Female perspective is critical

We’ve just made a very significant announcement today regarding changes to the team that judges the DAME Awards – including the addition of three great names to the Jury and a new Chair to succeed Bill Dixon, who voluntarily decided to step down last year after 10 years in the role. Please see the full press release here for details of our incoming and outgoing Jury members.

When creating that press release it would have been so easy to write the headline ‘first female Chair of the DAME Awards appointed’ when reporting that Birgit Schnaase has accepted the invitation to take the top role. To do so though would risk drawing attention away from the fact that Birgit is a highly experienced engineer and interior designer with many commissions to her name for the likes of Lürssen and HanseGroup, to name just two. Since 2012 Birgit has also served on the Jury and has provided invaluable insight within the team.

In announcing the news that Elaine Bunting is joining the DAME Jury one could also write ‘first female editor of Yachting World for more than 100 years…’ but that would equally be missing the point for someone who has immense experience of sailing and the use of yachts and their equipment at first hand. A few years back I remember working for Elaine on the most incredibly detailed study she made each year of the reliability and performance of marine equipment used by ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) participants. I doubt there has ever been a more useful piece of analysis done on so much marine equipment, anywhere, anytime.

And yet it is Birgit herself who pointed out the significance of her gender in relation to her Jury Chair appointment and asked that it should be spoken about when we caught up last week: “I did take some time to consider the role before agreeing, but in truth I could not say no. I have long stated that there should be more females working in the field of yacht and superyacht building because women massively influence buying decisions across the marine market.

“At my company, Schnaase Interior Design, we feel that if the interior design, outfitting and features are not appealing to women it is often very difficult to get a buying decision made.

We’ve seen the buying process and believe that women are at least 50 per cent involved in any decision to buy most yachts and superyachts. Even if that ratio is 40 per cent, we don’t currently have 40 per cent of women in roles where it is important to understand the female perspective.

“We need more people involved who understand female preferences, so that they can appropriately shape our products and designs. This is my mantra and I hope that the organiser’s decision to invite me to become Jury Chair for the world’s highest profile marine design competition will encourage many more women to join the sector.”

Birgit also went on to talk about how bringing the female perspective much more into design decisions could be critical to the success of the whole marine market in potentially challenging years to come.

The industry quite rightly is more focused now on how it can continue to sustainably offer access to the water on boats for Generations X (post baby boomers), Y (Millennials) and Z (still teenagers currently). Many exhibitors and visitors to METSTRADE will be taking a long hard look at how to make the most radical transition in 50 years, from baby boomers who want to own things, to younger generations that want to experience things that they can pass back and not worry about for the other x weeks of the year. That is reason enough to reach for the headache medication.

Consider however overlaying gender preferences into the mix – the research I am sure exists, but most statements and guidelines I have seen on Millennials, for example, have been gender neutral.

Some sectors of the industry have long had to consider the female perspective; marine clothing businesses being the most obvious. On boat interior layouts, we have progressed from the dark bat caves seemingly often favoured by males to the wide, lighter, more open spaces typically preferred by females (with apologies for the generalisation). There are however obvious examples where we’ve taken a long time to cater appropriately for female preferences and even basic needs – ask my wife about wearing lifejackets to take just one example.

I do think that Birgit raises an incredibly important point. We not only need to think about the preferences of new generations but also the specific needs and desires of both genders within them, to stand the very best chance of making the sport and pastime of boating in its many guises relevant, available and fun for as many people as possible.

So, my questions for you: should women already be playing a more prominent role throughout the marine industry and how do we make that happen? 

Do please comment here – I’ll also ensure that Birgit follows this thread so that she can see your contributions.

 

Official press release

  • I'm very pleased to see Birgit taking on the Jury Chair role for the DAME Awards.  I think that the more high profile positions within our industry that can be filled by experienced and competent females, then the better it will be for all in the long term.  Think about how many boats are sold without the opinion of a woman (wife, girlfriend, daughter) playing a significant part in the decision making process...quite a small percentage I imagine!  

  • Appointments should always be made based on merit, not gender. That being said, women bring unique talents and perspective to the marine industry.

    Sarah Egan

    Director

    Boat Style Yacht Interiors

  • Thanks Peter and Sarah. For as long as I can remember the female view has been critical in many buying (and boat usage) decisions but of course the supply and service sectors have been under represented.

    I've had experiences before when announcing female leadership roles of, quite rightly, playing down gender and emphasising merit. Birgit and I talked about this at some length - she certainly qualifies on merit but wanted to emphasise gender for precisely the reasons you are saying Sarah - because indeed there are unique talents and perspectives that will have alluded an industry hitherto dominated by males. The next two decades are potentially really challenging and these fresh insights, skills and drive might be the difference between the industry thriving and struggling.

    In looking for balance, my own experience is that males have been critical to the growth and success of the leisure marine industry since the 1960s - without many of us falling so stupidly in love with the whole idea of getting afloat there might not have been anywhere near the market we have today. So I'm also interested to see whether it is possible to develop markets where females become the drivers, for example in a family unit, to push for water access in one of its many forms.

    All of which I write with sincere apologies for the inevitable generalist statements that one writes when trying to summarise behaviours and motivations!

  • I think this is a fantastic move and Kim I enjoyed reading your comment on it also.  There has been a significant change in the past decade I feel when it comes to being a female in the industry.  There is still plenty to do though when it comes to changing perceptions of Women who attend METS for instance or boat shows in general or those who answer the phones in business. So every now and then something like this I think helps when it is highlighted.