Being Gender Smart – Attracting Women to Sailing. 3

Sailing is one sport where at the elite end women do well. Last week Sam Davies added the YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year to her trophy cabinet. But is the sport doing enough to attract women – not just as competitors, but as fans? We asked Christina Ioannidis, CEO of Aquitude for her thoughts as an outsider.

Being Gender Smart to attract Women to Sailing

I was delighted when Yachtsponsorhip asked me for a few thought on how to make sailing more attractive to women, and tap into the female market. According to Harvard Business Review, the global women’s market represents a greater marketing opportunity than India and China combined: “Women now drive the world economy. Globally, they control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, and that figure could climb as high as $28 trillion in the next five years. Their $13 trillion in total yearly earnings could reach $18 trillion in the same period. In aggregate, women represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined — more than twice as big, in fact.”

The power of attracting more women to the sport is a double whammy: not just greater viewership, but potentially doubly more practitioners – them and their children!

Harness Strengths

Sailing is one of those sports that one likes to see the lovely pictures of, but feel that would be beyond budgets, reach or even capabilities. Yes, certain requirements are needed, in terms of conditions and access to sailing club, but I suspect the biggest challenge is that of cost and capability.

How can the industry redress that? How can a woman be convinced that it is not pure brute force that makes a good sailor, but that strategic thought is key?

I will give you an example: on a recent occasion when I went on a clipper as a novice crew, and once I overcame my initial resistance to taking the helm (I was too scared that my 5 foot 7 height would not be able to control a boat of over 40 feet…), the skipper told me that I had a natural ability to “feel” the movements of the boat; as a female skipper, she also shared that in her personal experience, women tended to pick that skill up more naturally than men… Women were, according to her, apt at making small movements with the wheel and with small adjustments if required, and thus sticking to the course better. This was, at least, confirmed by the previous 10 men who had taken the helm before me that day and where more abrupt in their movements with general tendencies to oversteer…. I was delighted with the fact, and consequently I was keen to put my new found talent to practice soon after that.

Whilst this is a non-empirical piece of research, it does clearly indicate something important: that there are ways to position the sport in a way that utilises a natural capability that women naturally have.

Offer an Experience…. At her doorstep

Women can be encouraged to experience the sport of sailing. However, just offering a glass of champagne to those attending an event doesn’t cut the mustard. What women are likely to respond to positively is an experience: an experience where they get to do something that they may not have done before, where they can learn something about themselves or other, in a safe environment where they will not be judged or stereotyped.

Further more, you need to make it easy. A few years back, I attended a Dragon Boat race in the Docklands which was a great day out. I also realised that you can do sport in what I had associated as a purely financial district…. The financial district of London does not make for a natural hub for sailing but if you are looking to attract an audience of women to a sport where teamwork, escape to wonderful locations and (sometimes) luxury meet, why not do so near their workplace?


Women are complex. As I woman, I have every right to make this claim. We are more demanding and constantly in search of an ideal (our gender is probably single-handedly holding up the Self Help book category….). When we are engaging with a sport (or brand, or product) we are looking to find ways that it is relevant to us and our life. We want the product to either save us time, offer something special to us as individuals, or contribute to our life and interests. In order for the sailing industry to tap into this, I would recommend sporting organisations to partner up with either brands or service providers that women will tick some of the boxes in the categories above. Women appreciate it when brands and organisations take the time to satisfy a need and are creative in doing so. So make sure you also tell them so!

Understand and embrace her world

Women and men are programmed differently. Women are both socially and biologically more in-tune with personal relationships and making them work. If a sport is to become part of a woman’s life, it is likely it will need to embrace her family, dependents or social circle. Connecting is critical, and offering opportunities for adults to spend time together such as by offering child friendly activities at events that also engage children into the sport (and potentially attract the new generation of Ellen Mc Arthurs and Dee Caffaris) would be an all-round winner.

There is a 2-year old video that was produced by Microsoft that really encapsulates the chasm between marketing to women and the traditional marketing activities.

Marketing a sport to women is not dissimilar to marketing a product. We need to consider all of the angles of usage (or participation) and appreciate the drivers behind each. Whilst this represents the tip of the iceberg, I do hope that the sailing world leverages’s fore-sightness and considers the power of the yearly $13 trillion female market.