The Art of Inclusion: Scherezade Garcia, visual artist

Scherezade Garcia was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, into an artistic, socially and politically aware family. It’s easy to see that they inspired the art of inclusion she practices.

Her family nurtured her natural talents and encouraged her to experience a world full of diversity in race, languages, ideologies, and beliefs – all of which are connected by a rich and sometimes ignored history that becomes an integral part of her multi-layered art and the stories she tells.

The interdisciplinary artist is based in New York City. She sits on the Advisory Board of No Longer Empty, an organization dedicated to curating site-responsive pieces that encourage conversations within communities and create unique and inclusive platforms for upcoming New York artists. García also co-founded the Dominican York Proyecto Gráfica, a printmaking collective involving 12 artists of Dominican descent. In New York she’s represented by Praxis Art Gallery.

Scherezade Garcia has consistently strived to defy the norms and address the contradictions of a world that is full of them, as well as the many experiences we share. She approaches them through a lens that brings focus to history, religion, migration in search of “a new land” and a better life. Her pieces are intricate stories that layer medium, that aim to encourage dialogue and, more importantly, inspire action and resistance.

This year, the Red Shoe Movement commissioned her the limited-edition collection of 20/20 Bells that the company features in its Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas initiative.

Scherezade Garcia and the collection of bells commissioned for the Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas. A great example of the art of inclusion.

Scherezade Garcia and the collection of bells commissioned for the Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas. A great example of the art of inclusion.

Aline Cerdán – Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started as an artist? What was your family’s role in your journey to finding a multi-cultural voice?

Scherezade Garcia – I like to say that I come from my childhood, and indeed I do! I was born into a family where storytelling, music, visual art and political awareness were important. Many early memories are connected to our visits to exhibitions, to the theater, and to explore our country. We used to go on road trips to see the country and visit famous historical sites. The conversations about the natives (Tainos,) the Spaniards (Criollos,) the Africans, the French, and the English, our relationship to our sister nation Haiti, and the USA occupations were part of our conversations. It helped me shape my sense of the Caribbean. It unveiled to me the complexity of being from this side of the “Atlantico.”  I was always drawing, and my mother registered me in art classes, then my sister joined me. Many of my Dominican artists’ friends attended those classes as well.

I also had the opportunity of traveling to the USA and Europe at a young age, and those experiences fascinated me! Without realizing at the time, I was curious, outraged, and intrigued (all at once) by our world. It is that collective experience that we all share, the richness of different points of view, the fantastic possibility to experience new flavors, to understand that we are somehow all connected, helped to established in me the importance of family, and then a broader community.

For Scherezade Garcia de Atlantic has a special meaning

For Scherezade Garcia de Atlantic has a special meaning

Scherezade Garcia, book author

AC – Tell us a little about ’Scherezade García: From This Side of the Atlantic’ and what it was like to exhibit your work with your sister iliana emilia.

SG – The books “Scherezade Garcia: From This Side of the Atlantic” and “iliana emilia: The Reason, The Object, The Word,” both edited by Olga U. Herrera, accompany our mid-career survey exhibition “Visual Memory: Home + Place.” The books are about our artistic trajectory, and the chronologies, interviews, and essays portrait our creative lives from a young age to now. The title of my book conveys my fascination with the history of Las Americas. I am fascinated with the experience of Las Americas and the crossing of the Atlantic. My work intends to unveil the many ongoing cultural encounters that continually shape, reshape how we view, perceive, and color Las Americas.

 

My sister and I shared our family, our upbringing, and our values. We usually don’t collaborate, but since we were young, we were always a team. My mother always celebrated our differences, and that was very effective for the success of our sisterhood team!! We overlap in many interests, but the way we interpret, represent, and relate to our world is different. That’s our forte! It is a smooth sail to work with my sister because we complement each other, and we don’t even have to discuss it, it is an organic process. I usually note that she approaches her work from the inside, the personal, intimate; while I approach it through a collective lens.

AC –You’ve talked about a balance between old times and new, how often do you find history repeating itself while working on something new? Are we learning from our past?

SG –As an artist, I aspire to beauty and truth. Such search takes me to a territory “in-between”, searching for balance, and far away from “absolute truth.” I wish I could say with confidence that we learn from the past; the events of our current state of affairs scream about our lack of respect for the history that we all share.

AC – Your work is inclusive, multi-layered and often interdisciplinary, can you tell us how that’s a reflection of your personal history and why layers are important in your pieces?  

SG – As a Caribbean woman, I intrigued and enamored by the many colors residing in my skin, and the presence of many communities coming afloat in my language. It is a landscape of extremes, nothing speaks of balance in the multifarious outcome of this “new land,” the consequences of so many encounters. I see it as totally minimalist or baroque. I approach it in a neo-baroque voice. My neo-baroque view is that more is more, and everything goes. I can be super optimistic and super pessimistic at once. Faith and divinity are also part of the recipe.

Scherezade Garcia inspirational quote

Scherezade Garcia is a key contributor to the action inspired by the RSM 20/20 collection of bells she painted

The art of inclusion

AC – You’ve described the cinnamon shade as an “action of inclusion”, can you tell us about the use of this mix of colors and the importance of the art of inclusion?

