US Sailing Aims for Diversity

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Karen Harris, past commodore of the Jackson Park Yacht Club, has worked with other clubs to help expose diverse groups of children to sailing.

Karen Harris, past commodore of the Jackson Park Yacht Club, has worked with other clubs to help expose diverse groups of children to sailing.

When Ayme Sinclair sails competitively, she knows there aren’t a lot of people on the water who look like her. Sinclair discovered sailing four years ago, and she now is looking to expand the sport’s traditional “blue blazer” reach.

“I had a moment where I was just really unhappy, and the idea that I was able to come out every Wednesday night and sail with my teammates was like my one place of happiness,” Sinclair says in a YouTube video discussing her project, Sweet Caroline, which is designed to draw more women and people of color to sailing.

Check out Sinclair’s efforts to diversify sailing here.

Sinclair, who is vice president of the National Women’s Sailing Association and CEO of Women Who Sail, will moderate a panel discussion hosted by US Sailing tonight at 8 p.m. (ET).

The discussion, “Increasing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Sport of Sailing,” will feature panelists who will discuss ways sailors and sailing organizations can implement strategies to increase awareness and opportunities within their organizations and programs for individuals from diverse backgrounds.

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The panelists will provide guidance for conducting outreach in local communities and best practices for fostering relationships with community leaders and influencers.

Panelists include Karen Harris, immediate past commodore of the Jackson Park Yacht Club; Capt. Bill Pinkney, the first Black person to solo-circumnavigate the world; and Joe Harris, manager of sailing at the Chicago Park District, who leads such programs as the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing program and Endeavour Chicago Sailing.

The idea for the panel discussion was hatched when industry veteran Lou Sandoval, who has had deep ties with the Chicago Yacht Club and US Sailing and will also be a panelist in the discussion, gave a speech about his own experiences in sailing and in leadership roles in sailing organizations.

Sandoval recalled an instance when, as the owner of Karma Yachts, a customer asked him — in a loud, slow voice in case his English wasn’t so sharp — to find the owner. Sandoval went below aboard the boat he was cleaning, then returned. “How can I help you, sir?”

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He said it’s important for the industry to understand how he is sometimes received, and that he still hears “untoward comments.”

“It wasn’t to make anyone feel bad or uncomfortable,” Sandoval told Trade Only Today. “That’s not the intended consequence. You don’t need to be sorry; we need you to be advocates.

“What you really have to do is look at your organization and say, alright, if we know the future of boating is in these emerging demographics, then what does our sales force look like?” Sandoval added. “Based on gender, do we have enough women? Guess what — 51 percent or more of the buying decision is made by women.”

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There’s $3.6 trillion of spending power in the multicultural market, Sandoval said. The Hispanic community is forecast to rise from $1.5 trillion to $1.9 trillion in three years, and the Black community is expected to move from $1.5 trillion to $1.7 trillion.

“Do you keep going after the guy who’s buying his second to last boat, or do you go to this emerging demographic that might need some exposure and grow them up through the industry? That’s a better business problem to have,” Sandoval said.

“To do this effectively, it requires champions within senior management teams,” he said. “It requires champions within the industry, and you’ve got to measure it.”

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