As a little girl, I was captivated by the tales of the underwater world. I dreamed of becoming a diver, living in a water house and befriending dolphins and seals. Diving was an aspiration, similar to becoming a paleontologist or an astronaut. At 19, while studying finance in college, I took up diving as a summer activity, having long forgotten about my childhood dreams. Yet, three years later, I found myself as a PADI Instructor.

One day, it struck me – I was helping others learn to dive, possibly assisting them in achieving their childhood dreams. I was journeying to dive sites for my job. Unintentionally, I was living a variant of my dream. This epiphany propelled me to embrace my path fully, becoming more purposeful, and ultimately, this led me to co-manage and own a dive center.

My story is not unique, as there are numerous inspiring women pioneers in the diving world. I believe the experiences of female managers in the diving industry mirror those of women in other sectors. I also believe that being a role model for other women and encouraging them to become divers and dive professionals is rewarding. Join me as I delve into (a few of) the stories of female-led dive centers, inspiring more women to make their mark in this traditionally male-dominated industry.

Woman diver looking at the camera underwater
Image courtesy of Roatan Divers

What I Mean by ‘Male-Dominated Industry’

Approximately 35% of PADI Divers are women, according to recent statistics. This percentage has remained consistent, but with dedication, we are slowly moving the needle to make the dive industry more female-filled. While we don’t have specific data on female-led dive centers or owners/managers, we do know that just 20% of PADI Pros are women. Just like in many other industries, female diving professionals often find themselves in male-dominated environments. However, this doesn’t stop them from achieving incredible careers. Women in the diving industry are continually crafting their own inspiring stories of success.

Woman in diving suit smiling and making shaka sign
Image courtesy of Roatan Divers

Successful Female Dive Center Managers

Below, we’ll highlight six examples of women who have turned their passion for diving into thriving businesses, owning or managing PADI Dive Centers. These women hail from diverse cultural backgrounds, but they all stand as proof that women can, and do, excel in the scuba diving industry. They inspire the next generation and challenge gender stereotypes, thereby increasing the visibility and representation of women globally.

Roatan, Honduras: Fernanda Paiva and Danielle Abe

Roatan Divers is a female-led dive center with an impressive all-women management team. Fernanda Paiva, the General Manager and Course Director, is leading the way, alongside Suzanne Eggerding, Base Leader, and Danielle Abe, Sales Executive.

Paiva’s journey towards becoming a diving professional started in Maceio, Brazil, where she transformed a simple beach tent into the only PADI CDC in South America after 11 years of hard work. Motivated by her own experience of transitioning careers and becoming a dive instructor, Paiva became a PADI Course Director to help others achieve their own aspirations. With a focus on Instructor training, she sought opportunities abroad and decided to explore new horizons internationally. Paiva soon had this realization, “With the pandemic, I started to think it was time to realize new dreams. I wanted to work outside Brazil and start an international career.” Motivated by this, she began researching job openings in the Caribbean, which eventually led her to Roatan Divers.

Woman dive leader holding hands with a young diver underwater
Image courtesy of Roatan Divers

Abe, one of the Assistant Managers at Roatan Divers, vividly recalls the moment that forever changed her life’s trajectory. She shares, “That first breath altered the course of my life completely. Suddenly, a whole new world of possibilities opened up before me, one that didn’t conform to the conventional corporate job, white picket fence, and limited vacation time. My driving force became the pursuit of becoming a dive professional, and after four years, I was finally able to quit my job, debt-free, and venture to Honduras to pursue my long-awaited dream.”

During Abe’s Divemaster training, she was once told that she was too “girly” to pursue a career in diving. According to her, “It was implied that this was a weakness or a trait that would not be taken seriously. For a while, I struggled with this comment, but eventually, I embraced my femininity as the strength that it is. My softness creates a safe space for divers when they feel overwhelmed or frightened. My intuitiveness enables me to understand what’s happening beneath the surface with my students and how to meet their needs. And my creativity empowers me to solve problems in unique ways. You can love sparkles and lift tanks – they are not mutually exclusive!”

Abe advises aspiring women dive instructors to have faith in the timing of their journey, “With every step forward, they will be met with two more. And don’t hesitate to embrace pink as a brand color!”

Paiva affirms that the diving industry holds numerous opportunities for women, “As a woman, there are no limits to what you can achieve! Recently, I became a PADI Tec Deep Instructor, a field that is still male-dominated. However, we are witnessing an increasing number of women also in technical diving, cave diving, and professional training.”

3 women and a men laughing while wearing colorful hats and ties
Image courtesy of Roatan Divers

New Zealand: Sacha Williamson

Sacha Williamson, the founder of Freedive Aotearoa, started her diving career as a commercial diver. Despite her petite stature of 5 1/2 feet (1.7 meters), she thrived in that predominantly masculine domain from the age of 18. Her endeavors led her to diverse projects worldwide, including collaborations with the United Nations. Witnessing the devastation beneath the water fueled her determination to protect the ocean and amplify its message. With a significant career shift, she transitioned to become a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor.

However, Williamson didn’t stop there. She soon discovered a love of freediving. She told, “Balancing my love for freediving with the responsibilities of motherhood, I found myself in Bali with two young children, where I encountered inspiring individuals who welcomed me to stay, live, and work as a Freediver Instructor.”

Over the past decade, Williamson has steadily established a freediving school in her home country, New Zealand. Today, she proudly owns New Zealand’s first dedicated freediving training center and works with an all-women team of managers and instructors. Williamson adds, “We consider ourselves fortunate to be supported by industry leaders locally and worldwide, sharing their specialties and contributing to our position as industry leaders in New Zealand.”