SG –The cinnamon figure is a constant in my work since 1996. Mixing all the colors in a palette is an inclusive action, the outcome of such activity is cinnamon color. The new race represented by my ever-present cinnamon figure states the creation of a new aesthetic where “our/everybody’s” history is told. It is all about collective memory, a narrative of union!

AC –Pink has also been used in past pieces to defy color-gender norms and the concepts it has been associated with, what are some other ways in which gender inclusion is showcased in you work?

SG – I like to defy norms by creating visual narratives imbedded in contradiction, for example, I created my oversized pink life vests, challenging the given fragility/sweetness/ of no consequence/girlie of the color pink, to engage in a conversation of survival, migration, of people crossing the sea in search of a better life. What it seems, it is not what it is.

AC –Can you tell us a little about the work you’ve done with Red Shoe Movement for Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas? We know you were commissioned to turn this musical instrument into a work of art and you created a painting called Chromatic Current as part of your Liquid Highway Series.

SG – The sea is the liquid highway and the keeper of our ancestral memory. It carries our stories, our DNA, our memories, and our history. The sea is always in motion carrying every community’s roots. With this project, through painting the bells and dressing them up of sea, I aim to imply the universal connection, the community called by the sound of the bell, and the fluidity of our identities and lives.

AC –You seem determined to tear down barriers; blend lines between countries, race, ideologies, gender, religion, language, aesthetic planes and artistic styles. Do you think art has a responsibility to create conversations?

SG – If artists are the voices of our times, we have the responsibility to provoke thought, engage in conversation and inspire action. It is the most powerful and effective way of resistance.

AC –What was the inspiration behind your installation ‘Liquid Highway’? What it is about water that’s as vital as the land it surrounds?

SG – The Atlantic, this blue liquid road and profound obstacle provokes my imagination. The blue sea represents the way out and the frontier. It maps stories about freedom, slavery and survival; it carries our DNA and it’s an endless source of stories, evolving continuously, reminding us of the fluidity of our identity, our collective memory. Resistance through beauty and joy.

Scherezade Garcia created Chromatic Current as part of her Liquid Highway series

Scherezade Garcia created Chromatic Current as part of her Liquid Highway series

Staying Creative During Challenging Times

Elaine Del Valle is a true renaissance woman. The award-winning writer, actor, director, casting director, producer and philanthropist has done a little bit of everything and spoke to us about staying creative during challenging times and what it took to get where she is.

Elaine realized early in the game that if she wanted to see real Latino stories out there, ones she could connect with, she would have to tell them herself. This realization has since led her down a prolific path where, it seems, she’s determined to create as much as she can.

Her one-woman-show “Brownsville Bred” received several awards even before an incredibly successful off-Broadway run in the summer of 2011. The stage play was later on adapted into a young adult novel called “Brownsville Bred: Dreaming Out Loud,” released in early 2020 and available most places where books are sold.

Del Valle’s work can be found all over the place, though. You can watch her movie “Me 3.769” on HBO, and some of her earlier work, like “Final Decision” and “Reasons Y I’m Single” are available through Amazon Prime. Elaine has allowed her personal beliefs to inspire and inform projects the world can connect with and has found  her voice in a simple but powerful concept: Stay True to Yourself.

We had a chat with the multitalented Latina and talked about her creative journey, the things she’s been reading, watching and listening to these days, and some tips and thoughts on staying creative during these challenging times.

Elaine del Valle Director in action

Elaine del Valle Director in action

 

From Actress to Renaissance Woman

Aline Cerdán – It seems like you’ve done a little bit of everything, can you tell us about how you got started on your creative journey?

Elaine Del Valle – I began my career as an actress. I studied acting for many years but found myself pigeon-holed as a commercial actress. While I was having some great success in the commercial and voice over markets, I felt like my craft was not being fully exercised outside of my professional scene study classes. I began writing material to present to class and ended up writing what would soon become an awarded, off-Broadway stage play.

“Brownsville Bred” was my true coming of age story and depicted my life as a Latina growing up in the crime capital of NY, Brownsville, Brooklyn. The play really changed my life and made me realize that if I want to see real Latino stories reflected in art, then I really had to be a part of creating them. The play also increased my visibility and allowed people to understand the real me – it also got me job offers in front of and behind the camera.

AC – Do you feel at home dabbling with it all professionally, or is there something that feels closer to your heart?

EDV – I love every aspect of creation, whether that be creating a character or weaving a cast of characters together for a project. That said, the most fulfilling role I have taken on is as a director. I love informing the story by way of camera angles and working with actors to achieve their best performances. I am able to speak to them in actor lingo and really get the performances I want.

Rosemary Rodriguez is another one of the few female directors in Hollywood!
Brownsville Bread by Elaine Del Valle

Brownsville Bread by Elaine Del Valle

To-Do Lists and Turning Hardship into Art

AC – What do you feel have been some of the hardest aspects of staying creative during challenging times?

