With experience from her time as a professional skipper and yacht captain, as well as over 10 years at MB92 La Ciotat, Marion Gornet, Projects Team General Manager, understands what it takes to lead. We caught up with her to share her thoughts on the industry, what has changed over the years and what advice she has for others seeking a successful career in this sector.
I grew up living on the river in a barge near Paris, which led me naturally to the sea! At age 18, I moved to Brittany to pursue my sailing passion and begun my journey to becoming a professional skipper.
I worked on board several 20 to 40 metre sailing yachts and sailed all round the world, except the pacific unfortunately (next stop hopefully once we get out of the pandemic!). My first years as a captain were for private American owners who never made a big deal about gender equality, they just needed the right person for the job.
Apart from enabling me to further my studies ending with a Master MCA 3,000GT certification, this opportunity allowed me to build a solid reputation as a captain.
After 10 years of travelling I wanted to settle, so I joined Compositeworks in 2007 as a project manager, which was perfect because it allowed me to do what I did as a captain but ashore.
The challenge! Every day brings a new challenge, a solution to find, a plan to keep to, a team to keep happy and efficient. I particularly like this human side of my job; selecting the team and getting them to work well together so that the project moves forward as smoothly as possible.
In project management, you need to have several qualities to achieve excellent results for the client. The most important is attention to detail. The devil is in the detail! At the same time, you need to balance this with a holistic view of the project and keep calm when things get stressful.
Sailing is a small world, so success is based on your experience and references rather than gender. However, when we would arrive in a port, people (including women) would always presume that I was the chief stew or the chef!
10 years ago, I was the first and only woman project manager in La Ciotat, but now I am not alone. In our projects team we have many of the key positions held by women including the overall team co-ordinator, head of project support and contractual liaison. This trend extends to the production areas as well. In La Ciotat for example, we are seeing more women taking up production roles such as mechanics, laminators and woodworkers which is really encouraging. So things are changing in our industry, but slowly, not because of sexism but simply because there are so few women candidates.
At first, clients would be quite surprised to have a female project manager but this is less and less apparent nowadays. Marie Hercelin, Charlotte Dimet and myself have been charged with overseeing several 100m+ clients and they now request us when they return to the yard, not because we’re women I imagine. It’s first and foremost a question of personality. I think that when you’re comfortable and confident in your capabilities, this is felt by clients so they trust you in the same way as they would any male Senior PM leading a project.
To some extent I feel some pressure as a woman. It is a reality for women when they arrive in a masculine environment to be more watched more than others (partly because you are “part of the scenery” …) but this quickly moves on. In our industry, we have to be very hardworking and, just as important, you must have a good sense of humour.
Actually, people thinking I have a surprising level of ambition as a female, just added to my determination to get where I wanted to go. Determination is key and an important quality anyway for a project manager.
“We need to communicate more about women in the industry, not just once a year on international Women’s day! Listening to or reading about women talking about their profession, their experience and expertise will open minds in the industry”
Yes, there is 100% good progress being made in the superyacht industry. I’m seeing an increasing number of female chief engineers and first officers, and more and more women in MB92 too.
I also sense a real change in behaviour from guys who will still test you a bit at first, but we are very lucky in our company because there are so many different nationalities and cultures and that bring more sensitivity to diversity.
It’s extremely difficult to advance without references but if you have the aptitude, people will appreciate what you do, and things will go from there. To succeed in the refit industry, you need to be determined, be flexible, have a good sense of humour and go sailing, as much as you can. Time on board makes a big difference. The strength of people here is that most of those at senior levels in the company have previously been seafarers, so they understand what captains are going through and what their life is like. Previous sailors make particularly good project managers.
We need to communicate more about women in the industry, not just once a year on International Women’s day! Listening to or reading about women talking about their profession, their experience and expertise will open minds in the industry. We also need to educate and encourage young women into our industry’s professions because diversity is what is richest.