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


Nuria Vilanova Giralt: A Leader Who Rolls-up her Sleeves!

If there is something that defines Núria Vilanova Giralt, it’s her warmth. She inspires confidence as soon as you meet her, a critical trait not only for a communications entrepreneur but for any influencer. Meet her and get inspired!

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Núria Vilanova Giralt began her career at 18 as a journalist. At 23 she founded with her mother the communications company Inforpress (“renamed” ATREVIA in 2015), nowadays the largest communications company in Spain.

With a team of more than 300 people and offices in 13 Latin American countries, in the United States, Belgium and Portugal, ATREVIA’s vocation is to lead communications in Spanish and Portuguese.

Among the many organizations in which she participates, Núria is president of the Consejo Empresarial Alianza por Iberoamérica (CEAPI), a network of influential businesspeople in the region, that aims to stimulate the exchange and cooperation in the private enterprise.

She is the founder and co-president of the Observatory of Internal Communication and Corporate Identity, with the School of Business, Instituto de Empresa and author of two books. She has received multiple recognitions among them, la Cruz de Oficial de Isabel La Católica, one of the highest-ranking recognitions in Spain. She has also been awarded the Fidem Prize for Entrepreneurial Women and appears in several rankings as one of the TOP 100 women in Spain and one of the 10 most influential CEOs in social media in that country.

For blazing a trail, breaking down barriers, leading with an inclusive vision, and for being a role model of leadership for the 21st century, today we honor Núria Vilanova Giralt in the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

Nuria Vilanova Giralt Hall of Fame 2018

Nuria Vilanova Giralt Hall of Fame 2018

Red Shoe Movement—How do you see female leadership in Europe?

Núria Vilanova Giralt—Giant steps towards progress have been taken, but there is still a long way to go to achieve gender equity. It is important that administrations move, but even more so that there are changes in the leadership of the organizations and, fundamentally, in the base of society, where poverty is much more cruel to women, who suffer violence and harassment. Until there are changes in the base we won’t break the glass ceiling.

RSM— As a communications company, one of your strengths is Latin America. What do you think are the strengths of women in the region?

NVG—Latin American women are strong, excited and eager to change the rules of the game. Their talent and tenacity has allowed them to position themselves in traditionally masculine sectors. They have become a fundamental part of any organization, either because of their contribution to their teams or because they occupy positions of responsibility.

Don't miss this interview with a powerful CEO in Latam: Alexia Keglevich

RSM— What makes women great leaders?

NVG—We women are optimistic. What we have achieved compared with the generation of our mothers is incredible. We know that the world will be different in the coming years but, please, let’s make sure that it is also different for women.

Nuria Vilanova Inspirational Quote

Nuria Vilanova Inspirational Quote

RSM—You are personally involved in several initiatives that promote gender parity in the board of directors and high decision-making positions. Could you share about that a bit?

NVG—Yes, ATREVIA is a signatory of the agreement promoted by the Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality to increase the presence of women in management bodies and boards of directors of companies. In addition, at ATREVIA we began ten years ago to study gender equity in corporate boards of the main companies listed on the stock exchange. Back then there were 5% of women. Today there are 20%. It is evident that progress has been made, but to deepen this progress, a social commitment is needed.

We have also promoted the Mirada Plural Platform, formed by women leaders in different areas. It promotes the creation of a network to increase the presence of women in the media, committees, institutions, councils and associations, as well as promoting networking and the collaboration from the people with diverse backgrounds.

Nuria Vilanova with her book about the Z Generation

Nuria Vilanova with her book about the Z Generation

RSM— What recommendations do you have for a leader to effectively communicate her personal brand?

NVG—They must be very present in social media, interacting, informing others and informing themselves. Communicating with responsibility and with the commitment to do things well and, if mistakes are made,  apologize and rectify. Today’s society and organizations impose a new model of leaders, imperfect but connected, who move by the imperative of listening. Leaders must be able to get in the front row to reach people, roll up their sleeves and stand by their team.

RSM— What gives you hope in today’s world?

NVG—The attachment to values, solidarity, empathy and the power of communication to transform realities. I think the democratization of knowledge, the globalization and the breakdown of barriers thanks to the Internet that makes our society live an authentic revolution seem very hopeful. Today, more than ever, decision-makers are aware that they must put their hearts and minds to think about people.

Nuria Vilanova, a role model or the 21st Century

Nuria Vilanova, a role model or the 21st Century

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, can you share one of your personal failures and what you have learned from it?

NVG—Each failure and each adversity represent an opportunity to improve and grow. In 1989, when I had only been an entrepreneur for six months, I lost my only client. I had two options: sink or find something that could help me keep the office and pay my secretary’s salary. So I had no choice but to go get new projects. Since then I have learned to transform negative situations into positive ones.

