Megayacht News Radio Podcast with Jenny Matthews, She of the Sea
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Diane Byrne, Jenny Matthews
Diane Byrne 00:14
Welcome everyone, to Megayacht News Radio! I’m Diane Byrne, your host for this podcast series, in which we share conversations with interesting and inspiring people in the large yacht industry. If you receive our monthly newsletter, you might remember in the most recent edition, I share some pretty pointed commentary on sexism that I experienced when I first joined this industry, which was in the 1990s, no less, not the so called Dark Ages. You know, while those knuckle dragging Neanderthal behaviors, as I call them, have dramatically fallen. Still, yachting has a ways to go to achieve equality. So thankfully, a few agents of change are making a difference. In fact, one of the best and most organized initiatives that I have discovered is she of the state. It’s focused on promoting diversity and inclusion across yachting and it’s run by two former yachties. And yes, they are both women who noticed a decided lack of women on deck. They created she as a seed to ensure professionals and ultimately owners benefit from a high performing competency based industry regardless of gender. These are reasons why I also proudly shared in the newsletter, that megi news.com recently became one of She of the Sea’s formal supporting organizations. They are further reasons why for this Megayacht News Radio interview, I sat down with Jenny Matthews, who is the founder and one of the partners. While She of the Sea has achieved a lot in its short two year history, frankly, hits more than some have achieved in a decade. It is equally important to note that the story of she is the see and what its goals are, are positive. Jenny, welcome to Maggie at News Radio.
Jenny Matthews 02:10
Amazing. Thank you so much for reaching out.
Diane Byrne 02:13
My pleasure. We’re really happy to help support She of the Sea and get this message out there. So it’s definitely time for for yachting to evolve for sure.
Jenny Matthews 02:24
Yeah, it’s amazing thing. So many people was really excited to engage with this. So yeah, just really happy to share it. Excellent.
Diane Byrne 02:32
So let’s start with how you got involved in boating and yachting. I always like to talk to people about what kind of got them first interested in just enjoying the water first of all, and then what convinced you to become a crew member?
Jenny Matthews 02:47
Yeah, absolutely. So very much it was a chance encounter. You can probably tell by my accent, I did grow up in New Zealand. So I think, you know, most New Zealanders have a bit of an affinity with the water, you know, it’s very coastal and so I spent most of my teenage years rolling out on the water, and then one day randomly had a conversation with my next door neighbor. It turned out he was a captain and his wife was a stewardess. Now at the time I was enrolled for university to do a Bachelor of Commerce. And I think I’ve dodged, dodged a bullet there with that conversation. Because after chatting to him, you know, he shared about the industry, asked me what I was into. And pretty much after that chat, I was totally 100% decided that I was going to go and become a captain. So, you know, ran back home to my parents and said, I’m not going to university, I’m going to go to France. That’s how it happened. Much to their surprise. Yeah. And then, you know, 12 years later, here I am.
Diane Byrne 03:51
That’s amazing. So just that one conversation convinced you to become a captain. That’s extraordinary.
Jenny Matthews 03:56
Yeah, I think, you know, it ticked all the boxes, you know, really loved being physical, loved the sunshine, loved traveling, was really passionate about creating teams. High Performance, obviously from the rowing. And it just yeah, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, and I get paid for that? Book my ticket!’ Yeah.
Diane Byrne 04:18
Like, ‘Gee, I get to travel the world I get to do what I want to do professionally. And it all comes with the paycheck? Wow!’
Jenny Matthews 04:26
That’s awesome. And you know, he was really good as well because he did give me a really fear story you know about it, you know, the good, the bad and the ugly and was like, Okay, well, if you’re gonna go on the captain’s route, you know, there are some things you need to be aware of. And you know, so I didn’t come in with rose tinted goggles, and I really, you know, I thank him for that.