EDV – When the quarantine first came, it didn’t really pose a big change in my life… for the most part. I am always at my computer writing, casting or producing. Knowing that the quarantine would be long I decided to make a very long “to do” list of things that I’d been putting off. I have long been using a “list” method to accomplish tasks. There’s something about crossing things off that list that makes me feel like I have achieved something.

My father died when I was a teenager and so I have never taken time for granted. I always want to make the most of my time…and that doesn’t have to mean being creative. Sometimes I work on just the business side of things. I work best when I am multi-tasking and plowing through a tough workload. I am a “by the seat of my pants” creative and so when I get creative, I dive deep and don’t come up for air until I am done. I wrote my play in three months, and I adapted my book in about the same time. I finished my first procedural drama in three days and wrote my first film in an airplane ride.

I don’t put pressure on myself to stay creative because I find inspiration everywhere. Also, I pride myself on having put in the work to develop my various crafts, which  allows me to turn to craft when I am feeling outside of my creative zone.

Want to unleash your creativity? Say yes to change!
Elaine del Valle Director teaches us about staying creative in challenging times

Elaine del Valle Director teaches us about staying creative in challenging times

Staying Creative During Challenging Times

AC – You’ve turned a tough childhood into a novel and a play, can you tell us about the creative process when the material you are using is autobiographical?

EDV – It’s wonderful to lean into the facts and honest examination of the people you know and love. It has been my ultimate joy to represent my loved ones in a way that makes others come to love them, regardless of their flaws. I began my writing by depicting my milestones. Every individual has milestones and those are the things that truly shape us. I have found that people from all backgrounds can somehow all relate to milestones universally.

My process for writing the play came easily because at the time that I wrote it, I was immersed in professional scene study classes at Carnegie Hall under the tutelage of the legendary Wynn Handman. I understood scenes and what made them powerful. I had fertile ground at Wynn Handman Studios and a safety net of trusted and respected actors that made me feel safe. I owe lots to my class and my teacher.

The book was something I had to learn to write. I immersed myself in YA (Young Adult) novels and would circle moments that made me laugh and cry and wonder. I devoured books and it got me into a mode that I was also able to dive into. I adapt easily and pivot to use all of my talents and crafts in whatever I am working on. I also studied through Sundance Collab where I practiced ways of free writing to bring the material beyond where I’d first imagined, and to trust my instincts.

AC – Do you think that the challenging times we’re currently going through could actually become a source of creativity?

EDV – Necessity is the mother of invention and I think we are currently witnessing many creatives working together, and apart, outside of their comfort zones to continue to deliver entertainment. Artists must create. It is a deep need inside of them. An art teacher once asked, “Why do we paint?” the answer was “to prove we exist!” That is a deep need behind the work, and nothing can stifle that desire.

My advice to anyone who is not feeling creative is to go out and learn something new. Read a book. Read many books, take on-line classes. Participate in the webinars and creative livestreams that are keeping raw art and learning still available to anyone who wants it.

AC – What do you think is the role of the arts and the importance of staying creative during challenging times?

EDV – Art always reflects life and the role of art will emerge from the artists creating it and the audiences taking it in. It always has and it always will. We reflect and we create, then we reflect on what we have created, and we evolve. People ask me how I choose what I work on next. Is there a foolproof recipe to getting a film sold or hot on the festival circuit? I always answer that the only person who has to really and truly like it is the artists themselves, because it is surely their passion that will bring it to the finish line and nothing else should matter than being true to yourself. The more specific a story, the more universal its reach.

I always create based on my core beliefs. In “Brownsville Bred”, both the play and the novel, my belief was that if you knew them, then you too would have loved my father and mother and even found value in living in a place like Brownsville. That hope and how you can’t judge a person’s worth based on economics exists everywhere.

“Final Decision” (Amazon Prime) is based on my belief that when our loved ones die, they are still with us, guiding us. “Me 3.769” (HBO) on my belief that females will and are overcoming their fears for the sake of helping the future generation and that there is deep power in “telling secrets” that you never wanted to. In “Princess Cut”, my latest project, my belief is that we all can find common ground. And how many can and do get away with their indiscretions because of money.

Work from your core belief and the work will hit home to many, even those you never imagined you’d have things in common with.

Passion by Ian Schneider- Unsplash

Passion- Photo Credit: Ian Schneider- Unsplash

Immerse yourself completely— One great way of staying creative in challenging times

AC – Do you have any tips for people who would like to express themselves creatively to get started during isolation?

EDV – A tip is to find a random photo and write a story about that photo as it relates to your childhood. Everyone can do it and every story will be interesting and different and yet they will all derive from the same source of inspiration.

Another thing I practice is to not put a deadline on the quarantine. Know that you will endure it, no matter how long it takes, and be ready to face the truth of it. A deadline is a sure way to lose hope.

I also recommend that whatever you want to create, you should immerse yourself in. If you want to write a memoir then you should read memoirs. If you want to write a screenplay then read books on writing screenplays and then read screenplays. If you want to write poetry, then immerse yourself in poetry. If you immerse yourself in art, then you will become it. My teacher, Wynn Handman, used to say, “Marinate in it”. If you marinate long enough then the you can’t help but be flavored and juiced by it.

