Mentoring Women in Sailing

Mentoring Women in Sailing

Mentoring Women in Sailing

Pamela Lee continues to lead the Irish Sailing Women in Sailing Mentorship Programme while busy working on the Class 40s in France. We asked her about what she believes mentorship can offer a developing sailor looking to carve a path outside the club scene, and hear about the women on the programme.

“Sailing is a unique sport. It is filled with a myriad of options, forms, styles, purposes, pathways, possibilities, challenges and skills. It’s more diverse than any other sport in its ability to range from amateur weekend hobby to the pinnacle of aeronautical engineering. It facilitates adventure and exploration equating to mountaineering while also the fine tuning, technical details of Olympic athletes, and everything in between.

All this considered, it’s easy to understand that even for a sailing enthusiast, progression in the sport has the potential to seem like a mine-field to navigate and be somewhat intimidating.These factors multiply considerably when you start to consider professional sailing and the sailing industry as a professional career option. 

It's no secret that the most conventional means for progression within the sport and the industry is a combination of experience and connections. At the end of the day, hard work, good energy, dedication, common sense and intelligence usually wield results for climbing the ladder – either as an amateur or professional. But one of the areas that we see the most pre-ingrained bias and gender segregation is the big jump onto that first step of the ladder.

This is where ‘Mentorship’ can really play a role, as it mimics the “experience and connections” protocol. It is effective at all levels and can be particularly impactful at the beginning in helping to provide insight, motivation and assistance for getting onto that first step of the ladder.  Beyond this, the role of a mentor figure can be integral in a sport and industry where you really need to figure out ‘your own route’ to where ever it is you want to end up… and in fact, what that end goal is in the first place."

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” 
John Crosby

"Mentors, whether official or unofficial, have been absolutely instrumental in my progress through sport, from amateur to professional. They’ve come in all shapes, sizes and guises and have all remained in my life as friends. They are people who have enabled and encouraged me to push as hard as I want in the direction that I want to go. They’ve raced with me, trained with me, talked through dilemmas with me, strategized with me, celebrated with me, commiserated me…. understood me and put up with me! I’m eternally grateful to all of them and I sincerely hope that I can do my part to act in the same way to others.

So, when Gail MacAllister of Irish Sailing approached me with the idea of creating the organisation’s first ever mentorship programme I was onboard straight away (pun intended). The programme is very much inspired and modelled on the fantastic work done by The Magenta Project and the mentorship programme they have been running for seven years and which I have been lucky enough to be a part of."

The Irish Sailing Mentorship Programme has started small with a test-run year which we hope will expand. Pam works with three mentees, selected from an open call application, for a year-long period.

Three women, three journeys

Our three mentees, Robyn Lynch, Aideen Kilkelly and Carla Fagan come from very different sailing experience backgrounds and have different goals and objectives, as well as being in different stages of their lives personally. This diversity is key, as the programme is not about ‘becoming a professional sailor’, it’s about creating access to the sport in Ireland for women and building a network of passionate and enthusiastic individuals going forward.

"The format of the mentorship is very open and flexible. I do individual sessions with each mentee to work with them on finding out what they hope to achieve in their own sailing journey in the year ahead and beyond. We also work as a group, chatting, getting to know each other and sharing experiences and opportunities. Each of the mentees also heads out on their own ‘missions’ and we bring in external individuals to share insight and inspirations -  for example, we will have a ‘Personal goals building’ session with Life Coach Lisa O’Carroll and Solo Sailor, Joan Mulloy will be joining us for an open ended discussion on the broad possibilities within our sport.

I do my best to establish connections and facilitate opportunities for the mentees to progress along their individual routes, but this wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the enthusiastic and generous involvement of other sailors, including Laura Dillion, Tom Dolan and Michael Boyd."

Miles building, Navigation and Passage planning in the Caribbean

After a series of introductory meetings with Robyn, Carla and Aideen, it became clear that mile building offshore and the opportunity to build experience in navigation and passage planning was of big importance for all three.

Pam then worked together with the team to establish parameters within which they could see these goals being realised, for instance time, availability and cost are important factors when thinking about trying to spend time ‘offshore’, another factor is access to a boat, of course.

With these factors in focus, Pam was able to put the pieces together for a remarkable opportunity for Robyn and Aideen, in which they were able to use their Easter period holidays to embark on a voyage of a life-time on a delivery in the Caribbean (the first of many I’m sure).

"I already feel a huge sense of pride for how all the participants in our programme  - from organisers to contributors and mentees -  are really working together with creativity, ambition and good-will towards a positive shared goal. I’m looking forward to the season ahead”. Pamela Lee

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If you are interested in women's sailing and joining the most inspiring women sailing event in Ireland
then check out the Women at the Helm, Ireland's women's helming racing event.

27&28 August, National Yacht Club.

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