Client Story

The Ocean Race

Launching programme Horizon to make inclusion, equality and diversity a reality in sailing

The Ocean Race has been described as one of the toughest professional sporting events in the world and is one of the sport’s Big Three events, alongside the Olympic Games and America’s Cup.

But The Ocean Race faces a challenge: participation in sailing is decreasing and the sport suffers from an image issue. To remain sustainable, becoming more accessible and having equal representation between the genders is vital. The Ocean Race is determined to continue to challenge the status quo of male dominance in sailing with a bold vision that will inspire future generations of women to take up sailing. If equality is achieved, The Ocean Race will have blazed a trail that will set an example for other sports and corporates to follow.

Together with The Ocean Race, we worked to expose the lack of representation and outdated attitudes that work against gender equality across the sailing industry. And with our guidance, The Ocean Race developed Horizon, a programme backed up by measurable actions to address the gender disparity by bringing thousands more women and girls into competitive sailing over the next decade. With our expert support, The Ocean Race now has a blueprint to help transform the sailing industry to achieve more equal representation and ensure the sport thrives into the future. By positioning itself as a champion for equality in sailing, leading with gender, The Ocean Race is also staking its claim to a sustainable future as one of performance sailing’s premium events.

Key successes

  • Applied expertise in leadership, change management and sustainability to begin to tackle complex diversity and inclusion challenges
  • Engaged across the sailing industry to uncover gender equality issues and designed a tailored response
  • Developed a practical strategy and tools to ensure a fifty-fifty female/male split across the fleet of The Ocean Race, by 2030, as launched in May 2022
  • Helped ensure the sustainability of one of the world’s iconic, performance sailing challenges
Horizon: Making inclusion, equality and diversity a reality in sailing

Taking on the challenge of gender equality

Ensuring diversity and inclusion is vital to the sustainability of sailing. It’s not just about the moral case for making opportunities available to all. It’s about accessing the richest mix of talent and strengths-based leadership, ensuring the continued support of investors, sponsors and other stakeholders.

The Ocean Race is already an industry leader in supporting women in the sport, with more females competing in the event than in any other sailing competition outside of the Olympics. The Race is the only major international sporting event where men and women compete on the same team on an equal basis, with 136 women competing in the race since 1973, including 12 in the first edition. In the 2017-18 edition of the Race, new rules were introduced that gave teams a major incentive to include women as well as men. This policy will continue in the 2022-23 race and will see women participate with a meaningful role on every team.

With the World Sailing Trust’s Strategic Review into Women in Sailing in 2019 highlighting the lack of women in sailing, the rule changes The Ocean Race made to include more women in the event were just a starting point. The Horizon initiative was an opportunity for The Ocean Race to continue to take the lead in driving change.

We all naturally trust the people we are used to sailing with, so it is difficult to break into a team. The wind and waves don’t care who you are, male or female, you’re a sailor.”
Dee became the first woman to sail single-handedly and non-stop around the world “the wrong way”, and has competed twice in The Ocean Race.
Gender equality is an urgent issue. By improving opportunities for women, we make ourselves more sustainable as an organisation. We want to carve out a distinctive profile and continue to appeal to the world-class organisations that are our sponsors.”
Brisius managed two of the leading all-female teams that have taken part in the race, which gave him personal insight into the challenges women face in sailing.

Bringing a mix of expertise to unravel complex issues

Tackling issues of diversity and inclusion is always complex. It’s all too easy to end up with bold mission statements that have little impact. And in a traditional space like sailing, challenging entrenched attitudes is hard.Working closely with The Ocean Race, we complemented their team with a mix of expertise and a practical, down-to-earth approach. Our team included specialists in strength-based leadership, diversity, change management, sustainability and professional sport. Together with The Ocean Race, we developed a strategy to launch a new era of equality for women and girls in sailing.

Why do so few women and girls sail?

To get to the root of the issue, a deep dive to pin down why so few women and girls sail was needed. This included exploring practices in sailing organisations at every level, from grassroots to elite. The analysis we carried out was informed and guided by the comprehensive World Sailing Trust survey that collected the views of over 4,500 individuals from across the sailing industry.

Guided by this research, the team carried out over 25 interviews with stakeholders across the sport to enhance our understanding of the barriers to entry. Issues that emerged from the research and survey responses included a lack of women leaders, the use of gendered language and failure to set quantified targets — all well-established obstacles within the sporting world.

Part of our role was to enable The Ocean Race to unearth some of the less-obvious barriers. Many of these more “hidden” barriers revolved around the fear of women upsetting the male-led traditions within sailing. The research was clear that there was a fear of speaking out against the status quo and a lack of consensus from women on what success would look like. Meshing these insights with existing research, The Ocean Race was ready to chart a new course.

We were delighted with PA’s focus on conducting a stakeholder consultation process that allowed us to better design a roadmap to engage our sailing community in improving gender equality.”
We will be using some of the new initiatives proposed by PA Consulting to progress equality in sailing. These include a shadowing programme for race officials, encouraging the teams to apply equality principles in training and coaching, and the use of the tool to track progress.”

Charting a new course for sailing

The strategy we proposed to The Ocean Race had three elements. First, a call to action to the sailing world. The aim was to bring early supporters on board and open up the conversation around diversity in sailing. Many people involved in the sport didn’t recognise it had a problem.

Second, a pledge for the whole supply chain of The Ocean Race to sign up to and be part of the change. To accelerate transformation, we developed practical tools for organisations that signed up. These included a self-assessment tool to enable each organisation to understand their current performance on equality, concrete ideas for improving this and a process for tracking and reporting progress.

Third, a new funding model to attract sponsors who care about diversity and want to be associated with the revolution in sailing.

Based on these valuable insights, The Ocean Race translated the strategy into a phased action plan: First, the use of “The Equality Compass’’ tool to assess the situation, then a series of initiatives to increase support to favour equality across the race and its stakeholders, and finally a way to measure and track progress.

To accelerate the Horizon programme, The Ocean Race collaborated closely with The Magenta Project, World Sailing Trust and ourselves. Each partner in this team will play a crucial role in eventually realising the strategy. The Magenta Project will begin to mentor female sailors, while The Ocean Race will open up pathways to help these female sailors develop further. Finally, World Sailing Trust will amplify the message across the industry while our team will provide the framework to assess and measure the impact of the strategy.

PA highlighted the importance of setting clear and quantified targets to effect change, so we are putting numbers on our ambition as we launch.”

Shifting the dial on gender equality

Together, these proposals form a blueprint that will enable The Ocean Race to bring about a revolution in sailing and create equal opportunities for men and women to participate. By 2030, the ambition is to have an equal number of men and women competing.

Action on gender equality will help sailing remain sustainable as a sport. Implementing a targeted strategy to improve gender equality will also help insulate it against the reputational damage suffered by other sports that have been slow to act on the issue.

By leading the drive for change, The Ocean Race is aligning itself with the spirit of the times. Its stance will attract like-minded sponsors who want to be associated with its ambition. And it will attract new competitors — both men and women — to its thrilling competition. A positive and inclusive future lies ahead for the iconic, round-the-world challenge.

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