Also, if you feel stuck then stop the creative and move to the other necessary parts of how you will get your creation out once it is complete. You can learn so much about anything by just going online. If you want to perform a play, then you will also have to sell tickets to that play or submit it into festivals. That’s how one can stay active in the growth of your vision rather than allowing it to wilt during creative dry spells.

AC – What are some of the books, movies, albums and TV shows that have inspired you to stay creative in times of isolation?

EDV – Features: I love to watch documentaries on any subject. Anything on HBO is usually phenomenal. As for movies I really love to examine story and cinematography when I am watching films,  so I use them as a learning tool every time.

TV shows: I love “Ozark” and “This Is Us”, which always makes me cry. There are few shows that I can get lost in but those two always make me forget about my craft and just involve me in the story.

Music: My Pandora stations go from Marc Anthony to Garth Brooks to Adele, passing through Ed Sheeran, Elton John and 70’s & 80’s stations. I also love 80’s and 90s rap.

I listen to music when I am writing; music makes me feel and I think those feelings end up in my writing. I practically wrote the entire “Brownsville Bred” play while listening to salsa music.

Books: I have to say I enjoy YA more than any other genre. I love Gayle Forman and Gary Soto.

You can connect with Elaine Del Valle via LinkedIn

Closing the Gender Gap at Sea: The Celebrity Cruises Team

Celebrity Cruises has been making history for years, creating opportunities for women in an industry that has been dominated by their male counterparts for far too long. Lisa Luttof-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, has focused on closing the gender gap at sea since she took office.

RSM #IWDleader Hall of Fame

RSM #IWDleader Hall of Fame

She believes that having women at the table is key to any organization. She has been a part of Celebrity since 2006, and “paying it forward” by helping other women find their place is something she’s passionate about.

Her commitment to making this happen can be seen across the fleet. Since she became President and CEO, Lisa has increased the percentage of women on the bridge from 3 to 23%. Only a 2% of mariners in the world are women, which makes these ladies and their efforts to carve a place for a more diverse and inclusive workforce even more admirable. These are remarkable women changing the maritime industry and creating opportunities to close the enormous gender gap that exists.

Captain Kate McCue, the first female American Captain of a cruise ship, shares her life as a Captain on Instagram, hoping to get other women interested in life at sea. Nathaly Alban, the first woman to serve as Captain in the Galapagos Islands, has loved sailing since she was a kid and feels that life on land is too simple in contrast. For Nicholine Tifuh Azirh, the first female cadet to emerge from a partnership between Celebrity Cruises and the Regional Maritime University in Ghana, sailing is a dream come true. One she has worked for tirelessly.

For relentlessly working towards closing the gender gap, making history and encouraging other women to join the maritime industry and help reshape it, we honor the women of Celebrity Cruises with the first-ever Hall of Fame Women Ensemble Award.

In 2020 we honor the unstoppable Celebrity Cruises team with the first ever Hall of Fame Ensemble Award

In 2020 we honor the unstoppable Celebrity Cruises team with the first ever Hall of Fame Ensemble Award

Closing the gender gap at sea starts with the CEO

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & CEO, Celebrity Cruises

Lisa Lutoff Perlo, President & CEO, Celebrity Cruises is closing the gender gap at sea

Lisa Lutoff Perlo, President & CEO, Celebrity Cruises is closing the gender gap at sea

Red Shoe Movement – Why do women make great leaders? 

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo – I really don’t like to generalize about anyone, including women. What I will say about the women who are the right and great leaders is that they do the same things any other great leader does: They accomplish great things. They have a vision. They get results. They transform their business. But they do it differently because they bring the attributes to the position that are unique to being a woman.  Empathy, emotional intelligence, a higher level of holistic thinking to the problem, diverse voices and thoughts at the table. And leading with their hearts, not just their heads, which encourages discretionary effort from those who work under their leadership – and that’s priceless.

RSM – Can you share the story of a male champion who supported your ambitions along the way?

LLP – My first male champion was the SVP of Sales & Marketing at Royal Caribbean International, Dan Hanrahan. He came into the company and identified me as a person (who happens to be a woman) with great potential. He challenged me to utilize my talents more broadly and moved me into marketing. While I didn’t believe so at the time, it was the best thing that happened in my career and was the beginning of a long and winding journey and experience that all contributed to my ability to become the President & CEO of Celebrity Cruises.

Dan was also my champion by promoting me to my first Corporate Officer role as VP of Onboard Revenue for Celebrity and two years later to SVP of Hotel Operations for Celebrity. He not only gave me different opportunities within Royal Caribbean, but he also continued to champion me after he moved into the President & CEO of Celebrity role. He actually held the same position I hold now before he left the company in 2012. I will forever be grateful to him and he is still a friend and mentor.

RSM – As a leader, what are you specifically doing to level the playing field for women?