Every one of my company’s great milestones have taken place after a crisis. For example, in 2008, on the 20th anniversary of the company (called Inforpress at the time), we had 150 employees and seven offices (six in Spain and one in Portugal.) The global economic crisis was starting, and our customers were calling to ask for discounts or to cancel their contracts. I decided to bet on myself and on the team. So we organized a conference with the 150 workers and spent three days together figuring out the strategies to overcome the crisis. We came out of that conference stronger, with clear ideas. Once again, thanks to an obstacle on the road and in the middle of a turbulent time for the communication sector, we were able to grow by 25% and expand by opening offices in Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

Nuria Vilanova motivational quote

Nuria Vilanova motivational quote

RSM— Who were some of the most influential men and women in your career? How exactly did they influence you?

NVG—Among the members of my family, without a doubt, my mother. When I decided to start my company at the age of 23 – then called Inforpress – my mother decided to embark on the adventure with generosity, accepting decisions to open new offices and take risks that she did not want for her daughter. He has been the support of the project. Caring for detail, organizing chaos, monitoring profitability. She took care of everything that I neglected: the financial, accounting, tax, legal issues … and on many occasions she has been the mother for the team, the one who knows when someone really needs a hand. And my husband, who has joined the project, an ally of my mother in taking care that everything works and also assuming the challenge of innovation and technology in a world where what is communication without technology and big data?

RSM—Can you share with us the story of a person whose life or career changed thanks to you? 

NVG—We all change and we influence each other. Each of the people who worked at my company has left a mark. But perhaps an exciting moment was when at a dinner of the Association of Down Syndrome in Spain, her colleagues congratulated the person with Down syndrome who had joined ATREVIA. They lined up as she walked to the podium and applauded her because she had achieved the dream for which she had been preparing for so long: to join the workplace and contribute to society.

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Deborah Gillis, Catalyst President & CEO Is Champion of Champions

If you want to know someone who can move mountains, look no further. Meet Deborah Gillis, President & CEO of Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Get inspired!

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Deborah Gillis grew up in a small village in rural Nova Scotia and was motivated early on by a group of women who successfully advocated for gender equality rights to be included in the Canadian constitution.  Starting in high school she’s dedicated her life and her career to giving everyone equal opportunity to succeed.

From her work in the public sector on equal employment to her work at global professional services firms advising on strategies for aligning talent and business priorities; from her candidacy for elected office to her job as leader of Catalyst, Deborah’s passion for equality has permeated her entire life.  She joined Catalyst in 2006 as Executive Director of Catalyst Canada, became Chief Operating Officer in 2012, and then President and CEO in 2014.

In 2016 Deborah was named one of Canadian Business magazine’s 10 most influential Canadians. That same year she received the Foreign Policy Association Medal. In 2017, she accepted an honorary Doctor of Laws honoris causa from Cape Breton University for dedicating her life’s work to advocating for women’s rights and equality. She serves on the Board of Governors of St. Francis Xavier University.

For her relentless work towards a more equitable workplace for women and for being a champion of champions, today we honor Deborah Gillis on our Hall of Fame.

Deborah Gillis, President and CEO Catalyst, an honoree of 2018 Hall of Fame

Deborah Gillis, President and CEO Catalyst, an honoree of 2018 Hall of Fame

Red Shoe Movement— If you look back at all the years Catalyst has been doing research, have you seen substantial changes in the way companies deal with diversity and inclusion?

Deborah Gillis—The biggest change that I’ve seen is that companies now recognize that diversity and inclusion is not just a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. And it needs to be treated as a business issue—with formal goals and accountability for meeting them. When people see their managers, senior leaders, and the CEO talking about diversity and following up with actionable strategies, they know it’s central to the company’s values and competitiveness.

RSM—What makes women great leaders? 

DG—I firmly believe there’s no such thing as women leaders and men leaders. There are only good leaders and bad leaders.

I also believe that good leaders are inclusive leaders, who don’t simply get more women in the room—they make sure their contributions are valued and respected once they are there. In my experience, the best leaders give employees just the right amount of both freedom and support to get the job done well. They’re open to hearing and trying new ideas, and they know they don’t always have the right answer. They also don’t shy away from hard conversations—about performance and strategy, but also about “sensitive” issues like gender, race, or ethnicity. All of us can behave this way, no matter our rank, title, or gender—and we should lead inclusively whether it’s from a cubicle or a corner office.

Deborah Gillis Inspirational quote

Deborah Gillis Inspirational quote

RSM—How do you think the current conversation on sexual harassment will change the workplace in the short and long term?

DG—I’m hopeful that organizations will recognize that sexual harassment is a symptom of a culture that doesn’t treat women—especially women of color—as equals. In the short term, leaders must immediately take a firm and visible stand for fairness and gender equality. In the long term, I’d like to see more organizations taking a hard look in the mirror and then strategically building a culture where all women are welcomed, valued, developed, and advanced. This has been an incredibly difficult time for the women who are coming forward, but I hope and believe this movement will be the catalyst for real and lasting change. Collectively, we must ensure that it is. We can start by advancing more women, particularly women of color, into senior leadership positions and onto boards. Because power shared in workplaces is power much less likely to be abused.

