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  • Writer's pictureWanda Kenton Smith

How to Support Women in the Workplace

Wanda Kenton Smith


Decades ago, I launched my marine-industry career as editor of Water Ski Magazine and Water Ski Business. Later, as I moved into senior marketing management and advertising/P.R. agency ownership roles, I was blessed to work alongside inspired leaders like Terry Snow of World Publications, Rob Shirley of MasterCraft and Paul Kuck of Regal Boats, all of whom recognized my work ethic and potential, and provided tremendous opportunity for continued professional growth.


Back in those days, I was one of only a few executive women scaling the boating-business ladder. Joan Maxwell was at Regulator, Ann Baldree was at Chaparral, Kris Carroll was at Grady-White, and Marcia Kull was at Genmar. In the marketing and editorial space, there were Geri Haber of Haber & Quinn, Sally Helme of Cruising World and Sailing World magazines, and National Marine Manufacturers Association advertising director Alice Aquilino. Personally connecting with leading women who shared my passion for the business of boating has been a cornerstone of my overall job satisfaction, personal growth and career longevity.


Today, it thrills me to see a growing number of smart, confident women moving into leadership roles throughout the industry. While there’s room for improvement in terms of C-suite representation, it’s encouraging to witness many initiatives that provide career growth and networking opportunities for women.


A recent Facebook post from ICAST featured a photo of a jam-packed room of women for an “Angling Women in Action” event. Big kudos for promoting and engaging women in the fishing community go to BeBe Dalton Harrison of Angling Women of the Lowcountry, the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, Angie Scott of The Woman Angler & Adventurer podcast, and Betty Bauman of Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing.

In addition, several outstanding professional development and training initiatives were recently launched by Soundings Trade Only vice president and general manager Michele Goldsmith. She introduced the first “Women in the Industry” training event in June 2021. The event attracted 350 attendees and inspired multiple live-watch parties, with women from 15 countries participating. AIM has also offered quarterly training events, and a combination live-virtual event was staged during 2021 Dealer Week. It attracted 85 attendees and more than 200 online viewers. At the 2022 Miami International Boat Show, Goldsmith facilitated a panel with Maxwell and Carroll. (You can see some of what you missed at tradeonlytoday.com/wii.)


In addition, in 2022 and ’23, AIM promoted an industrywide, one-on-one mentoring-match program that saw 40 industry leaders participating as mentors, with 75 mentee engagements in 2022 and more than 100 this year. Ninety percent of those mentors and mentees have reportedly remained connected.


“My personal goal is to offer a safe place and community where women can gather, learn and be inspired, ultimately, to make it easier for the next generation of women in the marine industry to excel, have a support system and to realize their dreams, goals and ambitions,” Goldsmith says.


If your company doesn’t provide a formal or casual mentoring program, you should ask managers to create one with an in-house leader or an outside expert. Good mentors listen and answer questions, offer resources, advocate for mentees, and provide a haven for open dialogue.


I participated in AIM’s mentorship program this year. One of my mentees had left a 20-year career in law enforcement, fallen in love with fishing and crabbing, and become an influencer to bring diverse audiences to boating. She wanted to understand marketing and sponsorships, and learn how to engage with like-minded organizations and individuals. I linked her with major players and shared best practices. My second mentee is relatively new to marine with a strong background in digital marketing. In her role on the senior leadership team of a marina-based organization, she wanted advice about key industry organizations and influencers. I made introductions that are often difficult for newcomers to make on their own. Everyone I reached out to was graciously willing to engage.


What’s coming next? Alicia Rodriguez will headline a female-oriented event hosted by AIM in conjunction with IBEX on Oct. 2. It will include a luncheon, a workshop about the language of leadership, and a panel discussion. I’ll be leading a women’s leadership panel at the Elevate Summit in Dallas this November.


At Metstrade, attendees can attend the AIM Women in the Marine Industry International Breakfast and leadership panel Nov. 16, in partnership with the British Marine Trades Association. In addition to supporting these events, employers can take other steps to help support women in the workplace.


For starters, employers can pay women a fair salary. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women who work full time are paid an average of 83.7% as much as men, which amounts to a difference of $10,000 per year. That gap widens further among female minorities.


This is one big reason some of the most talented women get frustrated and quit their jobs. Boating companies should conduct compensation package reviews to identify gender disparities and then correct them. Giving women fair compensation and career-advancement opportunities is how you can retain high-achieving women.


Another bias professional women often face involves work-life-career decisions. Working moms juggle the demands of child-raising while meeting job expectations. Women are also often the primary caregivers for elderly or aging parents. Smart employers offer more flexible scheduling with remote or hybrid workplace options. Others offer a variety of childcare-related benefits.


Former NMMA president Thom Dam­mrich has talked about his intentional focus on supporting female leaders. When they didn’t speak up, he solicited participation. His example should be emulated. If you manage women, make an intentional effort to encourage and empower them.


Also, recognize high-performing women. Personally and publicly acknowledge team members for their contributions. Nominate top-performing women for the annual Women Making Waves competition or the Darlene Briggs Marine Woman of the Year Award. If you want to be truly inspired, read the bios of the trailblazers who have previously won these leadership awards.


It’s not hard to give women direct feedback and recommendations to help them plot a career path within your organization. Provide sincere and meaningful direction, along with specific, actionable recommendations.


Last, make sure your workplace has a well-established, zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment with defined steps to address infractions.


I’m proud to have spent virtually my entire career in the marine industry. Let’s continue to create a welcoming environment where more women can thrive.


This article was originally published in the September 2023 issue.

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