Why Below Deck Needs More Diversity

Tumi Mhlongo
Charles Sykes/Bravo via Getty Images

Discrimination, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, is a well-known problem found throughout the yachting industry. The topic has been discussed often by various crew members on Below Deck. This industry-wide lack of diverse hiring has bled into Bravo‘s hit nautical franchise, as without experience, getting cast on this series can be difficult. But if you can’t gain employment simply because of the skin you were born into, then you cannot gain the needed experience to even be cast on this show.

This circular problem is a real one. To their credit, Bravo has actually improved greatly with their casting since the show’s inception in 2013. Currently, multiple women, crew members of color, and LGBTQIA yachties are stepping onboard. But is it enough?

Honestly, we think that Below Deck, and the industry as a whole, still has a lot of work to do when it comes to diversity on the high seas. Here’s why.

Below Deck Is a Reflection of the Industry


Lloyd Spencer broke down on Below Deck Mediterranean Season 6. Simply because of his sexual orientation, his former Captain treated him poorly. Watching his crew rally around him was beautiful. Just as Lloyd has experienced, discrimination definitely exists in the yachting industry, but luckily, people are starting to speak up.

Sheila Ruffin, a black entrepreneur aware of the lack of diversity in the yachting industry, spoke to Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “I get a lot of Black yachties that come to me asking me for advice, and I have faced discrimination in the industry. I think Below Deck actually reflects the industry, as out of all of those seasons for them to only have four people of color, to me really reflects what the yachting industry does in real life.”

What is happening in this industry is definitely being reflected in the series. This is why we hope Bravo continues to cast outside of the traditional norms, further diversifying their series. If Bravo can help to break stereotypes on what a yachtie “should be,” then perhaps changes across the entire industry might follow.

Captain Sandy Yawn Spoke Out

Captain Sandy Yawn/Instagram

Below Deck Mediterranean has a woman in the wheelhouse with Captain Sandy Yawn, but even she has gone on the record by stating that “there is no diversity in yachting.” Captain Sandy explained that not only does the industry lack opportunities for people of color, but also for women. This is likely why she is always pushing so hard for her female crew members to rise up within this antiquated industry.

To date, this series has seen multiple Captains. Besides Captain Sandy, the others have all been white men. We can completely understand Captain Sandy’s frustrations. Hopefully, Below Deck will work harder to diversify their wheelhouse(s).

Simone Mashile Spoke Out

Simone Mashile/Instagram

While Simone Mashile only experienced toxic masculinity on Below Deck Season 7, not racism, she still has thoughts. “It is truly mostly a homogenous industry. I feel that people who aren’t Caucasian or have a certain look of like blond hair, blue eyes, which is incredibly favored, by the way, just don’t get equal opportunities,” she explained in the same interview as Sheila.

In a since-deleted comment on one of Simone’s older posts, she received heat from a viewer over her statement. This person wrote that they would never hire Simone, but their reason given was that they found her performance lacking on Below Deck. They further stressed “there is a lack of diversity in many industries for POC. I made it very far in my career as a person of color, and I think that this narrative has to stop being created.”

In her since-expired Instagram stories, Simone quickly clapped back. “As a person of colour I would NEVER want to work under you either,” she began, adding, “You sound like ‘racism only exists if you talk about it’ or ‘why are black people always pulling the race card.’ You honestly have some NERVE trying to come onto my page and try to SILENCE me for speaking the truth for the experience that so many of us POC have experienced in this industry.”

We have to listen when marginalized people speak. On this, we stand with Simone, and we hope that Below Deck continues to diversify their interior and exterior departments.

Below Deck Can Help Break Long-Standing Barriers

Tumi Mhlongo/Instagram

When it comes to who should and who shouldn’t be hired, Below Deck is actually helping to break the yachting industry’s long-standing barriers. Tumi Mhlongo will soon star as the first Chief Stew of color on Below Deck Mediterranean Season 9. Likewise on Below Deck Season 10, Fraser Olender was hired as the first gay male Chief Stew.

In seasons past, Malia White appeared as a female Bosun. In addition, one of the most beloved deckhands is the South African native Mzi Dempers. These castings all featured hard-working crew members who excelled in their positions.

We need more of these types of hires on our screens. If a child who falls into any of these marginalized categories sees themselves in a cast member on their screen, then perhaps one day, they too will enter into this field. Basically, representation matters, so Below Deck needs to continue to step up their game.