Boat Building: Women in Boat Building #WIBB
Belinda Joslin serves as the founder of Women in Boatbuilding, a Community Interest Company established to provide support, foster connections, and offer inspiration to women actively involved in boatbuilding. Previously, Belinda held a role as a finisher at Spirit Yachts in Ipswich. It was during this time that she became motivated to connect with like-minded women and address the gender imbalance present within boatyards.
Furthermore, Belinda holds a pivotal position as an esteemed member of the Shadow Board of the ‘Shipbuilding Enterprise for Growth.’ In this role, she undertakes a crucial responsibility by providing guidance to the National Shipbuilding Office as they work to execute their revised National Shipbuilding Strategy. Through her profound professional insights, she makes a substantial contribution to shaping the strategic trajectory of the organisation.
Can you tell us about your journey in the boat building scene? How did you become interested in this field, and what led you to pursue it as a career?
I spent countless hours alongside my father in the garage, our shared passion driving us to build cold-moulded National Twelves. “The Gougeon Brothers” served as our family Bible during those moments, as we carefully mixed epoxy in repurposed yoghurt pots, adorned with comically oversized plastic gloves.
Sailing was my true love, and I could lose myself for hours within the pages of Classic Boat magazine and Practical Boat Owner. Back then, the notion of transforming this leisure pursuit into a career hadn’t even flickered across my mind. Interestingly, this seems to be a sentiment shared by many other women as well. I was always drawn to the sea, as I owned and took care of different boats over the years. Before becoming a parent, I worked in the film industry, crafting marketing partnerships for new releases.
My final partnership project was the Pirates of the Caribbean entry in the Volvo Ocean Race. I handed it over to Paul Cayard, heavily pregnant in a pub in Southampton.
After dedicating 12 years to nurturing and leading my own pirate crew, I found myself grappling with a sense of being entirely unemployable. Determined to re-enter the workforce, I formulated a New Year’s resolution. My plan involved reaching out to a diverse selection of local companies that I held in high regard. This proactive approach led me to compose a letter to Spirit in January. The outcome exceeded my expectations; by February, I had seamlessly integrated into their finishing team, an experience that I absolutely loved.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in the boat building industry? How did you overcome them?
One challenge that I faced was initially not considering boatbuilding as a realm I could belong to. As the saying goes, ‘you have to see it to be it,’ a sentiment that holds significant truth. Our industry, historically, has been predominantly male dominated. In response, I launched ‘Women in Boatbuilding’ on Instagram with the simple aim of connecting with fellow female boatbuilders. Over time, this initiative has blossomed into a thriving community—a platform that offers the opportunity to ‘see it’ in action.
Through consistent efforts, we’ve had the privilege of interviewing and profiling more than thirty remarkable women. These interviews vividly showcase their diverse career trajectories. In doing so, we illuminate the abundant possibilities that exist for women within this industry.
What can be done to encourage more women to join this field?
There is significant work ahead to raise the representation of women in the boatbuilding industry. Yet, it’s crucial to recognise that women have played a role in this field throughout history. Despite being overlooked and overshadowed, these seafarers and craftswomen have always been present. Excitingly, the Lloyd’s Register Foundation is set to launch the ‘She Sees’ project this September. This initiative aims to rewrite women into maritime history and spotlight current women professionals in the marine industry. Notably, it will feature individuals like Holly, who works at Latham’s Traditional Boatworks in Cornwall, exemplifying the amazing contributions of women in the field
“Women in Boat Building” aims to enhance both representation and recognition through the establishment of a community network. Alongside our active social media efforts, we have introduced a mentoring program this year, generously supported by The Worshipful Company of Shipwrights. This program involves pairing eight early-career women with seasoned professionals, fostering an environment of guidance and support as they navigate the initial stages of their careers.
“In every industry, individuals are more inclined to join a profession and an industry in which they feel they belong and can identify with. We are striving to create this sense of belonging through our online community, and boatyards can similarly foster a sense of community by establishing their own mentorship programs.
Workplaces can also take steps to provide a conducive environment that actively supports their female employees. This can be as simple as offering female toilets and proper personal protective equipment (PPE) that fits all body types.
Our goal extends beyond merely encouraging more women to enter this field; we aim to retain them as well. It is crucial to create a working environment that genuinely supports women boat builders through systemic measures and ensuring that they are valued and included in yards.
For example, providing flexible working schedules for parents. Women disproportionately bear the burden of unpaid domestic duties and childcare, and their work schedules must accommodate for that.” – Belinda Joslin
This offers advantages not only to women but to all parents. It was a significant advantage for me during my time at Spirit, as it provided the opportunity to work with flexibility, while accommodating family commitments.