LLP – My first experience with being the first woman to hold a position in the company was in 2005 when I was appointed as VP, Onboard Revenue. I was also the first woman to lead Hotel Operations for Celebrity, the first woman to lead the Marine and Hotel Operations for Royal Caribbean, the first woman President & CEO in our company and C-Suite and the first and only woman to run a Global Marine Organization in our industry (I lead this organization as well as Celebrity Cruises). While I have been with the company for 35 years, it wasn’t until 2005 and the first operational role that I realized that gender inequality was an issue. A big issue. Ever since that day I have felt it is my obligation, responsibility and opportunity to help women advance in areas of our industry and operation that have been historically held by men.

The best example I have of that is that since I have held this position (5 years) we have raised the number of women on our bridges across the fleet from 3% to 23%. Only 2% of mariners in the world are women, so this is a huge accomplishment and my team deserves all the credit for it. We hired the first American woman to ever be the Captain of a cruise ship (she still is) and the first African woman (Ghana) to work on the bridge of a cruise ship. Our efforts in finding great women for our bridges is being celebrated on International Women’s Day (March 8th), when we will offer a barrier-breaking and history-making cruise with an all-female bridge team on Celebrity Edge. No one has ever done this before, and no one else is currently able to do this. We have led the way and the industry. What better day to celebrate this as we celebrate women around the world and all they have accomplished?

Don't miss Lisa Lutoff-Perlo's crown-jewel accomplishment: designing a new ship class: Edge

Kate McCue, Captain, Celebrity Cruises

Kate McCue, Captain, Celebrity Edge

Kate McCue, Captain, Celebrity Edge

RSM – As a leader, what are you specifically doing to level the playing field for women?

KMC – It is important to highlight and celebrate the “wins,” whether it be small, like conducting their first briefing, or substantial, like performing their first ship departure maneuver.  It builds confidence in the individual and solidarity in the team.

RSM – Can you share the story of a male champion who supported your ambitions along the way?

KMC – Our Senior Vice President of Global Marine Operations, Captain Patrik Dahlgren, and our Associate Vice President Celebrity Marine Operations, Captain Manolis Alevropoulos, who are both fathers to daughters are also leaders and peers who I look up to because of the incredible impact they are making in the Maritime industry by actively recruiting women for positions that were not accessible to them in the past.  As fellow captains, they are pillars of support, career sounding bars and by introducing more women on the bridge, they are bringing diversity and creativity to our teams. This makes my job more productive and enjoyable.

RSM – What has been the most difficult lesson you’ve had to learn to get to where you are?

KMC – The most eye-opening lesson was to be myself, but in order to be myself I had to discover who I was in the first place. That took time and as we evolve as individuals. I’m finding that I’m learning “me” every day.

Nathaly Alban, Captain, XPloration

Nathaly Alban, Captain, Xploration

Nathaly Alban, Captain, Xploration

RSM – How have women helped you along your career? 

NA – My mother was the first woman who has helped me throughout my career, she is the one who trusted me when I decided to be a merchant sailor and supported me in each of the decisions I made. After her, I have met very few women who belong to my operational area, but the few that I have known have taught me that perseverance is the mother of success.

RSM – Can you share the story of a male champion who supported your ambitions along the way?

NA – My champion is my father, who with his constant unconditional support and great patience taught me that a person’s wealth is in his humility. He could never fulfil all his dreams, but he has something that I have not seen in any other person, an ability to forgive and forget easily. He doesn’t know much about ships, but he listens to me carefully every time I tell him something. He has art in his hands, he is a carpenter by profession, and he likes what he does. That is what he has always instilled in me, to love what you do. He is my champion and the advice he gives me has improved over the years.

RSM – If you could suggest one action that organizations can take to accelerate the representation of women at the top, what would it be?

NA – Allowing them to develop their leadership talents within each workgroup, encouraging them to take the leadership of workgroups and, above all, recognizing their achievements.

Closing the gender gap at sea in Africa

Nicholine Tifuh Azirh, Second Officer, Celebrity Cruises

Nicholine Tifuh Azirh, Second Officer, Celebrity Edge

Nicholine Tifuh Azirh, Second Officer, Celebrity Edge

RSM – As a leader, what are you specifically doing towards closing the gender gap at sea and level the playing field for women?

NTA – I am acting as an ambassador for Celebrity Cruises to Regional Maritime University (RMU), Accra, Ghana. So, I mentor young girls at my university in seafaring careers. I raise awareness of the maritime industry by organizing campaigns to reach out to girls in secondary schools. I’m doing this with the vision of closing the huge gender gap that exists in the seafaring programs at RMU. I help Female Graduates from the RMU to gain employment onboard ships; so far, three girls from RMU have been employed by Celebrity Cruises. All thanks to Celebrity Cruises.

I have also organized various “WoMentoring” programs (women mentoring women) where I have connected about 40 girls in my community with women leaders and seasoned professionals with the experience necessary to influence and inspire the younger generations. I have assisted in organizing various women empowering conferences within my community, where I also distributed 1000 copies of the motivational book, ‘Power of the Mind’ by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, to young girls.

RSM – What has been the most difficult lesson you’ve had to learn to get to where you are?

NTA – I have learnt to be patient, determined and never to give up. Perseverance is the key lesson here because it makes me stay focused on the goal my eyes are fixed upon and not to worry about the temporal struggle and pain that will eventually pass over time.

