The top women at Celebrity Cruises have one major thing in common: They’re both firsts.
Lisa Lutoff-Perlo is the first President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, a luxury cruise line owned by Royal Caribbean (RCL). Her on-sea counterpart, Capt. Kate McCue, is the first American woman to captain any mega-ship.
However, making a change in an industry that has long been dominated by men was no small feat. It wasn’t until Lutoff-Perlo entered the C-suite at Celebrity that the two could really diversify gender roles within the company.
“I had the opportunity to make a statement pretty quickly as the first woman president and CEO. I looked at the big gap that we had in our brand, we had no women captains and very few women on the bridge,” Lutoff-Perlo says during Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit. “I reached out to Kate and asked her if she’d like to join me on this journey, and she said yes. That’s how it all happened.”
McCue says that she knew she wanted to be on the sea from the time she was 12—after her family took their first cruise to the Bahamas in 1990.
Now, 26 years later, McCue manages a crew of about 1,000 on the cruise line’s Celebrity Summit, a 965-foot-long ship that travels to Bermuda, New England, Canada and the southern Caribbean. Two different divisions—marine and hotel—report directly to her, she explains, adding that she’s “theoretically like the [ship’s] CEO,” and “runs the vessel like a small business.” The ship carries nearly 3,000 passengers.
Lutoff-Perlo says she thinks gender diversity within the industry, but particularly within Celebrity, is beginning to “take hold.”
“New thinking, new leadership, commitment, and focus from both men and women in our industry is what’s needed to balance out gender on our side of the travel business.” Lutoff-Perlo says. “Kate was the first opportunity to make significant change at Celebrity related to gender equality.”