When she left her home in the remote Faroe Islands and took a temporary job as a stewardess on a cargo ship, Inger Klein Thorhauge wanted most to become a wife and mother. But life at sea held such an attraction that she worked her way up through the ranks to become a cruise ship captain for Cunard.
Thorhauge is part of a sea change at the top of the cruise industry, as women are smashing through the glass ceiling, bringing a new energy and new ways of thinking.
In days of yore, women actually were considered bad luck in the maritime world.
Today, Carnival Corporation has women in key leadership positions at all levels of the company that serves nearly 11 million cruise passengers annually. Women head three of the company's 10 brands – Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Fathom – and a woman runs Carnival Australia, representing the seven brands that operate in the region.
“The opportunities for women in the industry are the same as they are for men,” said Thorhauge, who has been a Cunard captain since 2010, starting on the Queen Victoria. “As long as you work hard and are dedicated, anyone can achieve anything.”
Next time you go on a cruise ship, there may be a woman at the helm.
People often are surprised when they meet her, said British Captain Sarah Breton, who was named the first female captain for P&O Cruises in 2010. Currently, she captains Fathom's 704-passenger Adonia.
“Particularly the women passengers often comment on how proud they are to have a female captain,” Breton said.
Other maritime women are also getting noticed, and applauded.
A young Italian woman, Francesca Dandriccio, a 3rd engineer, recently was recognized as Carnival Cruise Line's Leader of the Year. She's the first person from the engine department to ever receive the honor.
In nominating her, Dandriccio's male bosses noted both her “brilliant technical abilities” and her ease in interacting with crew and passengers.
“We are so proud of her,” said Christine Duffy, who herself broke barriers becoming the first-ever female president of Carnival Cruise Line, the flagship brand for Carnival Corporation. “There haven't been a lot of women in these roles and today you look at Carnival Corporation and there are.”
Duffy said women bring a new dimension to the leadership table.
“As women we do tend to have a different way of engaging. Studies have shown we tend to be more empathetic, more in touch with the human side,” Duffy said.
Women have risen through the ranks in other positions within Carnival Corporation, including in the traditionally male role of heading hotel operations.
Canadian Terri Cybuliak, hotel general manager on Princess Cruises' Golden Princess, said, “tenacity and resilience” were two traits she had to master in order to be promoted to the job. Being competitive also helped.
“I was constantly looking for new challenges and obstacles to overcome in order to prove my abilities,” Cybuliak said.
Among her mentors were two women hotel general managers and her father.
“My father also had a big influence in the commitment and dedication that drives me,” Cybuliak said. “He had a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility, which has continued to strengthen my character as I have developed my career.”
Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises since 2013, said increasing the role of women in leadership in the cruise industry makes particular sense when you consider that women typically drive travel purchases.
“Women are into travel as an experience that creates family memories,” Swartz said. “Most women want to create these experiences for their families, friends and loved ones and take great pride in planning trips – and more and more that includes cruises.”
Being part of a company where women lead brands and also serve around the world in leadership roles is “fun, exciting and encouraging,” said Tara Russell, president of the Fathom brand, which is pioneering the concept of social impact on a large scale.
“I think there's only more opportunity ahead as I look across the family of brands and the growth and vision of where we are headed corporately,” said Russell, who also heads global impact efforts for Carnival Corporation. “It's one of Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald's beliefs that when you bring different perspectives to the table, you ultimately get a better outcome. I think we're seeing that every day.”
The women heading the four brands have a sisterhood of sorts, Russell added.
Ann Sherry, executive chairman of Carnival Australia since 2007, and one of Australia's most influential businesswomen, has taken on the role of mentor. “I think it is incredibly helpful especially at the senior level to have a touch point for any questions that come up,” Sherry said.
“Women in leadership juggle many of the same things. Many of us have children, many of us have the same conflict factors any man does in addition to some others,” said Russell, who has turned to Sherry for advice. “I think it's been great and refreshing to have other women brand leaders to relate to and who empathize.”
Among other women executives at Carnival Corporation are Julia Brown who heads global procurement, and Marie McKenzie, who leads global destination services and sourcing.
A woman's touch applies at Carnival Corporation even in the male-dominated shipbuilding realm.
Alison Clixby, director of hotel design and projects for Carnival UK, which includes P&O Cruises UK and Cunard, has worked on shipbuilding for 25 years – most recently overseeing the “remastering” of Cunard's flagship Queen Mary 2.
She said she lucked into the job out of design school and quickly was hooked.
“I think it's about opportunity,” she said. “I was really lucky. I didn't know about it when I got my first job. But being in a building environment, a very sort of rough and ready dirty environment and creating is fascinating. I am now trying to mentor people to give them that opportunity.”
Carnival Cruise Line's Duffy said such mentoring is important as more women seek additional career opportunities within the cruise industry.
“It's about recognizing and developing talent and I see women as well as men very willing to do that for women,” Duffy said. “Remember, a lot of guys have daughters and wives.”