There has never been a better time to be a professional woman in the cruise industry, but the situation is still a long way off from full gender equality. This was expressed by maritime leaders attending the “Choose to Challenge: Increasing Opportunities for Women in Cruise Tourism” webinar on March 9.
“There are five female CEOs and presidents of major cruise lines and more in the river space. That was not the case over 20 years ago when I entered the industry,” said Diana Block-Garcia, senior vice president of Revenue, Sales, and Itinerary at Virgin Voyages. “So, definitely at the very top, we’re seeing a big difference.”
The General Manager at Antigua Cruise Port, Dona Lisel Regis Prosper, who started in the industry around the same time, confirmed the change.
“One of the areas that were very intriguing to me (21 years ago) was marine piloting, bringing in that ship and what the marine pilots would do. So, I asked the chief pilot when I could go out and experience it, not become a pilot, but just experience it. And his answer was, ‘I don’t think that is for a woman, you would not be able to climb the Jacob’s Ladder’,” she recalled.
“I believe that 21 years later, women are not only climbing that Jacob’s Ladder, but they’re bringing in that vessel. They’re captains, they’re CEOs, they’re presidents,” she added.
Among some of the issues women in the cruise industry – and the travel industry in general – still face are the pay gap and lack of women applying for marine technician jobs.
“The shipyard and the ship itself are traditionally a very male environment,” said Block-Garcia when talking about the efforts Virgin Voyages does to promote inclusivity.
One of Virgin’s focuses is to encourage women to take on more onboard jobs while ensuring a safe environment for them.
Data from the UN’s World Tourism Organization, cited by the Director General at the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, Joy Jibrilu, states that the pay gap between men and women in the tourism industry is 14.7 percent – lower than the workplace average of 23 percent.
“Is there a pay disparity?” Jibrilu asked. “Certainly, in the Bahamas, there is at an executive level. And it’s amazing how people still try to rationalize it.”
Jibrilu added, however, that the pay gap is more to do with the fact that women fear asking for bigger salaries.
“A lot of that is down to the fact that we just don’t know how to ask for what we know we are worth… And as women, I think that’s something that we’ve got to mentor in the next generation. How do we get them to be very clear, very focused in asking for what they know they deserve? This has nothing to do with gender, but it has to do with our worth,” she concluded.
Lisel Regis Prosper agreed with Jibrilu and added that women at work often get carried away looking after others. “We get lost in taking care of everybody else around us, and we neglect ourselves. And there is a saying, ‘a tired mind and a tired body bring tired ideas’,” she said.
Discriminative behavior toward women in the cruise industry has been observed by Block-Garcia.
“I did find that as a woman, you sometimes had to ask for things a little bit more, that might not have come naturally to you. In the more recent years, I’d say the last 10 years, do I think I even was aware of it. But I think that becomes true as you move up in organizations,” she said.
The General Manager at Nassau Cruise Port, Mike Maura, said he witnessed situations where women were looked down upon. “I have witnessed examples in the past, and I hate to bring age into it, but where I have been dealing with more elderly men that have – I can’t pretend to know what would have caused them to evolve the way they did – but the way in which they would interact with women of authority, there was a problem in that,” Maura said.
“I don’t know whether it was some kind of insecurity. But women who had worked very, very hard, who had attained a senior level of authority just trying to do their job would run into a blockhead every once in a while, with an older male, the ‘this woman isn’t going to tell me what to do’ kind of thing,” he added.
Among solutions to gender inequality in the cruise industry, education and leading by example were listed by the experts.
“We have to focus on women in leadership. We have to mentor, and we have to promote,” said Executive Director, Antigua & Barbuda Hotels & Tourism Association, Patrice Simon. “We talk about the stats, we say ‘women are doing great, yet we still have a lot of work to do.’ But we’re not showcasing that work. Without ensuring that the people who are listening to us – when we go out to the schools, wherever we are – those people completely understand that there’s a role at top levels for young girls and women in the tourism sector.”
Maura agreed with Simon.
“If you’re looking to create opportunities for women, in an extension of tourism business opportunities in the family islands in the Bahamas, I think (you need to do it) through education. So that the young women see the potential of being able to be their own captain of their own vessel of their own five boats, and to kind of break that old paradigm of, ‘you can handle the landside stuff and let the sons handle the water stuff’,” he said.
Block-Garcia highlighted the need for organizations to not look at women any differently than men during the hiring process.
“We need more organizations to take the approach that we are hiring the best person –regardless of what their gender is, what their race is – and they should be paid fairly for the work that they do,” she said.
Director of Operations at Nassau Cruise Port, Marques Williams, said that everybody in the organization can contribute to full inclusivity by treating female colleagues with respect.
“That trickles down to the rest to the environment because if I am speaking and finding extreme confidence in a female counterpart, or somebody I’m interacting with, others who see me are going to think, ‘I respect him and he respects her,’ so that that also transcends to them. It creates that atmosphere where people realize that there’s no difference,” Williams said.