RSM – If you could suggest one action that women could take to accelerate their career growth, what would it be?

NTA – Women need to work hard, persistently and with self-confidence.

 

Leadership legacy: a journey built on details and values

When your leadership legacy is a 130,000-ton cruise-ship that redefines the meaning of luxury, there’s little wiggle room for mistakes.

At the end of a two year journey ideating, designing and building the Edge, Celebrity Cruise’s CEO, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo can be proud that is almost impossible to find any areas that need improvement. Celebrity Edge is so close to perfection that probably only Lisa can detect the deviations from her vision.

So much so that when a guest who was walking out of a Spa shower said: “This doesn’t work,” I asked astonished: “Did you actually find something that is wrong on this ship? Do tell!”

The woman said that there weren’t any hooks to keep the towel handy after you showered. Wow. The ship is missing a few hooks in convenient places. Take a second to digest that. A 130,000-ton ship, with the most innovative technology you have seen anywhere, let alone in a ship, it’s missing a few hooks. I’d say, mission accomplished, Lisa!

Celebrity Edge leadership legacy is in the details

Celebrity Edge leadership legacy is in the details

Building a memorable leadership legacy

I was invited by Lisa herself to join the inaugural sail of Celebrity Edge. And to describe my experience on the ship is to minimize it right away. Because some things are hard to put into words. After a few minutes on board, the Wows and OMGs don’t do justice to what you’re feeling.

For starters you should know that I’m not a frequent cruiser by any stretch of the imagination. If you ask me to choose, I’ll arrive to my destination by plane and walk once I arrive to my destination. But Celebrity Edge completely changed my mind. When you step into this self-contained universe, you quickly realize not all ships are created equal.

Magic Carpet on Celebrity Edge. A very unique detail created that undoubtedly is part of Lisa Lutoff-Perlo's leadership legacy.

Magic Carpet on Celebrity Edge. A very unique detail created that undoubtedly is part of Lisa Lutoff-Perlo’s leadership legacy.

When she took the reigns of Celebrity Cruises, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, or LLP, as she’s known to her team, had a powerful vision. She wanted to revolutionize the cruise industry and particularly redefine the luxury category. She got started right away. One of her first decisions was to increase diversity and inclusion on the bridge and at the executive level in the organization. (We talked to her about this in her Hall of Fame interview.)  That step spoke volumes about her commitment to affecting change in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

But pushing boundaries is never easy, whether it is gender stereotypes or established ideas of what a luxury experience should be. And here, LLP’s inability to hear “no” is without a doubt one of her strongest assets to push forward. She threw away the book and invited her team to think as if the sky were truly the limit. And she did it with a level of care and intentionality so all associates could take her at her word and be at their best proposing innovative solutions and totally out of the box ideas.

A deliberate focus on facing the sea includes the Gym's equipment.

A deliberate focus on facing the sea includes the Gym’s equipment.

The cave: The secret place were a legacy is built

When I visited Royal Caribbean’s offices in Miami for our “Ring the Bell on the 7 Seas with Celebrity Cruises,” a Red Shoe Movement Gender Equality global initiative, I saw The Cave. The secret place to which only a selected group of Celebrity executives and designers with special “clearance” had access.  They got together with their counterparts in other parts of the world and used virtual reality to ideate and design the Edge. Every detail of the ship from the cabins to the chairs, from the circular theater to the incredible art pieces was created in this space.

An unimaginable number of hours and sharp attention to detail went into this process. The result is pure magic. It’s a magic you feel in the smile and polite “hello” of every crew member you meet; in the ocean-facing lounge chairs; in the way the infinite veranda in the staterooms brings the sea indoors, and in the three story Eden— the garden-like bar where actors are in a seamless interaction with the guests. One of Lisa’s most remarkable legacies might be the sense of awe that this ship inspires at every turn, a hard task if there ever was one. At a time when sensory overload seems to have dulled our senses, you feel them come alive on Edge.

A number of iconic villas that range in size up to close to 250 square feet offer an amazing travel experience.

A number of iconic villas that range in size up to close to 250 square feet offer an amazing travel experience.

Highlight of my trip

One of my most memorable experiences on the ship was dinner at Le Petit Chef— an unassuming restaurant with just a small, one-page menu. The dinner was arranged for a group of six and as we sat at the table, we noticed each plate was lit up from above. We would soon find out why.

As the lights in the restaurant were dimmed, a projection over each plate and seating area began. It was the animated, brilliantly illustrated story of a competition between four chefs. While all of us stared in utter joy, laughing like five year-olds the little characters walked across our plates in an endless back and forth preparing a specific dish. Once the dish was finished and the image of it projected on our plate, waiters would simultaneously place the real food— which looked exactly like the illustration— on everyone’s plates. Voilà.

The food tasted delicious but the immersive experience was incomparable to anything I had seen before. And that’s the point. The constant surprise, the lasting feeling of having been through a unique moment, the relentless upending of assumptions. And underneath it all, a warm sensation akin to… love? Yes, you feel the love with which each detail has been planned. The love that every person involved with any part of this ship, has put into it. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true.

