Workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion have been at the forefront of companies' initiatives lately, as inclusive hiring and employee support are major deciding factors for workers. Many industries, however, still have progress to make when it comes to female and BIPOC representation at employee and executive levels, including the boating industry.
The marine industry has historically shown gender-bias when it comes to women pursuing boat ownership and being captains. Only 8.6% of boat captains are women compared to 87.9% being men, according to a recent Zippia report. Furthermore, women only comprise 2% of the 1.2 million sailors worldwide, according to the Maritime Institute of Technology.
Brenna Preisser, president of business acceleration and chief strategy officer at Brunswick Corporation, the largest maker of recreational boats, is working to transform marine culture into a more inclusive and inviting community.
Preisser, who's worked at Brunswick for 17 years, has championed innovation at the company by introducing strategies for diversity and conducting programs and initiatives that inspire underrepresented groups to work in the marine industry, or simply get on the water.
"Our efforts around diversity have really started with our strategy. We ask ourselves how can we create outreach in the community? And how do we make sure that our organization represents our customers and our aspirations?," she shares with CNBC Make It. "The programs and initiatives that we've put in place across the organization have really gained traction, and momentum, where we're really starting to see a lot of success take root in the organization."
Brunswick recently launched an initiative called Tide, where they promote workforce engagement, affinity groups, and outreach for employees and the community. Preisser also commends Brunswick for their improvements to diversity in leadership.
"We've made great gains in leadership and diversity among our leadership ranks. I'm so proud that for the first time, we have a board chairwoman. And so what we're really starting to see from the top of the organization is a very powerful multiplying effect, down to employees feeling empowered to take the lead and engage in programs."
Partnering with foundations and organizations is also a strategy for getting underrepresented groups on the water. In partnership with the Executive Leadership Council, the company has been able to provide scholarships and internships to Black students, which they hope will develop a "pipeline" of diverse talent for the marine industry. Working with marine influencers like Cindy Nguyen, a well-known fisherwoman, and owning the Freedom Boat Club, which provides classroom and on-water boat training, have also aided in community outreach.
"We are seeing a lot more women get on the water in Freedom Boat Club. We have about 50,000 members and 35% are women, which is nearly double that of the industry. So we have a strong foundation and we're ensuring that we're making an impact across communities and different segments."
Factors like diversity at the board level, initiatives for women and people of color, and overall support for their employees has allowed Brunswick to be named to Forbes America's Best Large Employers List for the second consecutive year, a feat Preisser and her team are extremely proud of.
"I think it's validating, and it feels really good. And it's just a recognition of the values and the efforts that we've had underway. I'm also very proud of the organization and the leadership team. Every individual matters, from every leader to every employee in the organization welcoming, strengthening, and supporting our culture."
Preisser, who hadn't stepped foot on a boat before working at Brunswick, hopes to continue to provide access and visibility for other women to grow in the industry, saying "this is a fantastic industry, where we need more women present, influencing the business shaping strategy and product."