When I asked Williamson about the challenges she faced as a woman, she replied, “‘As a woman’ was never the narrative that stuck in my head. My dad is an internationally recognized boat captain and commercial diver. The result is hard yakka. It’s who we are, and it’s just what we did.”

During Williamson’s upbringing, the focus was never placed on her gender within the industry. It was always about pursuing her passion and accomplishing goals, regardless of societal expectations. “Reflecting on those times, I now realize the powerful impact of that approach. It never occurred to me that being a woman could hinder or make me any different. We’re all just individuals working together to achieve our goals.”

Williamson believes, “Embracing a mindset of unity and treating everyone as equal contributors has played a pivotal role in my journey in the diving industry. It allowed me to thrive, break barriers, and pursue my passion without limitations. I aspire to inspire others to approach the industry with the same determination and belief in themselves, disregarding any self-imposed or external narratives. By fostering such an environment, we can create a space where everyone can excel and contribute their best to the diving world. Can’t we all be friends?”

Emma Andrews teaching in an IDC pool session
Image Courtesy of Crystal Divers Mauritius

Mauritius: Emma Andrews

The journey of co-owner and manager of Crystal Divers Mauritius, Emma Andrews, is not just one of professional achievement but also personal triumph. Andrews shares, “Having experienced a couple of near-drowning incidents when I was younger, I developed a fear of deep water. So, when traveling Southeast Asia in 2005, I decided to become a PADI Open Water Diver to conquer my fears. I had a great PADI Instructor who enabled me to experience, love, and appreciate the underwater world.” At a crossroads between corporate law and scuba diving, Andrews chose the path of her passion, deciding to fully immerse herself in the diving world post-law school. She progressed from PADI Divemaster to Instructor and finally fulfilled her dream of becoming a PADI Course Director in 2022. Alongside her husband and as a mother to three girls, Andrews established Crystal Divers Mauritius in 2018, bringing her career and personal life full circle on her native island.

Emma Andrews and her buddy diving with sidemount configuration
Image Courtesy of Crystal Divers Mauritius

Emma Andrews’ narrative highlights the adversity she faces as a woman in a predominantly male industry, compounded by the challenges of being a working mother. She recounts a poignant instance of gender bias when an Instructor suggested that the diving industry was no place for women with children. Yet, Andrews stands as a testament to perseverance, saying, “Yet here I am!” Her experiences have strengthened her resolve and fueled her desire to be a role model for other women, showing that prejudice should not deter one’s professional aspirations.

Andrews emphasizes the need for equality in professional training, “We run our professional training courses to an extremely high level across a level playing field,” rejecting any form of discrimination that could widen the gender gap. She underscores the essence of merit-based acknowledgment in the diving profession, where confidence and competence are paramount, irrespective of gender.

3 women in diving suits smiling to the camera in a diving boat
Image courtesy of Jom Adventure
Group photo of divers at the bow of a boat making OK sign
Image courtesy of Jom Adventure

Malaysia: Ardnese Shuhaimi

Jom Adventure is a female-led dive center, with two female managers named Ardnese Shuhaimi and Ain, and an additional female instructor, Wendy. Shuhaimi shares, “In 2017, I began my PADI Pro training in Malaysia. My passion continued to grow, and I wanted to inspire people, especially women, to feel confident and comfortable in their diving experiences. As time went on, we decided to establish our own dive centre, Jom Adventure.”

Despite being considered petite and often underestimated due to her size, Shuhaimi never gives up. She sets an example for her divers, showing them that size doesn’t matter. Shuhaimi has her unique way of helping divers overcome their fears and difficulties, and it brings her joy to see them regain their confidence. According to Shuhaimi, becoming a PADI Divemaster has brought more women divers into her life. “I am dedicated to continuing to encourage women to pursue diving and strive for improvement. Most importantly, I want them to feel at ease both underwater and on land when diving with us.”

Shuhaimi believes that opportunities shouldn’t be limited depending on gender. She reminds us, “Embrace challenges as opportunities to overcome them. With hard work, anything is possible, and it’s important to remember that success should never come at the expense of others. Let’s strive for greatness while lifting each other up.”

Diver taking a selfie at the surface
Image Courtesy of Anemon Divers

Turkey: Hülya Doğan

The owner of Anemon Divers, Hülya Doğan, remembers her first scuba class, “All of my instructors, course directors, and even the students in my class were male. After my first dive, I decided to become an Instructor and pursue my passion, aiming to be a successful female Instructor and diver.”

Encountering gender biases, Doğan faced challenges breaking into the industry and working at five-star hotels. “Many believed this job was only for men. I struggled to get hired by dive centers at five-star hotels, as they predominantly had male Instructors who doubted me initially,” she revealed, shedding light on the hurdles women often face in many professions. Despite these obstacles, Doğan’s perseverance showcased her resilient spirit. She eventually earned recognition for her skills and expertise.

Doğan’s journey reflects her profound advice to female divers navigating against the current. “Believe in yourself! Don’t hesitate to pursue your passion for the oceans! Initially, you may encounter a preference for male Instructors, but don’t give up! Once they witness your professionalism, dedication to safety, and managerial expertise, you will gain more respect than men in the field over time,” she explains. Her journey symbolizes triumph and inspires women divers to forge their paths in the diving industry.

Hülya Doğan
Image Courtesy of Anemon Divers
Hülya Doğan
Image Courtesy of Anemon Divers

The presence of female PADI Instructors and PADI Dive Centers run by women is an invaluable inspiration for young women aspiring to teach diving. To increase the representation of women and challenge the stereotype of diving being an activity primarily for older men, we need more female PADI Professionals. They demonstrate that women can thrive in this profession. So, if you or the women and girls in your life, dream of a career in diving, consider becoming a PADI Pro and embarking on this journey with our PADI Divemaster course. Together, let’s dive into a world full of possibilities.

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