The confidence gap

I’ve been around boats my whole life, but even though I’m no stranger to the water I’ve never felt fully confident behind the wheel. It certainly doesn’t help that all my life if I’ve ever made the slightest error, a male relative or in-law has been right there to yell at me about what I’m doing wrong or take over the helm to correct my egregious mistake.

Obviously, this is something I’ve actively worked to overcome while working here at Boating Industry. I’ll gladly take the wheel at a press event, but ask me to dock the boat for you? No thanks, I’m sure the product manager on board can handle that just fine.

In an effort to increase my confidence, I decided to attend a local Women on Water class at the MarineMax near my home a few weeks ago. We discussed boat operation and then used most of the time taking turns practicing docking forward and backward, getting out of a slip, trimming the engine and using trim tabs to balance the boat. For some background, my experience before Boating Industry was almost entirely driving single-engine, 40-horsepower pontoon boats, so this was perfect for me.

Our instructor Larry was not only delightful, but he was calm, funny and patient with all of the attendees. We were all able to try different things and given the space to make mistakes without being subjected to what I call The Husband Wince. He never took the wheel away from us or told us we were done because we weren’t doing well.

And frankly, it’s exactly what we needed. While the class being an exclusively female event helped, what made me the most comfortable was an instructor, male or female, that was willing to let me make mistakes and not dominate the situation when he thought it wasn’t going well. I’m sure if there had been serious danger he would have taken control, but that never happened.

I learned quite a bit during the class, but I also realized I wasn’t as helpless at docking as I thought (and I didn’t even use a joystick to do it!). And honestly, I think that’s what most of us in the class needed: an opportunity to learn in an environment that was comfortable and prove to ourselves that we know more than we think.

An old article in The Atlantic discusses the confidence gap between women and men: that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence. It’s tied to a whole bunch of problems women face in the workplace, but I think it applies just as much to boating. Women often simply need to confidence to prove they have the competence to succeed. And I think it’s great that dealerships like MarineMax, and many of our Boating Industry Top 100 and Top 100 Hall of Fame dealers, have embraced these classes as a part of their customer service. And it’s frankly a great sales tool: some of the women in my class discussed upgrading their boat so it has trim tabs, and I am sure they will bring that back to their spouses. And if there are single women out there who are interested in boating but have a confidence gap, offering this class may be the final step they need to buy the boat.

Personally, I’m looking forward to showing off at my mother-in-law’s lake home for stepfather-in-law and brothers-in-law this year.

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