Here come the girls
Appeared in DIVER December 2009
When DIVER carried out a detailed survey about the sexes and diving this year, more than 1600 of you responded. The results provided some valuable insights, several surprises - and more than a few laughs, writes Louise Trewavas
"YEAR 2009, I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT THIS IS STILL AN ISSUE," bemoaned one of our male readers. I'm sure the worryingly large (66%) proportion of women in the British workforce who are paid less than men would heartily agree with the sentiment. But OK, why should gender have any impact in diving?
To start with, there are fewer women divers than men. In the UK, the main training agencies typically report between 20% and 30% of scuba qualifications being awarded to women.
This proportion is also reflected in visitors to the Dive Shows and users of Divernet.com.
Our survey was answered by 75% men and 25% women. When asked directly about the proportion of men and women divers in their dive clubs or dive schools, the majority of people (78%) in our survey reported that men outnumber women by at least 3:1.
We can ponder endlessly about why there are fewer women divers, but does it matter? Why should we care?
Regardless of your personal, moral or political viewpoint, ultimately it's an opportunity. Scuba diving is being undersold to women consumers and our sport, our industry, relies on a constant flow of new divers. A bit like some sharks, if we stop moving forward, we suffocate.
Diving is a safe and non-competitive sport. It's all about enjoying the marine environment, and it's predominantly linked to travel and holiday activities. These are all elements that should make diving highly attractive to women - so what's the problem?
Trying to understand more about what men and women think about the subject of women and diving would seem to be a legitimate subject for investigation - though not everybody in our survey agreed.
PERCEPTION, PERCEPTION, PERCEPTION
For me, the lovely thing about asking people's opinions is the snapshot that it provides about what and how people are thinking.
The hard, numerical data is extremely useful, but comments such as: "Female divers are OK until they start talking about fluffy kittens and curtain accessories" are priceless.
Not representative of the responses, I hasten to add, but entertaining none the less.
The other important caveat is that the opinions expressed in a survey are exactly that. Even a commonly held opinion cannot be taken as a fact.
Before the full 19-question survey on women and diving was launched, DIVER conducted a "quick and dirty" poll in our regular Big Question slot. This was back in December 2007, and the question was: "Do women make better divers than men?"
Mostly men responded, and 70% of respondents expressed the opinion that women can make better divers.
Interesting! However, this majority view does not make the statement true, regardless of how badly I might want to believe it were so!
When I received the results of the full Women and Diving survey, I noticed that somebody at the DIVER office had very helpfully gone through all the comments that respondents had volunteered on their surveys, worked out the main themes, and coded them according to 10 categories:
1 Statement about equality.
2 Positive about males.
3 Positive about females.
4 Neutral comment.
5 About rise in number of participating females, lack of female writers/dive kit etc.
6 Negative about males.
7 Negative about females.
8 Some other factor, eg age, nationality.
10 Likes seeing members of the opposite sex in tight neoprene.
While this was a fairly subjective process, the fact that an entire category such as 10 had been created tells a story in itself!
HOW MUCH DO WE LOVE WOMEN DIVERS?
Overwhelmingly, the most encouraging and consistent result from the survey was that both men and women divers appear to feel positively about women divers as buddies, as instructors, and as dive guides.
When we asked people a series of questions about whether they preferred to dive with men or women in a variety of roles, at least three-quarters had no preference.
Among those people who did express a preference, women tended to be preferred.
The most commonly expressed opinion was that women are equally capable of possessing the qualities that make a good diver; and what divers really want are competent and aware buddies, instructors and guides - regardless of gender.
To quote from our survey: "I don't really mind whether I dive with or learn from a male or female diver. What's more important for me is that the person is well-qualified, capable and easy to get on with."
There was only one area of diving life - equipment sales and written advice on diving - in which a slight difference emerged. Interestingly, these are "out of the water" roles.
While the overwhelming majority of you (four in five) don't care either way about who sells you equipment or writes the advice, people who did express a preference tended towards advice from someone of their own sex. Fair play.
So overall our results were reassuring - encouraging even - and possibly a little predictable. Had we been looking for a sweeping, venomous, tide of prejudice against women divers, we would have been sorely disappointed.
If the survey revealed anything, it was that most divers appear to express very few prejudices. That's great news when it comes to attracting and welcoming new divers.
