Pushing diversity from the top

Diversity, whether through gender, race or class is a topic under a lot of scrutiny both in society and the maritime industry. One of shipping's role models for women is Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. Samantha Fisk asked her about her take on bringing diversity to the maritime industry.

Lisa  Lutoff-Perlo describes her career to being top boss at Celebrity Cruises as being somewhat slow and meandering. But it is her experiences on the way that she thinks can help other women in their careers in the cruise and shipping sectors, and make sure diversity remains a key topic to be addressed.

“I’m passionate about this topic,” she says. Being a woman and holding such a high-profile role in the maritime industry isn’t the norm for the industry, but she hopes that this will change. She explains about her own influence in the industry to date that women can make a lot of difference “by just doing what you do”.

Nicholine's story

Lutoff-Perlo highlights one of the pinnacle moments in her career, in 2016 at a conference at the Florida International University (FIU), where she met with a student called Nicholine from the Ghana Maritime Academy (GMA). Nicholine gave an impassioned story to Lutoff-Perlo about the rejections and negative mindsets that she had encountered along her career path and how her dream was to work in the cruise ship industry.

Lutoff-Perlo’s response, she also notes about her passion for making dreams come true, was to speak to a fellow colleague to say “we have to employ her. We have to make her dream come true.” In 2017 Nicholine was employed by Celebrity Cruises as a cadet on the vessel Celebrity Equinox. 

However, this story wasn’t just a ‘good news’ story for Nicholine but also saw further action to help create better career paths for others like Nicholine. Lutoff-Perlo took to looking at the academy where Nicholine had originally attended and saw that it was not accredited. She took steps working with the academy and authorities such as the IMO to get the academy recognised and accredited to help the students that attended it.

Diversity agnostic technology

Lutoff-Perlo notes that in today’s world of social media it is easier to promote women in the industry. Celebrity Equinox, the vessel that Nicholine went to work on, is captained by a woman – Kate McCue – who is also known as ‘Captain Kate’ from her Instagram profile @captainkatemccue. She also adds that there are other women crew working for Celebrity Cruises that are using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which is helping other women see what it’s like to have a career at sea, particularly the cruise sector. 

But as for systems and hardwre onboard vessels there still needs to be more done to help women take more non-traditional roles at sea, particularly in engineering roles.

 “If you come in as a navigator on one of our bridges then you will see they are all digital.,” says Lutoff-Perlo who points to the obvious fact that the skilsets of both men and women ae the same and both can have the same training and capabilities to become competent navigators and watchkeepers,but below the waterline in the engine room there are still challenges. “We’ve done a good job in nautical [bridge systems], but not so good in the engine room and we are now focusing on this.”

Walk the talk

The maritime industry is taking steps to become more diverse with more programmes being started to help promote women at sea. Lutoff-Perlo notes that she is seeing other colleagues at other cruise companies starting to have these conversations but adds that: “You can’t say you have it, you have to live it as well”, which is what she believes Celebrity Cruises is currently doing.

Through its own strategies Celebrity Cruises looks to open up opportunities for people to enter the maritime sector by recruiting from academies and also looking to other non-traditional recruitment avenues that are outside of the industry. Lutoff-Perlo comments about getting more diversity into the industry and opening up more job roles that: “the opportunities needs to exist, and we need to be opening the doors for these.”

For Lutoff-Perlo gender has never crossed her mind when she has been chosen for job roles in her career, “I believed that I was the best person for the job.” She explains from her own experience that its been about “how you assimilate into the roles and adapt to them”.

She notes that there has been challenges to overcome where fellow colleagues have been sceptical because of her career background, but comments that: “you have to use a different set of skills and realise that you were selected and persuade them why you have been chosen for that role. You don’t need to be a captain or an engineer.”

She notes that there have been times where she has felt that isolation that other women have also expressed feeling and some that have not accepted her in her role. This has been a key influence for Lutoff-Perlo where she highlights that “you make the journey easier for others” adding that if you don’t have enough people to support your cause, you won’t succeed in creating the right culture.


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