Animated and interactive dinner at Le Petit Chef on Celebrity Edge

Animated and interactive dinner at Le Petit Chef on Celebrity Edge

Building a leadership legacy that redefines what can and can’t be done on a ship

When LLP and her team set out to redefine luxury, it’s not only the luxury segment of the cruise industry that they ended up redefining. In the end, they are part of a larger industry: Travel and leisure. You feel it in your bones when you step into the Spa, my second top highlight of the trip. A 22,000 square feet area that has nothing to envy the best ones in the world. And very likely as close to walking into paradise as you and I are ever going to get. The kinds of treatments that they offer hail from all over the world. You can tell that they’ve researched the most innovative, effective and pleasurable treatments out there to bring onboard not only the best, but also the least well-known.

I lay down on a warm waterbed while I got rubbed down with a special brush that activated my metabolism and then got covered in a seaweed paste. Wrapped in foil like a human taco, the music in my headphones was helping synchronize the right and left side of my brain while my feet were being massaged. By engaging all my senses I was transported to a different dimension.

An unforgettable massage session on Celebrity Edge

An unforgettable massage session on Celebrity Edge

This is what legacy looks like

One evening, Adora English Avalos, LLP’s PR person, and the woman behind a lot of great things that happened on the Edge’s inaugural trip, shared a very revealing story with a group of us. We were ending a wonderful evening together and we headed to the rooftop bar. After a round of stories about the ship and how we each had met Lisa, Adora said: “You know, I was with her on the bridge when the Edge came into Port Everglades for the first time. She stood there, leaning forward, hands on deck, staring ahead and I could clearly see that she owned the moment. She was probably thinking, ‘Yes, this is it. This is my legacy.’ It was beautiful to see.”

What does it take to get to that point of sheer satisfaction with your work? Knowing that you brought to life your vision, that you steered your team in the right direction? What does it take to fully own that accomplishment so you can build on it?

It takes a solid, humble leader who knows that the most important legacy you can leave is a set of unbreakable values that outlive you. Values like passion, a sense of fairness, and real love for those around you. Values that point North regardless of where the winds blow from. That keep your hand firmly on the steering wheel looking forward, always leaving the future behind.

The circular theater on Celebrity Edge offers top innovations in technology like the rain curtain.

The circular theater on Celebrity Edge offers top innovations in technology like the rain curtain.

 

Sheila Robinson: Keeping the Diversity and Inclusion Conversation Alive

Sheila Robinson is the owner and publisher of Diversity Woman Magazine, a professional business magazine for women leaders, executives and entrepreneurs of all races, cultures and backgrounds. Through her magazine and the annual convention where hundreds of D&I professionals gather together, she keeps the inclusion conversation alive.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

After 14 years as marketing director with the textile division of DuPont, when her division was sold, Sheila Robinson, resigned. She decided to pursue her dream to launch a professional magazine for women seeking career advancement opportunities. Her first publication was North Carolina Career Network which in April 2008 expanded nationally as Diversity Woman, available today in all Barnes and Nobles.

Sheila Robinson is a graduate of North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Pre-Law. In 2011, she graduated with Beta Gamma Sigma honors in the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Masters Program at Western Carolina University. She received her Executive Doctorate in Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among the many honors and recognitions she has received, Sheila was named as one of 50 Top Women in Magazine Publishing for the significant contribution she has made in her industry.

Sheila Robinson has played a major role in providing leaders from large organizations a space to share best practices, learn from one another and find ways to accelerate inclusion. Her magazine and her powerful annual conference have proven to be invaluable platforms to move the needle in D&I. For this reason, we honor her on the 2018 Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

Sheila Robinson, Hall of Fame 2018

Sheila Robinson, Hall of Fame 2018

RSM—What makes women great leaders? 

SR— In my experience women lead not only to be effective, but to also “get it right.”

RSM— You’ve been organizing your Diversity Women Conference for over a decade now. What changes have you noticed in terms of the issues women are dealing with in the workplace?

SR— “Awareness” is the key term here.  There is a lot of awareness to what problems exist, why things are as they are, and efforts to fix the problems that everyone are now aware of.

“Momentum” is another word.  The momentum is high for gender equality.

With the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movement as a result of Sexual Harrassment, organizations are less likely to bring any negative attention to themselves.

The move for respect, equality and opportunity for women is on the high right now.

RSM— Have you seen changes in the way companies deal with diversity and inclusion?

SH— Many organizations believe that D&I is a “people” issue and have moved many of their roles from business operations to Human Resources.  The positive here is that they are recognizing their talent and “Human Capital” as crucial to their organizations success. And hopefully they are investing in the development of their talent which is just as important if not more important for the innovation of their products and services.

The 2017 Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference

The 2017 Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference

RSM— How is this different in the way they deal with D&I?

SH— The role of the Chief Diversity Office is not to focus on the “people issue”.  It is a business imperative and crucial to the success of ones products, services, talent and customers.  Historically and in some cases today, the Chief Diversity Officer is an executive level role that resides in the C-Suite with direct report to the Chief Executive Officer with its role recognized as the central driver of business results.   Within the last decade, however, many of these roles no longer report directly to the C-Suite but into Human Resources.

