UPDATE: Celebrity Cruises' first female CEO on hiring more women captains and bridge officers

03/11/18 01:39 PM EDT

By Jacob Passy

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo is the first woman to run a publicly-traded cruise line

When Lisa Lutoff-Perlo took the helm of Celebrity Cruises in December 2014, it was the culmination of a nearly three-decade voyage.

Lutoff-Perlo rose through the ranks at Celebrity's parent company, Royal Caribbean International (RCL), from a position in sales to become the first woman in charge of a cruise line publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Before joining Celebrity, Lutoff-Perlo served as executive vice president of operations for Royal Caribbean and guided the launch of the next generation of Royal Caribbean cruise ships, the Quantum class. Since joining Celebrity Cruises, she has overseen the development of the cruise line's new Edge class of vessels, which features staterooms with more expansive ocean views and innovative technological advancements.

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Beyond these professional accomplishments, Lutoff-Perlo has led a transformation of Celebrity's workforce. Under her watch, Celebrity named the industry's first-ever American female captain.

Celebrity has also partnered with the Regional Maritime University in Ghana to create the Celebrity Cadet Program, which will help West African women gain employment as bridge officers in the cruise industry. Through that program, Nicholine Tifuh Azirh became the first woman from West Africa to work as a bridge officer in the cruise industry.

MarketWatch spoke with Lutoff-Perlo to get her take on why gender diversity is critical in the workplace and how her perspective as a woman shapes her company.

MarketWatch: How does being the first woman to be in this role at a publicly-traded cruise line shape your perspective on what the role entails?

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo: The reason my bio points it out is because it's still so rare that there's a woman CEO running any company. And our industry has historically been run by men for a very long time. That is something that not only differentiates me relative to my gender, but also gives me the opportunity to be more than just a corporate CEO.

We all bring a unique perspective to the job we do and for me part of my ability to see things a little bit differently does relate to my gender. I bring a nuance and finesse to the ships we create. And I do attribute some of that to being a woman -- but not all of it, because there are men who design beautiful things. I just think in our industry I have a slight advantage in that regard.

MarketWatch: You rose through the ranks to your current position. Why is it important to hire women at all levels?

LLP: Balance is important in business. Women make up more than half the population, but are significantly under-represented in positions of power and influence. The balance has to be redrawn. Having men and women at the table makes for more better and more diverse conversations and solutions to business issues. Gender balance leads to more profitability and a better blend of experience. As a CEO, I feel it is my responsibility to create a balance that has never been achieved before in our industry.

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MarketWatch: What was the thought process behind the partnership with the training program in Ghana? Why is it important to provide training specifically for women so they can be employed in positions like those?

LLP: In order to hire women into positions that have historically been held by men, women need to want those positions, study and earn licenses for these positions and have the appropriate levels of training for these positions. That is why it's critically important.

As far as hiring maritime professionals from Ghana, I was both surprised and disappointed that the Maritime Academy in Ghana was not recognized by the international maritime organization, so we were unable to hire Ghanaians on our bridges. That is not right, so we set about changing that.

It just so happened, the first person we hired from the Ghana Maritime Academy was a woman, who is now still the only woman from Africa working on the bridge of a cruise ship. I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to pay it forward and when I run into a situation that discriminates in a way that makes no sense at all I have to use my power and influence to make a change.

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MarketWatch: What are your thoughts on wage parity between men and women? Do you think that having more women CEOs will lead to the wage gap closing further?

LLP: Having more female CEOs will help, but it is only a small piece of what is needed to close the wage gap. The World Economic Forum claims the gender gap won't close until 2186, but we are on our way. We have made big strides in the cruise industry, and at Celebrity, we have brought the male/female ratio on the bridge of our ships from 3% to 21% in just the last two years...and we are continuing to build.

MarketWatch: In many ways CEOs set the tone for their whole operation. So how do you feel your unique perspective as a woman CEO trickles down to your employees?

LLP: It doesn't just trickle down to Celebrity. I've been with the company for 33 years, and I've been back and forth between the two brands twice, so there are a lot of people at the Royal Caribbean brand who I've worked with. Everybody is looking for leaders who represent something they believe in. It gives them purpose. I think that has really helped the culture of our company as well.

(This interview was edited for style and space.)

-Jacob Passy; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com

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03-11-18 1339ET

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