Cruise Industry Closes Gender, Diversity Gaps In Leading Roles

Cruise Week

This week the website of Mercer, a global consulting firm, features an article lamenting that organizations today are still far from achieving gender equality and moreover, are not hiring, promoting and retaining women at rates that would correct this imbalance anytime soon.

But, in the cruise industry it's a different story.

Carnival Cruise Line naming Christine Duffy as President is the latest example of the promotion of women to senior leadership roles on the supply side of the business. "I don't think it's lost on anybody in the industry that I'll be the 4th woman running a [large ship] cruise line brand for the industry," Duffy tells Cruise Week. "I'm really pleased to see that diversity because, frankly, when I started 4 years ago at CLIA I don't think there were any."

Since then, Princess (Jan Swartz), Crystal (Edie Rodriguez), Celebrity (Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) and now Carnival have named women Presidents. Lutoff-Perlo also has the CEO designation.

On the niche side, Diane Moore became President of Paul Gauguin Cruises in 2011. And, of course there have been women Presidents in the past, pioneers like Pamela Conover and the late Debbie Natansohn.

"That kind of diversity of leadership for the industry is really healthy and positive," says Duffy. "You have to congratulate the men who made those decisions."

RCI's Vicki Freed has had groundbreaking achievements in this regard, from becoming the Senior V.P. of Marketing & Sales at Carnival at a time when that type of role was unusual for women, to becoming the 1st and only female chairman of CLIA. She now heads up the largest sales force in the industry. Her perspective on the change: "I believe it is a sign of the time and that it has less to do with gender and more to do with no boundaries on who is the best qualified individual for the position."

Unlike some industries, Freed views cruising as being equal opportunity both in name and deed. "Having personally been given opportunities over the years, I have not felt that being a woman ever held me back," she says. "I think the talent of these 4 women being promoted to President has less to do with being a female and only has to do with being chosen because they are the best person for the job."

Inroads are being made not only on the gender side, but with ethnicity as well. In November, Orlando Ashford, an African American, was named President of Holland America Line. This appointment comes almost a year and a half after the naming of another African American, Arnold Donald as CEO of Carnival Corp, which owns Holland America.

How do such changes at the top strengthen the business?

"Diversity strengthens everything we do," replies Duffy. "The more perspectives that you can bring to the table I think the better. And you want to see leaders who reflect demographics. I think it's pretty neat as we break at the end of 2014 to see how far this industry has come in a very short time, really this year, in that regard."

Diversity comes in many forms. Seabourn President Richard Meadows was among those promoted by Carnival Corp. in the latter part of the year, now also holding the title of President, Cunard North America.

We asked Meadows, "Why are we seeing increasing diversity in the [leadership of] the cruise industry and does it have positive implications for the business moving forward?"

"The travel industry is anchored in bringing people together in powerful ways, an opportunity to share culture, history and perspectives," replied Meadows. "An appreciation of diversity in all of its facets helps us better deliver meaningful travel experiences."

Like Duffy and Freed, Meadows notes that the most qualified individual for a job, combined with diversity of thinking and perspective creates a winning combination for any organization today. "I’ve been a member of the LGBT community through my entire professional career and I value the perspective it has provided in various leadership roles, including my current one."

(will not be published)