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Is the Scuba industry sexist? The invisible female diver

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

scuba sexism boobes diving
You must be kidding

I recently read 'Invisible Women' by Caroline Criado Perez and an article on sexism in the dive industry by the awe-inspiring Jill Heinerth which gave me food for thought. The first made me realise to what extent women are often, if not always, overlooked in product development, research and policy in all areas of life.

The second made me confront, with some surprise (if I am perfectly honest), that the dive industry was no stranger to sexism, its members only reflect society at large. It is still considered a high-risk sport by many, especially tech diving, thus attracting 'real macho men' and making it a little hard to break into for 'feeble females'. Yet, it seems the (female) diving world is pretty divided on just how sexist the scuba industry really is, so some more in-depth research was needed. Here are some of my findings...

Statistics - women in scuba diving

Statistics go a long way toward telling us what's going on in the industry. In the PADI world, we have some stats: since PADI’s first Women’s Dive Day in 2014, there has been a 2.2% increase in female certifications for PADI recreational courses, taking it from 37.2% to 39.4%. There is more than 40 percent of female in divers aged 18 to 25, but over 40 women only account for 30 percent of recreational divers in that age bracket. What's more, the higher the certification level, the smaller the percentage of women.

DEMA reports show that only 23 percent of continuing education students are women. Lady professionals' numbers dwindle even more: out of 137 000 professional level divers, only 25,000 are women (less than 20 percent) and only 13 per cent of PADI Master Instructors are women. Our Course Director Helene is part of a rare breed it seems.

These are numbers for PADI, a training agency that has put a lot of marketing effort into making the sport more welcoming to women by having, for instance, anti-sexism guidelines, a Women's Dive Day, and many female PADI ambassadors. In other training agencies, considered more 'hardcore' (think BSAC, FFESSM), percentages are probably lower.

In tech and cave diving, numbers are very low (10 percent of tech instructors ) as well as in commercial diving (less than 5 percent) and reflect the trend that the higher the certification level, the lesser the number of women divers.

#Metoo Scuba

Sadly, sexual harassment is present in diving just like in any other industry. The opportunities are evident with people having to undress, instructors having influence over their students/divers, and the isolation of a dive. The girls that scuba website did a #metoo for scuba and got many many responses. The PADI website has a blog post on professional conduct which highlights how a sexual assault event happening underwater can be much more serious for the victim, who may already be feeling vulnerable and powerless and can lead to life-threatening reactions like panicked or breath-hold ascents, not to mention the deeper emotional scaring.

Any type of sexual harassment or assault is simply unacceptable and should be called out, by men and women alike. If perpetrated by a dive professional, when the crime is reported and advertised it will end their career and leave a very dirty stain on whichever dive center they were working for. Do not hesitate to go public, you have the power here. (See below where and how to report this type of behavior)

Learning how to react to everyday sexism

Despite many reports of sexual harassment in the dive industry, often privately whispered, the community is split as to how much sexism there really is. The reality is that it probably reflects the rest of society where there are many ignorant sexist men but also many women with a chip on their shoulder.

Some sexism is unintentional and when called out intelligently can lead to behavioural change. One of Jill Heinerth's anecdotes is a perfect example of this. During an instructor trainer / course director training session, one of the teachers mentioned that one of the skills may be 'hard for women to master'. Jill's response (the only woman in the training session) was great: "When you indicated that women especially would have trouble with this, I immediately felt weak and not capable of success (…) Set your students up for success instead of implying failure. They will perform how they are set up to.” The reaction was one of utter dismay and embarrassment on the part of the trainer who realized what a teaching faux pas he had just made completely unintentionally, but would not be making again thanks to Jill's remark.

Many men are ignorant when it comes to sexist behavior (unconscious inbuilt privilege) and simply do not realize they are doing it: highlighting the error in their ways, re-stressing that a good diver is a good diver regardless of gender, that we are not identical but just as capable whatever our sex/actions are essential tools in making a positive change. Sadly, there will probably be idiots with sexist attitudes out there til kingdom comes, those just ignore or, if you've got the repartee for it, throw it straight back in their face for good measure.

kagan-schott diving women
That's more like it: Becky Kagan Schott, one of our dive heroines

Making scuba gear that fits tits

A woman's body shape is very different from a man's of the same height and weight. You would think that it thus makes sense that women's dive gear is NOT a smaller pinker version of men's gear: it just wouldn't fit right and yet... Apart from obvious things that need to be accommodated for, like boobs and wider hips, women's legs are longer and their waistline higher, their necks are smaller, their shoulders are narrower and slope more. However, women need just as many pockets as men (a fact that the clothing industry does not seem to be able to understand). Options for female dive gear should not always be pink, pastel or girly but should include both the simple unisex type of gear and fun colorful more 'feminine' designs, reflecting the wide variety of lady divers' tastes out there. There is a big market out there to break into: at the moment, men are almost 5 times more likely than women to buy dive gear but that's because there just isn't the right gear on offer out there.

Ask yourself: Am I a female (or male) chauvinistic pig?

It is more socially acceptable for women to express their fears and anxiety, as a dive pro don't let this make you think men are less scared! They are just culturally conditioned to hide it. I have caught myself paying more attention to a female novice diver because she had expressed her worries before the dive, whereas it became clear quite quickly underwater that she was at ease and that her male counterpart was very very stressed. Whether you are a male or female dive buddy, dive guide or instructor, remind yourself to treat everyone the same. In professional development, certain female trainers might push their female students a little harder to prepare them to excel. It's still a fact that for many men, a woman has to be twice as good as the men to get a second look professionally. But make sure you support the sisterhood and are not harder on newbie women than on novice men. Help out other women, don't put them down!

If you are in a position in the dive business that means you can hire, then hire competent women! A little positive discrimination won't hurt at this stage in the game.

Be the change you want to see

  • Report sexual harassment/assault to local authorities and/or to the training agency ( PADI: as well as to the dive center concernes or even on Google reviews/TripAdvisor

  • Be a role model (as a female- or in relation to women as a male) and encourage new female divers

  • Dive with female-owned dive centers

  • Hire, train, or become female divers/dive pros

  • Have behavioral guidelines with regard to sexism in your dive center ( see PADI's)

  • Call out sexist remarks in a way that creates positive change (by being humorous and educational)(as a male too)

  • Do not use naked babes to sell your stuff (use naked boys instead - only joking)

  • Offer input on ways the dive world could be more female friendly

Take away

Like in the rest of society there are many instances of everyday sexism in diving, but change is underway. Keep up the good work ladies and all the great guys who support us!

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