Sailing through gender barriers

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There was a time when, in the long list of sailors’ superstitions, having a woman on a ship was believed to be very bad luck. The exception was a woman en déshabillé because her shamelessness itself was said to shame the seas into calm.

“Yeah, that’s absolutely true,” Capt. Patrik Dahlgren says with a chuckle. As vice president of Marine Operations for Celebrity Cruises and fleet optimization for all RCL brands, Dahlgren’s on a personal mission that debunks the superstition in a big way.

It began in 2009 when he was the captain of Navigator of the Seas and the only man on its bridge, including the staff captain.

“That has been kind of my vision since I started,” he recalls. Dahlgren set a goal when he began working with Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, who was appointed Celebrity Cruises’ president and CEO at the end of 2014 – to see females as 20 percent of the line’s nautical bridge officers within a year. “We accomplished that goal at 11 months,” he says, up dramatically from four percent the year before.

“Also I’m kind of a huge fan of the SDG 17, the sustainability development goals that were signed in Paris in 2015,” he adds, referring to the United Nations’ initiative “to transform our world.”

Goal 5, achieving gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls, “is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world,” according to the initiative’s website.

With all crew across the maritime sector now 98 percent male, Dahlgren says,

“No doubt we’re the leader.”

And there’s a bonus:

“When you increase the amount of females on the bridge, you can actually see the performance of the ship improving overall,” Dahlgren says. “We have KPIs [key performance indicators] for lots of items on board and we can see a trend upwards.”

Now working on setting the next goal, Dahlgren says the focus will not be just on gender equality but also overall diversity, and he’s looking at an often-neglected source: Africa.

“I think it serves everybody’s interest to figure out how we get them part of our journey,” Dahlgren says.

Working with the World Maritime University in Malmö, Sweden, he adds that efforts are getting very close to securing African students for Celebrity’s diversity program – announcement and details to come.

Meanwhile, Celebrity continues to recruit more women, working with schools in both the United States and Europe. To accomplish more gender equality, the upscale cruiseline is excluding male hires for a short time.

It’s necessary for shaking up the mix, and that kind of shakeup produces demonstrable results, not just a showpiece used to tout Celebrity as a forward-thinking, do-the-right-thing kind of company.

“I think how the world works is that when you include different perspectives, the more perspectives you have and the more ideas you have,” Dahlgren says. “Creating an atmosphere where people have an opportunity to share more ideas and experiences, you create a better kind of atmosphere.”