HOW VERY DARE YOU!
Far more interesting and revealing were the reactions of some men to the survey itself:
"This is totally a sexist questionnaire and has nothing to do with diving. Who commissioned this? The press will be very interested in this 'project'," hissed one male respondent. Mate, I hate to break this to you, but we are the press!
Other men took a more reasoned approach to their objections: "Answering the given question 'Do women divers make better divers then men?' by seeking the male/female preferences of divers will only reveal the prejudices of divers. Nothing will be revealed about the competency of female divers. The survey is flawed!"
"Simple yes/no or even multiple-choice answers neither expose prejudice or identify accurately preferences," commented another.
"Some [questions] are very patronising," complained one bloke. "'Do I prefer to book with a man or a woman?' is very so."
"I fail to see the relevance in the majority of the questions, gender has very little to do with my preferences. Competence, knowledge and ability are far more relevant, regardless of sex," grumped another. Blimey, anybody might think divers were a right miserable bunch!
Finally, one man called upon the ultimate authority in such matters: "This survey has no value whatsoever as it fails to check attitude towards male/female issues. If you don't believe me, ask my wife. She has a PhD in statistics and Internet surveys." Ooh er. That told us then.
So please bear these comments in mind when
I tell you that while most people in our survey were neutral on the subject of "Are women better divers than men?", both men and women were likely to view women as "better divers".
But before I go rushing out to print up some "Women Do It Better" diving T-shirts, what on Earth would make you feel this way?
WHAT DID YOU THINK WERE THE DIFFERENCES?
Once the business of clearly telling us that there was far more to being a good diver than gender was out of the way, divEr readers were - thankfully - very free with their opinions.
"Ladies don't need air to breathe, just to TALK!!" Well, I'd guess that's a back-handed compliment from some air-hungry bloke.
"Prefer good-looking female buddies only," announced another. Hmmm.
Or how about this observation: "In my experience, women don't remember the technical stuff (how things work etc) but are more safety-conscious. A strange paradox."
Just to show that I'm not singling out comments by men, here are a few from women:
"I prefer diving with a male buddy because instinctively as a woman I feel safer with a strong man around!"
"We joke about females being 'better' divers as their air often lasts longer, but this is of course a joke - each person has their strengths and weaknesses - physical, mental and emotional."
"Personality is much more important than sex. As a generalisation: male instructors tend to be more confident, although this can be both a plus and a minus and is not by any means a rule."
Reading through everybody's comments, a few clear trends emerged from both men
Male self-confidence can be seen as a plus, but also leads to some men being perceived as "gung-ho" or "macho".
Women divers appear to be regarded as more communicative, safety-conscious and risk-averse. These opinions echo widely held beliefs about male and female behaviour.
It was interesting to see people commenting on the practical implications that they observed on diving skills and behaviours.
But how real is this perception? Bizarrely, the 50-year-old-plus men at the British Sub Aqua Club who collect annual statistics on diving incidents in the UK do not give us a breakdown of the age or gender of the divers involved. So we currently have no published data that could be analysed.
Perhaps the new statistics on water-based incidents being compiled by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents will throw some light on this matter. Otherwise, whether male or female divers are more likely to be involved in accidents and mishaps remains a mystery for the time being!
IMHO (in my humble opinion)
As a keen observer of all things sex-related in scuba, and an advocate for getting more women into diving, I'd like to venture my own prejudices on the subject. I've dived with amazing (and rubbish) divers of both sexes in equal measure, but there's one factor that clinches it for me.
Everybody likes to have a laugh, and women divers often display that very British trait of not taking ourselves too seriously. In the words of Cyndi Lauper, "Girls just wanna have fun". Isn't this, essentially, what diving is all about?
The Women & Men in Sport Diving 2009 Survey ran for three weeks in May.
Nineteen multiple-choice questions were asked, and respondents were offered the chance to add comments.
Of 1643 completed surveys, 412 (25%) were submitted by female divers.
Respondents tended to have plenty of diving experience and be qualified to a high level. 74% had been diving for at least four years and, of these, 31% had been diving for 10 years or more. 95% were aged 25 or over, and 59% had logged more than 100 dives. 85% were qualified to Advanced Open Water Diver level or above and, of these, 22%
were instructors or instructor-trainers.