I don’t think this is because the role is no longer the central driver of business results, I think it is an innovative approach to increase the value of their “Human Capital.”  Organizations now recognize a more diverse and inclusive talent pool is crucial to the innovation of their products and services making “talent and business” both central drivers of an organizations success.

RSM— What are some of the best practices you’ve seen organizations implement in order to accelerate the career trajectory of their female talent?

 SR—Leadership development programs to bring visibility to the women’s strength

  • Mentor programs to help women develop in their roles
  • Sponsor programs that partner women talent with executive leaders that are in decision making rooms that can support elevating women to a seat at their table
  • Programs that help women develop intangible skills such as confidence, emotional intelligence and Courage

RSM— How will the Millennial generation flip the script on gender inclusion at the top?

SR—Millennial’s lead as “I am the solution” as opposed to hire me and and I will “find solutions” which can be both a negative and a positive.

Sheila Robinson inspires us with her wisdom

Sheila Robinson inspires us with her wisdom

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, can you share a couple of your moments of personal failure and what you’ve learned from them?

SR—My biggest failures both professionally and in business involved things I had no control of and/or lack of knowledge to include setbacks, disappointments and financial losses.

My biggest lessons include recognizing that these failures or mishaps are lessons I never had to repeat again and took the opportunity to put measures in place not to do so.  Additionally, I learned along the way how to turn adversities into opportunities by many of these very learnings.

One of my roles while working for DuPont, was Pubic Relations Director of the Lycra® brand representing the organization by managing publicity activities, but also as a spokesperson.

I was responsible for being on site at major events.  One in particular was a promotion of high-end hosiery made with Lycra® that was sold at Bloomingdales department store in New York with the movie “Chicago” because of all the hosiery worn in the movie.

On site, also was the movie producer, Martin Richards and one of the actresses Queen Latifah as well as Bloomingdales division head, Donna Wolfe.  Paparazzi were everywhere.  My public relations agency was on-site managing everything and I was pretty happy because all I was responsible for that day was taking a few photos with the talent and answering any minor questions. Activities I was accustomed to doing in a setting like this.  One of the most embarrassing moments in my career, however, occurred that day.

The PR firm were I worked had a relationship with E! Entertainment. The TV channel was on-site and without my knowledge my team convinced them to interview me on-air.  Generally with celebrities on-site, they would only want to interview an actress, but they were honoring a favor asked by my PR firm.  The next thing I knew, the microphone was being held at my mouth and I froze. I literally froze and if anything came out of my mouth it didn’t make it on-air…It was CUT!

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Hall of Fame 2017 graces the cover of Diversity Woman, the publication of a Hall of Fame 2018 honoree.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Hall of Fame 2017 graces the cover of Diversity Woman, the publication of a Hall of Fame 2018 honoree.

It was a great missed leadership opportunity.  A chance to highlight my organization’s product to millions of viewers, to highlight my skills within my organization and give our PR firm high score for getting us on-air.  It was very upsetting to me that I missed out on such an amazing opportunity.

But there was a blessing on the other side of this.  I had worked so hard in my role and had so many other successes that my team did not hold this mistake against me. They actually took responsibility for not training me properly.  Within weeks my boss paid for me and other members of my team to have on-air training for a week in NY, an investment that cost them $10,000 which was a lot of money for training 20 years ago.  Years later I eventually appeared on E! Entertainment on another show called “Stripped” with Sara Blakely of Spanx®, as there is Lycra® in Spanx®. My team had the great fortune of working very closely with Sara Blakely in the early stages and start-up of Spanx®.  The lesson for me from that day onward is the importance of educating oneself on everything you can to be better in your role.  I still to this day am always looking for programs and trainings to help me become “a better me” both personally and professionally.

Don't miss our interview with Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & CEO, Celebrity Cruises

RSM— Who were some of the most influential men and women in your

Diversity Woman magazine keeps up the inclusion conversation

Diversity Woman magazine keeps up the inclusion conversation

career other than family members? How exactly did they influence you?

SR—Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, President Emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women served as a role model for many years.  I eventually had the good fortune to meet her and over the years we now have a mutual mother-daughter relationship.  We have great respect and admiration for each other.  There are so many ways I have been influenced by this relationship, but one that comes to mind, is how she makes you feel.  Just like the great late poet Dr. Maya Angelou’s famous quote, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ That is Dr. Cole. Once you meet her you will never forget how she made you feel.

 

RSM— Can you share with us the story of one life/career that changed thanks to you. 

SR—I had a great career with the textiles Lycra® division of Dupont and when my division was sold to Koch massive layoffs hit my office.  Recruiters began reaching out to me. I referred my marketing assistant for one job in particular. His immediate reaction was “I am not qualified.” I sat down with him and told him that just because the “job title” said one thing did not mean he was not qualified.  I shared with him all his strengths and qualifications and the value he had brought to our team.  I encouraged him to apply and he got the job!

 

You can connect with Sheila Robinson on LinkedIn

Twitter @DiversityWomen