8 March, 2023 Pedro Suasi

Chatting with Ann O’Leary, The female presence in the nautical sector

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background…

I grew up in west Cork in Ireland and my family were always enjoying the sea, whether swimming or kayaking or on board my parent’s lovely 10m sailing yacht. She’s a Nicholson 32 and sails beautifully.

My parents are real adventurers who love sailing and so we never let a bit a bad weather stop us – much as teenage me would have liked it to.

Why did you decide to work in the nautical sector?

After ten years of studying and working in the arts in Ireland I was ready for a change. I really wanted to turn my life upside down  – but I wasn’t naïve about it. My father had changed careers to become a skipper and my brother races yachts for a living. I knew about the yachting industry, but had never thought there was space for me in it. I guess when I reached thirty I had a blossoming of confidence and thought I could possibly carve out a role for myself.

The marine industry has always been dominated by men, was this an impediment for you?

Yes and no. I’ve been lucky to work with wonderful men who supported my role on deck and were fully behind my progression. That is not to say I haven’t experienced chauvinism, or lost jobs due to my gender, or simply have a smaller pool of roles to apply for.

I occasionally get talked down to by contractors before they realise I’m in charge – though that sometimes doesn’t stop them, even then! That is rarer and rarer though. It can make you furious but I choose to enjoy the moment when I set them straight.

Do you think the female presence has increased in recent years?

Anecdotally I would say yes – I don’t know the facts and figures but I do feel I see more and more women on deck.

What advice would you give to women who want to work in the nautical sector?

I’m not someone who looks for attention so doing an interview like this is highly unusual. However I do believe in the saying ‘you need to see it to be it’. I’m happy for women to know there are other women out there succeeding on deck in the yachting industry.

My advice to other women would be to go for it. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know, and seek to soak up information from those around you. Stand up for yourself and other women – and while you’re at it why not other sexualities and races too. A more egalitarian and welcoming yachting industry is simply a better industry. Lastly, don’t think you need to look like a bikini model! With hard work and skill development and a sense of fun one can build a great career.

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