Jenny Matthews: Breaking barriers with She of the Sea and Legasea

In the first interview of our Women in Yachting series, which takes a deep-dive into the back stories of inspirational females within the industry, we spoke to someone who knew what they wanted and didn’t stop until they got it.

Jenny Matthews, a chief officer and the co-founder of She of the Sea and Legasea, overcame the obstacles faced by those who don’t fit the ‘traditional profile’ to forge a hugely successful career on board – and it’s nowhere near over.

In a wide-ranging interview, Matthews talks candidly about her entry into yachting, how adversity allowed her to hone the necessary skills to thrive professionally and the most rewarding aspects of her job.

Jenny Matthews stood aboard a yacht

Did you have a particular passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects (that traditionally appeal more to male students) when you were younger?

This is probably not the ideal answer but I had absolutely no interest in STEM subjects at school. I was, however, heavily involved in high-level rowing as the coxswain, which meant my primary role was a mixture of psychologist, team builder and trainer. Obviously, this meant I was extremely sport- and performance-focused… and not to mention competitive.

This was the birth place of my passion for creating and cultivating high-performance teams and years of 4:00am training sessions on the water embedded that deep connection with the sea. This experience, I believe, prepared me for heading up crews on vessels where the culture and united vision of the team is critical to the success and safety of the vessel. On my way up the ladder to Chief Mate 3000GT, my passion for the job meant the STEM aspects of the role, including navigation, engineering, AV/IT, GMDSS, etc. came easily.

It’s true that it’s much easier to learn something and absorb knowledge when you are genuinely interested and apply the learning to everyday tasks.

What was your first role in yachting?

Despite knowing from the start that I was pursuing a career on deck with ‘captain’ as the goal, my first role was as a sole stewardess. This was due to the fact that in 2009, the likelihood of securing the role of deckhand as a woman was even slimmer than it is today. It took 2 years for me to find my first opportunity on deck and I have never looked back since.

Hilariously, I recently connected with the captain on that first vessel who jokingly revealed he was relieved that I had followed my passion and excelled in the exterior department as I was a horrendous stewardess (which came as no surprise to me!). The lesson being, play to your strengths and stick to your goals.

Jenny Matthews (right) with her She of the Sea co-founder Natasha Ambrose

What does a typical day hold for you?

These days I share my time between relief chief officer roles on board and working towards diversity and inclusion in the industry through the She of the Sea and Legasea initiatives.

This means my days are extremely varied and can be anything from hosting educational diversity and inclusion sessions to corporate teams to collecting data or jumping on board for a trip.

What are some of the most challenging and/or rewarding aspects of your job?

Rewarding aspects would be seeing the wheels of change and positive growth beginning to move in an industry I love and hearing the impact She of the Sea and Legasea are having in people’s lives. The challenging side would be being away from family in New Zealand for so long, largely due to COVID but also the nature of the industry.

I joined the industry at the age of 19 and now at 32 it’s getting harder to miss the weddings, birthdays and funerals. This is something I feel many individuals in the industry are challenged by - again, especially now as travel is more restricted.

Were there any obstacles along the path to your current position? Have you broken through any gendered barriers, leading the way for other women?

There is not a person on this planet that hasn’t faced obstacles on their path, and I do believe that they are part of honing our skills, passions and resilience.

It’s undeniable that there are obstacles for any individual that doesn’t fit the traditional profile seen in yachting in terms of gender, race, age, ethnicity or orientation, especially when it comes to access to opportunities. However, what this specifically looks like will vary from person to person.

I personally felt the need to excel in every area, to be top of the class at all times to be seen as an equal, which is something many ‘minorities’ experience. This did, however, work in my favour as it has built a robust, high-level skill set, resilience and confidence that I am proud of.

Jenny Matthews (centre) with Natasha Ambrose (left) and a She of the Sea supporter

I have found that the ability to turn obstacles into opportunities is now one of my most treasured skills and I have my personal journey to thank for this as it can be applied into all aspects of one’s life.

In terms of breaking barriers, we know from the first ever Diversity and Inclusion data collection from She of the Sea, that women represent less than 4% of officers and less than 2% of captains, so I am proud to be among these women. I also have an incredible amount of respect and gratitude to those who carved the path before me. Their determination, passion for their work, and ability to persevere has meant that the huge influx of next-generation leaders can carry the torch, resulting in no more ‘female captains’; only captains!

What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?

Buckle up, it’s going to be a hell of a ride. At 15, my careers advisor asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. With all my friends saying doctor, lawyer, journalist, etc., the only answer I could authentically come up with was ‘not boring’.

Mission accomplished.


She of the Sea

She of the Sea was founded by Jenny Matthews in 2018 after she qualified as on officer of the watch. Realising she had never once worked with another female in the deck department, she asked a simple question: “Who else is out there?”.

From there, She of the Sea was born.

She of the Sea promo

Its aim is uncomplicated; to see the yachting industry at its best. It wants to move past the outdated status quo and propel the world of superyachts into the future. To embrace and cultivate talent, passion and dedication, regardless of factors such as gender, race, ethnicity or orientation.

After originally starting as a conversation around gender, it has now evolved into one of diversity, inclusion, innovation and sustainability. She of the Sea unites individuals and organisations who are committed to moving beyond compliance and are embracing the challenges with passion and intent.

In the past few years, She of the Sea has attracted significant momentum and encouragement from the wider industry. Shore-side organisations and crew at all levels are working together with the shared vision of creating a high performing, competency-focused professional economy.

Matthews works alongside Natasha Ambrose to develop She of the Sea and its initiatives. Ambrose, who achieved her Chief Mate 300GT in 2017, dedicates a lot of her time to driving on the many programmes run by She of the Sea. She also played a significant role in creating the website, utilising a hidden talent for graphic design.

Legasea

Legasea is the first industry-wide yachting mentoring programme. It was created when Matthews and Ambrose recognised the difference mentors can make on an individual’s journey.

Recognising that success leaves lessons, the mentoring programme is designed to provide individuals with the opportunity to seek insights, advice and learn from those who have already walked the path they are down.

The programme aims to eradicate the element of luck from the talent pipeline, instead working to ensure that the experience, skills and insights developed from years working at sea are transferred directly to all levels of the industry.

Legasea is yachting’s platform to collectively invest in itself and its future.

If you're interested in pursuing a new position on board, search for Crew Agents in the Yachting Pages directory. Alternatively you can enjoy more interviews in our Women in Yachting series.


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