Diane Byrne 04:45
Yeah, that’s good. That’s really good to have people like that, kind of looking out for your best interest for sure. So when you joined as a crew member, as I’m sure some people who know the She of the Sea story also know, you looked around and noticed there really weren’t any other women–or many other women–in deck roles. So it’s one thing to notice that there’s a lack of diversity in a particular profession. But it’s a very different thing to actually be motivated to do something about it. So what kind of lit that fire for you?
Jenny Matthews 05:22
Yeah, really, really kind of fascinating process. And to be totally honest with you, the penny didn’t even really drop with me until 2018 when I got my officers ticket. So I’d already spent, you know, nearly nine years in the industry. And it wasn’t until, you know, I passed this oral exam, and I was getting all these congratulations. But it was followed by Did you know, there’s less than 10 women with this ticket. And I think it must have been like this perfect storm of, you know, being so proud and excited. And then, you know, Jacinda Ardern had just been voted in as the Prime Minister. And like, all of this kind of culminate, and maybe, oh my gosh, like, surely That can’t be true. And it just thought, this huge curiosity. And to be honest, even more honest, She of the Sea never started, as, you know, an impact or action community. At first, it was really just me saying, Who else is out there, I can’t possibly be the only one here. So it’s just snowballed from that, really.
Diane Byrne 06:29
What did you find when you started to do that outreach to saying, you know, I’m not the only one out there, surely, you know, who else is out there? Was it all just kind of word of mouth among crew? Or was it a little bit more formal?
Jenny Matthews 06:41
Well, I went to the only place that I knew of that there might be some other women with these tickets, which was the Facebook group Girls on Deck. And I think now they’ve got like, 4,000 members. And it’s really quite a great community. And I literally just posted, ‘I just passed my oral exam. And someone told me, there’s only 10 of you out there. Like, I don’t believe it. So I need a show of hands.’ And, to be honest with you, it was an avalanche. It was an avalanche of women, that were all saying the same thing. They were like, ‘oh, my goodness, I had no idea that anybody else is out there.’ So I kind of recognized this need to kind of bring everyone together. And I had not really much idea of where it would go from there. I kind of just wanted some friends to share my experience with, and I sat down and I Googled ‘how do I build a website?’ And I literally just snowballed from there.
Diane Byrne 07:35
Yeah, that’s great. So with She of the Sea, one of the things that I think is incredibly impressive, is that there is this diversity pledge that companies sign. And again, similar to the question that I just asked you before, it’s one thing to talk about diversity and talk about supporting it. And it’s quite another thing to actually have not just a pledge, saying ‘we will commit to making a difference,’ but actually a pledge where the companies have to demonstrate that there’s a difference. So talk about that, too–talk about how you came up with that idea. Because I think that’s really, that’s a huge difference maker for any industry, but particularly for yachting.
Jenny Matthews 08:20
Yeah, well, I think it kind of speaks to the natural journey there. I think what I really happened here was I replicated my own personal education journey into a way that would be, you know, palatable, understandable and actionable to organizations, regardless of where they sit in the sectors. So you know, I went from being like, ‘hey, there’s other women, this is amazing’ to really understanding the power of diversity and inclusion and the incredible business case behind it. And actually, how critical it is to the sustainability of the industry; that’s a year long education journey for me. And what I found was, as I started going on this is that although yachting, you know, you may have heard it a few times, we may be 10 years behind the rest of the world in quite a few crucial conversations–not design and not but you know, amazing experience and a few other ones–but diversity is one of those. It might be new for us, but the rest of the world has been working on this for decades. You know, there is research, data-backed research out there. There’s studies, you know, people have been implementing strategies and seeing how they work. What does work? What doesn’t work, for example, quoters do not work. So we know to avoid them with the 10 foot pole. You know, we don’t want to go there. It’s been proven that it doesn’t work. So what we did is we went and we reached out to people, like our advisory board, we’ve got Vanessa Sanyauke, who does diversity and inclusion for you know, huge banks, and law firms, etc. And we’ve worked out what has worked in the rest of the world. We took these strategies, and we boiled them down. And basically, we didn’t reinvent the wheel. We just reshaped these commitments so that they would work in our unique landscape. And the reason that we did this is that we, we were aware that, you know, it’s not like the yachting industry wasn’t ready or willing to do this. But we needed to break down the barriers of, ‘okay, we want to do this, but how exactly do we do it,’ and create that support in that direction, also, that accountability, to really get everyone singing off the same hymn sheet.