Don't miss a great interview with 2017 Hall of Fame honoree, Sergio Kaufmann 

RSM—What are some of the best practices you’ve seen implemented in specific countries and/or specific organizations in those countries in order to accelerate the career trajectory of female talent?

DG—In my role I travel a lot, and I’ve seen that women in different parts of the world have different needs based on cultural and social norms and how businesses operate in each region. For example, in Mexico and across Latin America, traditional gender and family norms are strong, so helping women manage both their careers and family responsibilities is essential to supporting their advancement. An example I love is how PepsiCo Mexico has done this by establishing the Female Executive Council, which has helped design policies and strategies to support women returning from maternity leave and other working mothers, such as a formal structure for flexible and part-time work options, part-time job opportunities, and a condensed work week. These programs now benefit all employees—women and men—demonstrating how workplaces that work for women work for everyone.

Another critical issue in Latin America, and everywhere really, is creating champions, mentors, and sponsors for women. Avon has successfully addressed this issue by launching a program called Women in Leadership. The first class of participants came from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, and they were given access to formal training programs, exposure to senior leaders they otherwise would not have, help with career planning, assignments that broaden their experience, and mentorship from senior executives. The piece that I really like about this program is that participants are asked to “pay it forward” by developing a legacy project that will inspire their fellow female colleagues.

Deborah Gillis and Justin Trudeau

Deborah Gillis and Justin Trudeau

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

DG—The Millennials I know at Catalyst and beyond are passionate about their community and making a difference. They want to solve problems and they are eager to contribute—to much more than just their companies’ bottom lines. For many of them, gender roles and expectations, as well as gender itself, are fluid. For those of us who have grown up with narrower conceptions of gender, it can be a new experience to embrace a more ambiguous notion of a core part of our identity. Millennials and others who are driving this conversation have challenged us to rethink what’s “normal”—and how we can get to a new normal that is more inclusive. That diverse thinking is going to be a transformational and positive force for inclusion and the way all of us work together.

RSM—What are one or two mistakes you’ve made in your career that you remember the most? And the lessons learned?

DG—In Tokyo a few years ago, I was with colleagues waiting for taxis on a busy street, when someone yelled a sexist, racist slur at a member of my team. We were all shocked, but no one said anything. I wanted to call her, but with the added element of race in the mix I was terribly afraid to say the wrong thing. So I stayed silent—for weeks. Then I read new research from Catalyst that showed how toxic silence can be. Finally, I summoned my courage, and said, “I’m deeply sorry. That was wrong. I should have said something.” She appreciated the support, even as late as it was. And I was reminded that courageous conversations are the first step toward healing wounds, opening minds, changing behaviors, and building workplaces where everyone has a fair chance to succeed. It was a difficult and profound lesson that my heart won’t forget—saying something is always better than saying nothing.

Catalyst Awards dinner, an annual gathering of the most influential leaders and organizations

Catalyst Awards dinner, an annual gathering of the most influential leaders and organizations

RSM—Who were some of the most influential men and women in your career other than family members? How exactly did they influence you?

DG—When I was a 23-year old legislative intern, one of the elected representatives I worked with ultimately became a friend, mentor, and sponsor. He took me under his wing and later used his influence to recommend me for a high-visibility project that positioned me for a great opportunity. Looking back, I can draw a straight line from his sponsorship to the opportunity I later received to run as a candidate for elected office. Beside the career support, he also showed me that great leaders are humble. He admitted he didn’t have all the answers, and he shared his mistakes openly, asking for help when he needed it. He earned our team’s trust and respect, by trusting and respecting us in turn. To this day, I think of him as a role model for the kind of leader I want to be.

Another major influence was my first boss out of university, who encouraged me to think about my career as a toolbox—and every new assignment as an opportunity to add a new “tool” that I could carry with me to the next role. If I was going to add a tool to the box, I needed to take full and complete responsibility for it—I needed to own it. Through him, I learned that people do their best when they are treated like they are capable of their best—and promised the opportunity to prove it.

Deborah Gillis at her desk

Deborah Gillis at her desk

RSM—Can you share with us the story of a person’s life or career that changed thanks to you?

DG—Before I joined Catalyst, I ran for a seat in a provincial election in Nova Scotia, where I’m from. As I was canvassing for votes, I met one young girl who listened intently when I explained that I was running to be in the Legislature. Her response? “I thought only boys did that!” She wasn’t the only one—throughout the campaign, I saw girls begin to recognize that no future is “only for boys.” I’m looking forward to the day that one of those young women becomes Premier!

Another young woman I am proud to inspire, and be inspired by, is my niece Haley. A few years ago, she went to school and declared a personal day of silence—no small feat for a thirteen-year-old! On that day, when Haley was approached by a student or a teacher, she gave them a small piece of paper that explained her actions as an expression of solidarity with Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and girls around the world who had been denied the right to attend school. By choosing to make the injustices facing girls in another part of the world her problem, Haley’s silence echoed loudly across her school and community.

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