The number of female captains in the global cruise ship industry stands at slightly less than 3%, but this figure is gradually increasing. Currently, women constitute 20% of the industry’s workforce, and their presence in officer roles ranges from 5% to 20%, depending on the cruise line.
Contrast this with a century ago when the only female presence aboard a ship would be in the form of a carved wooden figurehead. The industry has made significant progress over the years!
History of women in the cruise industry
During the 19th century, women were commonly believed to bring bad luck to sailors, leading to a prohibition on their presence onboard ships. This belief was perpetuated by mythical creatures like mermaids and sirens, often depicted in female form, who were thought to lure sailors towards their deaths.
Historically, ship officers predominantly came from Greece, Italy, England, and Norway, countries with rich maritime traditions and renowned maritime academies. However, until the last 25 years, these academies prohibited the enrolment of women.
A remarkable example of industry transformation can be observed in England. In the 1980s, women were not allowed to attend maritime academies, but today they account for 25% of cruise ship captains in the country.
The first woman who became a captain of a cruise ship was Karin Stahre-Janson from Sweden in 2007. She became in command of Royal Caribbean‘s Monarch of the Seas.
In 2015, Kate McCue made history as America’s first female cruise ship captain and also became the first woman to take charge of a “Mega Ship” when she assumed command of Celebrity Equinox. McCue furthers her accomplishments by taking command of Celebrity Edge, a ship designed by women and overseen by Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, the first female CEO of a cruise company.
Lutoff-Perlo has played a crucial role in promoting female participation in the industry and has fostered a partnership with Ghana’s Regional Maritime University to encourage more African women to pursue careers in the cruising industry. In 2017, RMU Cadet Nicholine Tifuh Azirh became the first West African woman to work on the bridge of a cruise ship.
Belinda Bennett made history as the world’s first black female cruise captain during her maiden voyage with MSY Wind Star in 2016.
In 2020, Serena Milani achieved a groundbreaking feat by becoming the first woman in the world to captain a new cruise ship at its launch with Regent Seven Seas. Milani was extensively involved with engineers and designers at Italy’s Ancona Shipyard, contributing to the finalisation of the Seven Seas Splendor before its inaugural voyage.
Virgin Voyages specifically encouraged the recruitment of women for leadership positions, particularly on the bridge, for their first ship, Scarlet Lady. Their dedicated initiative, the Scarlet Squad, aims to cultivate leadership roles in marine, technical, and hotel management positions aboard the ship.
Women Offshore is an organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting women working in the offshore and maritime industries. Recognising the unique challenges and opportunities faced by women in these traditionally male-dominated fields, Women Offshore provides a platform for networking, mentorship, and sharing of experiences. Through their initiatives, such as the Women Offshore Podcast and online community, they strive to empower and inspire women to pursue successful careers within the cruising industry. The organisation also advocates for diversity and inclusion in the industry, working towards creating a more balanced and equitable workforce. Women Offshore plays a vital role in fostering a supportive community and breaking barriers for women in offshore careers.
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