of the organizations.
The United Nations standards are not just for gender equality, correct? They’re all different aspects of sustainability?
Yes, all of the U.N.’s standards are in line with the environmental, social and governance/economic impact of organizations. Obviously with She of the Sea, we are focusing on social impact, but all of these are in relation to sustainable business. That impacts not just the employees but the community they’re engaging with.
The report states that only 33 percent of companies are collecting personally identifiable data for diversity and inclusion. How can they, and She of the Sea, gather this information in light of privacy laws?
It’s really about respecting the people of the organization, and how much they want to disclose, along with the laws. That’s a big framework to put into place if it’s not already there, and it doesn’t happen overnight. The main thing for She of the Sea was providing education: why it’s important to collect this data, and the resources and tools to do that legally and respectfully. So the first step for us was finding what resources we need to make available, and what education we need to provide. We looked at two very specific things: “Are you collecting data?” as a yes/no question, and if no, “Do you intend to put these frameworks in place?”
What does that 33 percent figure tell you?
Although 33 percent said they already were collecting information, the vast majority that weren’t intends to over the next year. That will be really powerful, to hold people accountable for the promises they’re making. It’s the same for certain policies, like employee protection and fair and equal treatment. Those that said they didn’t have policies in place again said it’s a top priority for the next year.
With She of the Sea, our job is not to finger-point. We’re here to signpost how we can actually be better together.
This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue.