How Celebrity is bridging the gap in the cruise industry

Celebrity Cruises’ Lisa Lutoff-Perlo discusses her mission for inclusion and diversity in the cruise industry with Allan Jordan

How Celebrity is bridging the gap in the cruise industry
A quarter of Celebrity Cruises’ navigation officers are now female (Image: Celebrity Cruises)

Historically, the commercial shipping sector has been a male-dominated environment. In the cruise industry, women were mostly employed in the hotel department, but this is gradually starting to change.

In celebration of the International Women’s Day in March 2020, Celebrity Cruises’ revolutionary ship, Celebrity Edge, will become the first cruise ship to sail with an entirely female staff on the bridge and in the senior positions. “It says a lot about us as a company and how far we have come with efforts of diversity and inclusion that we can do this,” says Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises.

Leading Celebrity since 2014, Lutoff-Perlo has been on a mission to transform the workforce. In her own career, she pioneered new ground, including becoming executive vice president of operations at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in 2012, where she managed nautical and technical operations for a fleet of 22 cruise ships with more than 35,000 employees. Today, she is a role model of senior female executives at large corporations, actively speaking, interviewing and writing to promote inclusion and diversity.

Among Lutoff-Perlo’s first initiatives at Celebrity was appointing the industry’s first American female captain, which happened in 2015. Over the subsequent 18 months, Celebrity took the percentage of women on its bridges from five to 20, but Lutoff-Perlo was still moved when she met a young woman from Cameroon in 2016. After having graduated from a maritime college in Ghana, Nicholine Tifuh-Azirh had encountered bias preventing her from pursuing her dream of a maritime career.

“Nicholine was a determined young woman and she was not going to let me get away without hearing her story,” recalls Lutoff-Perlo. Moved by the story, she set Celebrity’s marine department on a mission. “It took a year working with the International Maritime Organization and Malta, our flag state, to get approval.”

In August 2017, Tifuh-Azirh became the first cadet on Celebrity Equinox from a new programme with the maritime academy in Ghana. Today, she sails as second officer along with several other African women who are also pursuing maritime careers with Celebrity.

Celebrity Edge’s March cruise will be a symbolic moment and another example of the philosophy that is guiding the brand. Celebrity has also used the christening events for its newest ships to champion its message. It was honoured in 2018 when Noble Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai became godmother of Celebrity Edge. Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of the international nonprofit Girls Who Code, will fill the same role for Celebrity Apex when she debuts in March 2020.

Lutoff-Perlo points to research that shows diverse cultures are the strongest in business and produce the best results, but she gets her strongest satisfaction hearing from the officers, crew, and guests who all stop to thank her and express their appreciation. Celebrity’s marine department and human resources teams continue to actively work with maritime academies developing internships and recruiting. “It is something we are working at each day to attract qualified young women and to encourage them to enter this as a field of study,” she says.

Today about 25% of Celebrity’s navigation officers are female, but Lutoff-Perlo is not content to rest on her laurels. “The marine department has finally caught up with the hotel department, but it will be an ongoing process,” she says. “Believe it or not, it has been even harder for us to find women from engineering schools.”

Lutoff-Perlo believes this mirrors the trend seen in other technical professions that women have not traditionally been encouraged to pursue, such as computer coding. Celebrity, however, recently hired three women from engineering schools to be its first cadets.

Humble in her success at increasing diversity and inclusion in the cruise industry, Lutoff-Perlo says she has no specific goals but remains dedicated to making sure women have equal opportunities. Most of all, she is proud of her team’s welcoming spirit and accomplishments in providing equal opportunities for advancement for women in what was once a male-dominated world.

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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By Allan Jordan
10 April 2020

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