Diane Byrne 10:36
Talk about that accountability. Because that I think, is really important. What are one or the two of the specifics that a company has to commit to in terms of that accountability, when they sign the diversity pledge?
Jenny Matthews 10:49
So we have obviously created a pledge handbook, which outlines what the commitments are. And we really do encourage people to take the time and you know, take it to the board and go over this and get, you know, the whole company on board. So for example, the four commitments are (a) assign a senior at the top, who is responsible for the commitment and also instilling this new mission within the organizations that top down. Second one is a data contribution. Now, this comes into the accountability. We are creating an annual report, which is going to create a data kind of snapshot of where we are as an industry. And that’s how we’re going to measure our success of the strategies that we implement over the next few years. The third one is to adjust the visual and verbal representation within, you know, that’s everything from print, or things like podcasts, events, advertising material, the whole lot. And the fourth one is to look at the hiring and placement practices and see what’s happening in the talent pipeline, you know, what could be better, what could open up what could be changed? Now, obviously, that is quite a huge task. So we’re not asking anyone to just write what they want, and, you know, restructure their whole organization, but it does start to give direction and understanding of what we’re going to be working on. So once that’s understood, we obviously vet all of the people that sign our pledge. We understand, you know, greenwashing is a thing. So as pink washing. So, you know, we make sure that we have conversations with every single organization that joins us and ensure that their values really do reflect those of the pledge. And it’s not a one to one, you know, a lifetime sign up, we revalidate people once a year. We look at it like a long term relationship, this isn’t just a sign up, and then off you go; we’re in continuous kind of contact with all the signatories.
Diane Byrne 12:53
Yeah, that’s good. Because there, there is a concern I know among some people I’ve spoken to, in general, not specifically in reference to She of the Sea. But in general, when it comes to initiatives that want to accelerate change, there’s, there’s a beautiful heart at the center of emotion and the movement, but the mindset is not 100% where it needs to be. There isn’t the vetting, for example, there isn’t the follow up, especially. So it ends up just being a little feel-good, ‘hey, you know, let’s all pat each other on the back.’ and not really do anything. And people I think, are very, very conscious these days of trying to avoid that, because that mistake has been made so many times, in yachting and in business in general.
Jenny Matthews 13:39
Absolutely. And I think that’s one thing that we were really conscious of, before we even started the pledge. And, you know, I had a huge education, on, you know, like the SDGs, the theory of change, how to measure your impact, how to report your impact to your stakeholders and shareholders moving forward. So, you know, I’ve been learning a lot personally about how not just to talk about change, but to action it. And, you know, I think one of the first things that people have to recognize with change is that it doesn’t happen overnight. And you know, we’re going from from zero to starting to move an entire industry in a certain direction. So it’s gonna take some time, right, there’s a bit of education that needs to go in there and a bit of like sharing actually, and understanding the business case, like ‘what do we have to gain, and what of our stakeholders have to gain?’ And then when we look at, you know, we’re dealing with, we’re connecting with everything from giant shipyards, to insurance to law firms to management. So this is a very diverse landscape. And, yes, we provide, you know, strategies and projects to be involved with which directly addressed the talent, recruitment, progression and retention pipeline. Is that you know what this is all about, really. But we also encourage all of our signatories to hear what’s going on, look at, you know, read the studies, look at these strategies and to go back to their own organizations and say, ‘hey, what are our unique areas of impact? What can we do,’ as you know, everyone’s unique. So we do provide a bit of a map of where to go and bring everyone together on projects to collaborate, but the end is, we are we are all enabled to make impact in our own landscapes as well, and encouraged and celebrated.