An additional potent approach to draw more women into the industry involves enhancing the overall prominence of the craft. The adage “a rising tide lifts all boats” is particularly fitting in this context. As the boat-building sector becomes more enticing to women through enhanced scheduling, improved compensation, and a bolstered sense of community, it yields advantages for everyone, involving men and employers alike.
Are there any specific initiatives or organisations working towards promoting gender diversity in boat building that you’re aware of? How can interested women get involved or find support?
We set sail on a thrilling gender initiative this year titled the “British Boatbuilders Tour.” In partnership with Annie Means, a U.S. Thomas J. Watson Fellow delving into gender dynamics in the global maritime sector, WIBB endeavoured to encapsulate a vivid portrayal of the roles undertaken by female boat builders in the U.K. this summer, with a sharp focus on showcasing their practical skills.
Annie is currently in the process of producing three concise episodes that pay tribute to accomplished women boatbuilders, highlighting their contributions to the field. Instead of emphasising the marginalisation these women might face, we believe that the craftsmanship and enthusiasm of these boat builders will speak for itself within these videos.
Our aspiration is for this video series to serve as a wellspring of inspiration, encouraging women who are contemplating entering the industry to embrace that crucial moment of decision. While our tour will conclude prior to the publication of this article, the chance to access these videos will remain through the Women in Boat Building YouTube and Instagram channels.
The Boat Building Academy located in Lyme Regis has established itself as a significant collaborator in advancing gender diversity within the boat building industry. Our partnership with the academy resulted in the development and successful launch of a diversity strategy earlier this year. Subsequent to the introduction of this Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative, the academy has witnessed a significant upsurge in the enrolment of female students, particularly in their comprehensive 40-week boat-building course.
What advice do you have for women who are considering a career in boat building but may be hesitant or unsure about entering a male-dominated field?
After a thorough discussion with Annie Means, it’s clear that one of the most rewarding aspects of the 2023 tour was getting to have conversations with women who excel in boat building. In these interviews, these skilled builders enthusiastically shared valuable advice for other women looking to make their mark in this field.
The advice that came up most frequently was straightforward: “Just go for it.”
“Everyone I talked to emphasised that although starting out might have felt intimidating, they were incredibly glad they took the plunge.” – Annie Means.
It’s worth noting that there’s a strong and supportive community in this industry, including both men and women, who genuinely want to see women succeed and are more than willing to lend a hand to help them achieve their goals.
Can you share any memorable projects you’ve worked on or accomplishments you’re proud of in your boat building career?
Being a member of the finishing team at Spirit for the 111 Geist was a truly remarkable opportunity. The vessel’s stunning aesthetics never failed to amaze and added a delightful dimension to our work. I was stationed at my workbench, conveniently positioned just behind her transom, which allowed me an unobstructed view across the deck as the construction unfolded. The excellent skill demonstrated by the Spirit boatbuilders was genuinely spectacular.
Collaborating with my father on building the wooden ‘Optimist’ boat remains a cherished memory. The opportunity to repurchase her last year and integrate her into our family fleet was met with genuine enthusiasm. Additionally, the sense of pride I hold for my contributions to Women in Boatbuilding further amplifies this feeling of accomplishment.
How would you describe the boat building scene in terms of its community and support network? Do you feel welcomed and supported by your peers and colleagues?
Experiences naturally differ based on location and colleagues. Within Women in Boatbuilding, we’ve dedicated ourselves to fostering an inclusive community with a people-centric approach. Both men and women have rallied to champion this community, actively striving to reshape the boat-building industry into one that’s more inclusive and considerate toward women. Gender diversity represents an achievable milestone, and our aspiration is that by establishing a more inclusive and accessible workforce, it will pave the way for increased diversity across the board. Our aim is to create an environment that’s open and inviting, ultimately encouraging members of other minority groups to view boatbuilding as a viable career path.
What changes or improvements would you like to see in the boat building industry to create a more inclusive and diverse environment?
We believe it’s important to bring more transparency to the gender diversity within boat-building companies and shipyards. We’re encouraging companies to openly share data about the number of women they employ in their boat yards. Currently, we’ve had difficulty finding solid data to support the insights we’ve heard anecdotally. To address this, we’re in the process of developing a ‘British Boat Builders Survey’ that aims to provide trustworthy and independent data on this matter.
The latest findings from the WBTA and Craft Association Traditional Boatbuilders survey paint a concerning picture: fewer than 10 percent of boatbuilders are women, and the workforce is also aging. In light of these results, there’s a clear need for the industry to come together and formulate a collaborative response to address this situation. Maritime UK’s Diversity pledge and the ‘Women in Marine’ events they organise, along with British Marine’s ‘Women in Marine’ day at the Southampton Boat Show, are commendable initiatives. However, to truly bring about change,
relying solely on occasional events falls short. What we require is for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to become a consistent and ongoing dialogue across all levels and within all boat yards.
To follow #WIBB journey you can find their account here…