Seeking Success as a Woman Dive Professional

Left: Haack celebrates with a recent student. Right: Working in the dive industry allows Haack to enjoy traveling around the world.

Young women beginning their careers as dive instructors regularly ask me how to be heard on a dive boat. Their experience is that guests don’t naturally listen to their directions. The dive industry has improved, and I don’t want to downplay the vast improvements that have already happened for women dive professionals. But this is a common question, so it remains relevant.

I have spent my entire career — both diving and nondiving — in male-dominated fields. I hold a master’s degree in engineering and worked in manufacturing and large construction for the first half of my career before turning scuba into my full-time job. It wasn’t easy for a 20-something woman to effectively run a large construction jobsite. To be successful, I had to learn techniques for earning the respect of everyone around me. 

These techniques are about communication, leadership, and garnering respect, so they could be useful for anyone, not just young women working on dive boats. These techniques worked for me, and you might be able to apply them in your situation.

• Recognize that it is rarely malicious. Many people haven’t worked with a woman in a dive leadership position. When they start from an assumption that the woman dive professional is not in charge, try not to be offended. Instead, show them why you deserve the credentials and respect, and enjoy changing their perspective.

• Build your knowledge. Always work to increase your understanding of our sport. People will respect your expertise as you build the ability to deal with issues. When you don’t know something, express curiosity to learn, which builds a connection with the team around you.

• Hone your skills. You should always be able to demonstrate solid skills. Excellent in-water skills are a requirement, but you will also benefit from superb boat etiquette, the ability to sufficiently answer guests’ questions, knowledge of gear and kitting up, and early recognition of issues. Be a role model when demonstrating all things scuba.

• Find a mentor. Build a working relationship with experienced leaders on the team who will help you navigate the job.

• Connect with the team. Build a rapport with the whole team, including people in the shop and on the boat. Helping with all the work, even the less fun tasks, goes a long way. Guests will naturally recognize your leadership when they see the team’s respect for you.

• Be honest about the situation. It is simply harder to find success in some situations. If the shop or team doesn’t accept you, find a situation that will work. You might find a better fit where another woman has already pioneered the changes. It will be easier to take on the next opportunity once you have some experience.

I have employed all these techniques in each of my careers and found success. Ultimately, building your reputation in this industry takes time and effort. Keep after it, and reap the rewards of working in this industry.

© Penyelam Siaga — Q1 2024