Diane Byrne 15:37
Right, right. Yeah, it’s good that it is also diverse, membership wise, because an insurance company has a very different experience from a yacht management company and from a shipyard and, and the pros and cons of each company’s experience will only help the other companies first of all, avoid some of the pitfalls. But even if a company has not experienced a particular issue, they might be able to suggest a solution that would work, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that you know, this company over here is a shipyard, and this company over here is an insurance company. They both employ people, they both employ people to do specific tasks, their management structures, their reporting structures, you know, that is common across the board.
Jenny Matthews 16:27
That’s absolutely. And I’m really glad you brought that up, because this kind of speaks to I guess, one of the desired impacts of a few of our projects. So the first one is the Round Table events, which all of our signatories are invited and encouraged to attend. Now, each round table has a specific kind of area of impact, which we can all have input on. So for example, our first one coming up is visual and verbal representation. We all have marketing, we all have websites, we all tell a certain story. And so this is our opportunity to have you bring the spirit of collaboration and work out what narratives do we want to tell not just to ourselves, but to the owners into the wider world when they look at our industry? What do we want to tell them? But also then, you know, what are the barriers that we face? One thing that we get all the time from our signatories is, ‘hey, I want to update my website, I can’t find any good quality photos of women.’ Like, ‘I’d like a woman at the helm,’ women in these kind of, or, you know, literally anyone that’s not white, you know, let’s talk about the whole lot here. Finding those images to present is part of the challenge. So these are the barriers that we’re going to tackle together as signatories. The other part of it is in the annual report, we’re not just reporting on where we are, you know, statistically, in terms of diversity within our organizations, we’re also presenting best practices for each sector. So, how do how does the this certain crew recruitment company–how are they bringing a diverse and inclusive pipeline through to the yachts? How are the management companies bringing it in shipyards? So our goal here is to create a playbook that anyone in the industry can check this out, see where we are, see where we’ve come and also look at proven strategies that work and implement them in their own landscapes.
Diane Byrne 18:23
I’m glad you brought that up, too. Because a moment ago, you were talking about your advisory board. And I think the advisory board is incredibly impressive. Just to look at the backgrounds of some of these people is really fascinating. For people who are not yet familiar with She of the Sea, talk a little bit about who these people are on the advisory board, especially the people who are from outside of yachting. You mentioned Vanessa before, and now you’ve got a few people who are not inside yachting. So, who are they, what do they do? Why did you want to bring them in?
Jenny Matthews 18:57
I really love this question. Because this group of individuals holds a very, very dear place in my heart, in that each of them in very different ways came into my my landscape, and just absolutely opened up not just their hearts, but their incredible experience, from their each unique backgrounds. And we’re just, you know, I invited them to become advisors because that’s what they were already doing. You know, I was already sending them pledge documents, ‘what do you think about this strategy? And has this worked, you know, what are you doing for you, you know, what do you think of the challenges,’ and they’ve been as much part of this creation process as Tasha and I, and when we look at people like Vanessa, she does this all day every day. She’s working for Standard Chartered Bank at the moment as part of the Global Diversity and Inclusion team. So you know, you can just imagine what scale that is. We met her through William McLachlan from HFW. She was doing some temporary work there. And you know, and not only is William advising us on various projects, but HFW are now providing us pro bono legal work. So everyone here is kind of contributing what they can to this message. And Kate Mardell, working next to INEOS and the 1851 Trust, everything she does every day is reaching out to the next generation, and educating them, making STEM amazing, exciting and accessible to young women. So we really have been blessed with the people that have been part of this journey.
Diane Byrne 20:31
Nice, nice. And a big part I know of reaching out, too, is the mentorship program that you’ve just launched. So tell us a little bit about that, too.
