Part 2: Women in Build
Although today’s yachting climate is still largely male-dominated, leading names in brokerage, design and build are increasingly female. We are running a series about influential and inspiring women across these sectors, who, despite being outnumbered, have risen to the top of their field.
Last week, Angela Pernsteiner of Dominator Yachts and Marcela de Kern Royer of Icon Yachts told us all about their illustrious careers. This week, they elaborate on a subject close to their hearts: the experience of women in the yacht building sector.
“The decision makers are almost always men, whether it’s the clients, the lawyers or the suppliers,” says Angela. As a holder of one of the highest stations at Dominator, she has unambiguously achieved her goal of “proving that women can exert equal influence, authority and knowledge”. However, she feels that she has had to work twice as hard as her male counterparts to get there. The problem that Angela identifies is that men and women in the workplace are held to inconsistent standards, evoking the observation made by Chimamanda Ngozi that where a man is confident, strategic and authoritative, a woman is arrogant, manipulative and annoying.
Another problem that Angela identifies is a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby, in the interest of appearing ‘palatable’, women in the workplace minimize their voices. Men, meanwhile, are conditioned with an assurance that Angela suggests, with tongue firmly in cheek, is not always justified: “This is the most common obstacle that we impose on ourselves, and why men always seem confident, even with an obvious lack of knowledge behind that confidence.” She believes that women must be bold and unapologetic in order to break down the fallacy of ‘feminine’ behaviour: “In order to make things happen you have to be persistent, and sometimes aggressive.”
As a woman and a leader, Angela cannot stress enough the importance of not letting oneself be intimidated, feeling that the ‘water off a duck’s back’ attitude held by many men gives them the edge, both in the trial and error of building prototypes and the high-stakes nature of the industry in general. “We need more brave women. And if we are brave enough, often enough, that is when things will change for women in male-dominated sectors,” she says, “Being daring is saying ‘I know I will fail at some point, but I am still in’.”
Marcela, meanwhile, is eager to add nuance to the idea that the superyacht industry has a problem with representation. “There are plenty of women in yachting,” she argues, but concedes that “they are mainly concentrated into marketing, receptionist or assistant roles”. When it comes to senior management, yacht building seems to be a man’s world. Marcela continues: “I haven’t really faced any issues with yacht owners, it is more with industry professionals where I feel the challenge.” She also qualifies that attitudes are contingent on location, citing her homestead of the Netherlands as culturally progressive and professionally egalitarian.
Despite her eagerness not to tar the entire sector with the same brush, Marcela is of the opinion that recognition does not come so easily to women in build as it does to men. According to her, women have a job to do before they even embark on the job at hand, namely that of establishing their competence. “Only once you have proven yourself do they take you seriously,” explains Marcela, “The ‘barrier to entry’ for people to trust you is quite challenging, because the perception of women in yachting is still quite obsolete.” Despite this, Marcela is keen to qualify that only a small portion of men perpetuate such obsolescence, and that all men worth their salt are supportive and respectful of their female colleagues. Fortunately such men comprise the majority, which can mean only good things for female representation in build.
Angela and Marcela are living proof that gender is not an impediment to competence or strength. Although it is clear that this has not always been the prevailing wisdom, it is equally clear that times are changing, and that traditionally male-dominated sectors are due an overhaul.
"The decision makers are almost always men, whether it’s the clients, the lawyers or the suppliers."