The majority (66%) had been trained primarily by PADI.
Percentages for respondents' answers relate to total number of surveys received, bearing in mind the few instances where answers to individual questions were omitted or flawed.
"Whatever your current diving qualification, would you say that you have undertaken your diver training mainly with male or female instructors?"
Mainly male - 71%
Male and female equally - 21%
Mainly female - 7%
10% of female respondents to this question had trained with mainly female instructors, compared with 6% of male respondents who had trained with mainly female instructors.
"Is your regular buddy male or female?"
Male - 46%
No regular buddy - 31%
Female - 23%
59% of female respondents to this question had a regular buddy who was male, compared to only 40% of male respondents. By contrast, 27% of male respondents had a regular buddy who was female, compared to only 12% of female respondents.
"If you have a partner who dives, is this partner male or female?"
No partner who dived - 52%
Female partner who dived - 28%
Male partner who dived - 19%
60% of the female respondents to this question had a male partner who dived, while only 35% of male respondents had a female partner who dived.
"What is the approximate ratio of males to females in your club membership or dive-school?"
Roughly 25% female - 59%
Roughly 50% female - 19%
Fewer than 10% female - 19%
Roughly 75% female - 2%
More than 90% female - 1%
"If the need arises for you to be buddied with another diver, do you prefer buddying with a male/female diver, given that both have similar qualifications?"
No preference - 75%
Slightly or strongly preferred a female - 16%
Slightly or strongly preferred a male - 8%
Didn't expect to be buddied - 2%
Splitting respondents to this question into female/male sub-groups revealed that a
similar proportion of both groups expressed
a preference for female buddies - 16% of females preferred female buddies (male buddies, 10%); 15% of males preferred female buddies (male buddies, 6%).
"If you undertake dive training courses, do you prefer receiving instruction from male/female dive instructors?"
No preference - 83%
Slightly or strongly preferred a female - 10%
Slightly or strongly preferred a male - 6%
Didn't undertake courses - 1%
11% of female respondents preferred to have female instructors (male instructors, 9%);
9% of males preferred female instructors (male instructors, 6%).
"If you undertake guided dives, do you prefer male/female dive guides?"
No preference - 77%
Slightly or strongly preferred
a female - 12%
Slightly or strongly preferred a male - 6%
Didn't undertake guided dives - 5%
11% of male respondents preferred female dive guides (male guides, 5%); 9% of females preferred female guides (male guides, 8%).
"If you buy dive gear, do you prefer a male/female dive salesperson?"
No preference - 82%
Slightly or strongly preferred a male - 9%
Slightly or strongly preferred a female - 8%
Didn't normally buy dive gear - 1%
Male/female sub-group responses revealed relatively strong preferences for same-sex
sales advice. With female respondents, 20% preferred a female salesperson (male, 7%);
with males, 9% preferred a male salesperson (female, 5%).
"If you book a diving holiday, do you prefer doing so through a male/female dive travel agent?"
No preference - 86%
Slightly or strongly preferred a female - 8%
Didn't normally book diving holidays - 4%
Slightly or strongly preferred a male - 1%
"If you seek advice on diving in books, diving magazine or websites, do you value equally the advice given by male/female writers?"
Valued it equally - 88%
Slightly or strongly preferred a male - 6%
Slightly or strongly preferred a female - 3%
Didn't normally seek written advice - 3%
Male/female sub-group responses revealed a similar level of preference in both cases for advice from writers of each sub-group's own sex. 7% of males preferred advice from male writers (female writers, 1%); 8% of females preferred advice from female writers (male writers, 2%)
"If you teach diving to other people, do you find that male/female trainees are equally proficient at advancing their skills?"
Didn't normally teach diving - 50%
Male/females equally proficient - 30%
Females slightly or significantly better - 10%
Males slightly or significantly better - 9%
Male/female sub-group responses to this question revealed almost identical patterns regarding the relative capabilities of their own and the opposite sex. 10% of men thought female trainees were better, whereas another 10% of men thought males were better.
Similarly, 9% of women thought male trainees were better, whereas another 10% of women thought females were better.
Overall, 37% of men opted to submit a comment; for females, the figure was 33%.
Further analysis of the Women & Men in Sport Diving Survey will be available in a new book, Women & Pressure: Altitude and Diving, to be published next year.