Jenny Matthews 20:41
Yeah, it’s been a long incubation process. I think I’m the first one to acknowledge that, as a chief officer, I might have a bit of a problem with being OCD. We didn’t want to just create a mentorship platform that was run off an Excel sheet. So we spent a long time researching, and we found the software which is used by FTSE 100 companies and large organizations to basically facilitate the in house mentoring programs. So it’s called mental loop. And it’s, it’s just incredible. It’s, it does like AI matching; you’re matched by your profile to the best people. And it does all you know, your scheduling, in app task management, all of that kind of thing. So it’s really aimed at removing all of the the heavy admin lifting that can go with mentoring, so that all of our mentors and mentees can just focus on what they’re there for, which is creating a high impact relationship. Now, what we’ve done is we’ve designed this for our first six month intake to be specifically to engage female deck and engineering crew, as mentees, and the mentors are actually individuals of all genders, ashore and at sea. So we’ve got everyone from captains, officers and engineers, to project managers at shipyards, we’ve got people from finance, we’ve got management companies, you know the whole lot. And to supplement that mental loop kind of platform where people can connect and host them, build their mentee-mentor relationship, we’ve been providing critical care kinds of tools to supplement this experience. So we’re doing bi weekly workshops, and everything from like, safety for under 500 gross ton to managing your finances to oral prep. courses, as well as live Q&As with some pretty inspirational people, for example, like Rose Damen, we’ve got the ladies from REV Ocean, to name a few. So we’re basically created everything that I wish that I had and put it into a six month program. But the long term goal for this, our next intake, is going to be for women ashore to join the mentors as mentees, and the long term goal is to be able to invite individuals of all genders a short NSC into this kind of industry wide program to address progression, retention and the talent pipeline crew across even from sea to shore as well. So a big task. That’s why we’re taking it step by step. But we’re really, really excited about this.
Diane Byrne 23:28
Yeah, good, good. Now, I know asking you what else is on your radar is probably a very big long task that could be an hour long conversation on its own, I’m sure. But what are some of the other things that you’re really focused on for the near future?
Jenny Matthews 23:45
Yeah, so I think we’ve already touched on the roundtables, the annual report and the mentorship platform. And the other one that we’re really excited about–this opportunity is pretty incredible for the industry as a whole. We’ve partnered with Maritime UK, as their careers partners for their careers campaign. And essentially, what they want to do is to, what they are doing is reaching out to all the careers advisors in the UK, who then connect with all of the children and share with them about all the careers that are at sea. Now this is partly driven by a bit of a kind of seafarer crisis that is coming up, creeping up, that people are very conscious of–that, do young people want to work at sea, like is that an appealing career anymore? So it’s really trying to bring these opportunities to the forefront. Now we’ve been asked to hit up the entire superyacht sector for that, which is incredible. I think it has a lot to do with not only our network of signatories, but also the message of diversity and inclusion, which is, you know, woven into Maritime UK as well. So we’re working with our signatories to, I’m not sure I would imagine you’d have this in America. You know, like the Navy recruitment video where it’s like, ‘oh, an exciting career option.’ So we’re creating the superyacht version of that, with all signatories to present the industry as a whole is this amazing, long term career option, you know, and not just for crew, but for the shipyards, and the managements and all of that as well. And this essentially is going to be put right in front of, you know, almost every child in the United Kingdom, which is just what an amazing opportunity and part of our next generation outreach.
