How I worked my way to the top in the 200-year-old, male-dominated cruise industry–and brought other women on board

 During my tenure as president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, I had an unforgettable experience during a cruise along the spice route in the Middle East and India. As I disembarked in Mumbai for a city tour, the tour guide was surprised to learn that I, the CEO, was a woman. This encounter was just one of many moments where my gender in a leadership role took others by surprise.

Having started at the company as a sales representative 30 years prior, I recognized the gender imbalance within the cruise industry, particularly in key operational and leadership roles on board ships. When I assumed the role of president and CEO, I understood the potential impact I could have in driving meaningful change.

Despite initially downplaying the significance of my gender, I eventually recognized the opportunity to leverage it for positive change. My decision to appoint Captain Kate McCue, the first American woman to lead a mega cruise ship, was a pivotal part of this effort. Collaborating with supportive colleagues, I worked methodically to increase the representation of women on our bridges from 3% to 33% over nine years, well above the industry average.

Through these efforts, I aimed to inspire not only women but also the men within our organization, showing them that their daughters could pursue similar career paths. Progress was evident, illustrated by moments such as a three-year-old girl dressed in a captain's uniform on the bridge of a Celebrity cruise ship, a sight that was previously unimaginable.

Reflecting on my career, I take pride in the many "firsts" I achieved, including the transformation of our brand, financial performance, and the promotion of gender equality. I have come to appreciate the power of my gender as a force for good, benefiting not only gender equality but also the business as a whole.

The memory of the Mumbai tour guide's request for my business card as inspiration for her daughter continues to motivate me. It serves as a reminder that we can all aspire to be whatever we want to be, as long as we continue to effect positive change wherever we are.  

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