Am I too big to work in yachting?

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Q: Linda, Green Stewardess, 22:

“I have been trying to find a job on a superyacht for six months and although I have done quite a bit of daywork and a few temp jobs this season, I haven’t managed to get a permanent job. When I actually do work on boats I get really positive feedback and very nice references, but then as soon as I’m looking for work again I seem to get the runaround. I really don’t know what the problem is, but I suspect it might be because I’m not a blonde size 8 supermodel – I’m a 14-16 and 5’2”. But if that’s the reason I’m not getting hired, why won’t any of the crew agents tell me the truth? They are all really nice to me when I go in and call them, but a lot of the time I find out I haven’t even been put forward for jobs that other girls in the crew house are getting interviews for. I wish someone would give me a straight answer about this, because everyone I ask is being really cagey about it. Do I have to starve myself down three sizes if I’m ever going to get anywhere in this industry?”

A: The Crew Coach:

Hi Linda,

How brave of you to boldly ask the question that so many people in this industry are afraid to even whisper. In a business which is 100% geared toward projecting a wealthy luxury lifestyle, it is no surprise that image has become a key factor in crew recruitment. As with ageism in yachting, which we covered in last week’s blog, I believe that sizeism in this industry is really a massive elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about – pardon the pun. The thing is, it’s a really tricky subject for many reasons.

As for why the crew agents won’t give you a straight answer about this, it’s not as simple as it sounds. I spoke to several crew agents who said they feel very conflicted in this difficult area. The fact is they don’t want to open themselves up to potential litigation by outwardly telling someone their size is the problem, but at the same time they are being told by yachts not to send them any candidates over a certain size.

So what factors are contributing to this, what are your rights, what are the legalities and how can candidates navigate the muddy waters of political correctness and under-the-radar discrimination? A simple internet search reveals pages and pages of articles and academic papers on the issue of size discrimination in the workplace, and in hiring. The laws vary by country, so let’s take a look at a few key nations and their policies. In the UK, it is illegal to ask a person about their health or disability in application or interview process. According to Gov.uk, you can’t mention a person’s physical health or disability unless “There are necessary requirements of the job that can’t be met with reasonable adjustments.

The US has a more direct approach to the topic. The US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission states: “Height and weight requirements tend to disproportionately limit the employment opportunities of some protected groups and unless the employer can demonstrate how the need is related to the job, it may be viewed as illegal under federal law. A number of states and localities have laws specifically prohibiting discrimination on the basis of height and weight unless based on actual job requirements. Therefore, unless job-related, inquiries about height and weight should be avoided.”

In France things go a little further. An academic paper on the issue, Not “Fit” for Hire: The United States and France on Weight Discrimination in Employment, discusses the French sensitivity to diversity in law, in light of Nazi occupation in World War II. “While the EU Directive prohibits employment discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation, France’s Article L.122-45 goes further to provide that no person may be discriminated against on the basis of physical appearance.”

Regardless of the laws however, the practice of eliminating candidates in superyachting based on weight and appearance is ongoing. The recruiters are in a sticky spot. They have to follow their clients’ wishes, but they also must avoid litigation. It’s so easy for an employer to say they chose another candidate for a different reason that there is virtually no way of proving a discrimination case anyway – meaning these discrimination laws don’t really do anything to protect people from weight based discrimination. The law may protect candidates’ feelings through not being told they are being ruled out because of their size, but the resulting scenario drives the discrimination under the radar as nobody wants to talk about it.

So the problem is a compounded one for women, especially in an industry where the reality is that there is intense competition for a handful of entry level stewardess positions. So the fact remains that anything a candidate can do to increase their chances of being put forward for jobs and being selected will help their chances of success, from vocational training and networking to more closely fitting the image preferences.

Another thing to consider is that although image is probably the first reason for this siziest attitude, the fact is yachting is a very physical job. The work is actually very strenuous and a good level of physical fitness and health is essential in order to have the stamina to see out a busy season. This does not strictly mean that a size 8 fits all roles, but young, strong, fit people will be seen as being more of a ‘safe bet’ to Captains who want to reduce any risk associated with hiring people who might not be able to deliver in terms of performance.

I want to be clear about one thing however: I would never recommend anyone take extreme measures to look a certain way, and would caution anyone looking to lose weight to do so in a healthy, balanced way as part of a long term healthy eating and living plan, with advice from health professionals. A size 14-16 is not necessarily overweight! There is a lot of pressure on women to be slim in this industry (and in the world in general of course!) and this can lead to eating disorders and all sorts of other problems – so I strongly caution you to be careful in this regard. I believe it is far more important to be happy and healthy in mind and body than to fit into a certain ‘size’ if this is not natural for your body.

Last but not least, there are yachts out there who favour attitude and experience over looks and size. My advice, regardless of anything else, is to always present yourself in the most positive light as possible. Good-looks and a slim waist are fleeting attributes, but professionalism, a can-do attitude and a great smile will make a lasting impression on a good employer. Please look after yourself, keep in touch and let us know how you get on.

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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