Diane Byrne 25:30
Yeah, that is great. We don’t we don’t have that, unfortunately, right now, country wide in the in the States, but different states have their own initiatives to, especially to get more people involved in manufacturing, because manufacturing has dwindled dramatically in the States, there’s a real need to bring it back in a lot of respects. And it is a worthwhile profession of course. The, you know, the attitude of society went from valuing manufacturing to saying, ‘Oh, no, everybody should be doctors and lawyers and the white collar jobs, those are better, because you make more money.’ And then it’s, it’s come back again, now to ‘it doesn’t matter that you’re white collar or blue collar, you’re doing something that is contributing to the betterment of society, then that is what you should focus on.’ And we need people in every aspect of every type of job that there is, there’s a huge focus on that. And a lot of respects and yawning isn’t necessarily taught. But there are maritime schools in a variety of states that are focusing on the military aspect to the, you know, yachting aspect, the commercial aspect, etc. So the more that we can all get the word out to them, too, I think the better
Jenny Matthews 26:43
yet, it’s kind of it’s an interesting metamorphosis, that actually kind of mirroring what’s happening in the industry as a whole and what has been happening, like, if we really zoom out, compared to something like commercial shipping, or the Navy, or aviation, like, we’re a very, very small industry. And we’ve experienced a boom over the last 10 years. If you look at the difference from the industry, even the way the boats looked, how big they were 10 years ago to what they are now. And if we look at the recruiting that we did, 10 years ago, it was almost like the best worst-kept secret. It was word of mouth that you got into it, if you had a friend or an uncle or neighbor like myself, who kind of, you know, excellent, we told you about it. And maybe that kind of worked for a little while. But when we look at the demands of the talent that we require, not just at sea, but when we look at the vessels, you know, REV is 183 meters; vessels are getting larger, we need more talent, not just at sea, but to service this huge fleet. Now, we can’t rely on word of mouth, we can’t rely on Instagram. And we certainly–this might be divisive, so I’m sorry, but we can’t rely on Below Deck to be our only recruitment, you know, active recruitment. So this is a really great opportunity for us to actually go out there and attract the talent that we need to take us into the future. We can’t be complacent anymore, because it’s sending the wrong message to what the industry is, and who’s it for.
Diane Byrne 28:13
As with anything, if you want people to join your profession or to join your company, you need to be the one controlling the narrative. So it’s like you said, it worked great for years that everything was word of mouth, but word of mouth is just not good enough anymore, especially when we have so many tools at our disposal. The internet is the way to reach the world instantly. So we need to be putting out more messages through websites, through webinars, through podcasts like this. We need to take our own initiative, and we need to take a multi pronged approach in everything we do for sure.
Jenny Matthews 28:57
And this is what we love so much about, you know, the pledge is that it’s not the sole responsibility of one voice, or one sector. This is an opportunity for us to bring really that spirit of collaboration. And you know, what we’re doing now is sitting down and being like, ‘hey, how do you want to tell a story?’ And not just to potential people coming into work, but to the owners? What do we want them to think about, you know, what, they’re investing, these millions and millions of euros in? Is it an industry that mirrors what happens on Below Deck? Or is it a professional, high quality, high performance industry, which we are, but we just we need to make sure that that message gets out there.
Diane Byrne 29:40
Right, right. 100% Well, Jenny, thank you so much for joining us today and shedding light on what you’re doing with She of the Sea–you and your whole team. I should say. I shouldn’t just make it sound like you are this you know, army of one doing it all.
Jenny Matthews 29:53
But to be honest, we’re an army of two and I don’t think I’ve ever–you know, I’ve worked on jobs for years and I don’t think I’ve ever been as busy as I am now. But it’s an absolute pleasure to be able to give back to an industry that, you know, we both love so much and see so much potential in.
Diane Byrne 30:09
Yeah 100%. While there’s only good things to come, I’m sure so we look forward to seeing them.
It was great to have Jenny join me for this really important and compelling conversation. So if you’d like to learn more about what She of the Sea is doing, to sign up as a supporting organization, or see how else you can help out, I definitely encourage you to visit the website, which is sheofthesea.com. That wraps up this episode of Megayacht News Radio. Thanks so much for listening. If you like what you hear, please share the word on social media, plus subscribe to our feed automatically. You can do so on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or Google Play Music. And of course if you’d like to learn more about what’s going on in the world of large yacht cruising, new construction and design, you can check out our daily updated website, which is megayachtnews.com. Until next