Carnival Corp, the world's largest cruise company, holds workforce diversity as a guiding principle to its success, according to chief executive Arnold Donald.

But it is a goal that the owner of about 90 ships will never fully achieve, said Donald, a black business leader who grew up in New Orleans' impoverished Ninth Ward.

"There is always more we can do, and it will continue to be a priority throughout our global brands and teams, as we remain committed to a positive and just corporate culture, based on inclusion and the power of diversity," he told TradeWinds.

"For us, diversity is not a goal but a critical part of how we operate as a company."

Miami-based Carnival, which has five women and two minorities among its top echelon, also views it as a key to its success, Donald added.

"In my experience, that diversity of thinking is a business imperative and competitive advantage," he said.

"So, we look for diversity in various ways and purposefully engineer it into our global team."

Women sitting on Carnival's 12-member board include Helen Deeble, former chief executive of P&O Ferry Division Holdings, and Katie Leahy, former chairwoman of Korn Ferry Australia.

When I came into this role, we kept a lot of the strong talent that was here and I seeded in diverse talent with the goal of engineering different ways of thinking

Arnold Donald

Three of its nine cruise brands have women at the helm: Carnival Australia executive chairwoman Ann Sherry, Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy and Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia group president Jan Swartz.

Arnoldo Perez, a Cuban-born immigrant, has been Carnival's general counsel since 1996.

"When I came into this role, we kept a lot of the strong talent that was here and I seeded in diverse talent with the goal of engineering different ways of thinking," Donald said.

Donald replaced chairman Micky Arison in 2013 as chief executive after serving as president and CEO of Executive Leadership Council, a professional network of black executives of major US companies

His former leadership roles include chief executive of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, chairman of tabletop sweetener-maker Merisant and senior vice president of agricultural concern Monsanto.

Overcoming racial barriers

Donald said he faced challenges in attaining success, but his parents and New Orleans' all-boys St Augustine High School taught him how to overcome racial barriers.

Leah Smiley, president of the Society for Diversity, says Covid-19 disruption provides a perfect opportunity for the cruise sector to improve its diversity hiring. Photo: Society for Diversity

"When I look back at key moments in my career, I stayed focused on results and did not let negativity from society or other people distract me from my goals," said Donald, who grew up in a racially segregated region of New Orleans.

Carnival looks beyond skin colour and ethnicity in forming a diverse workforce with more than 100,000 employees, Donald said.

"In my experience, that diverse group will out-solution a homogenous group of people every time, which enables us to continually improve in everything we do to provide our guests extraordinary vacations at a great value," he said.

Hitting the reset button

Donald's comments to TradeWinds come as Covid-19 has forced the cruise industry to "hit the reset button", and diversity hiring should be included in that systemic change, according to the US-based Society for Diversity.

The entire sector has suffered billions of dollars in losses since the pandemic stopped it in its tracks in March following on-board virus outbreaks.

"Most companies approach diversity and inclusion as if it were 1970," society president Leah Smiley told TradeWinds.

Since then, most companies hire women and minorities and encourage "political correctness" just to prevent lawsuits instead of actually improve the business, she said.

"In modern-day terms, diversity has the potential to make an organisation great," she said.

"For example, beyond merely fixing harassment, more women should be included in leadership positions on cruise lines."

Covid-19 disruption presents a perfect time to improve employee gender balance and diversity in a way that boosts profit and advocates social responsibility, Smiley said.

"To reset means to 'adjust or fix in a new or different way'," she said.

"While the cruise industry has made great strides, it must be intentional about progress at this point."

A long way to go

Donald agreed, saying the world still has a very long way toward attaining gender and racial equality despite their obvious advantages.

Today's #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements show that humanity is hopefully headed in the right direction, he said.

"What is happening has been going on for a long time," said Donald, who vividly remembers the civil-rights marches of the 1960s.

"I have no doubt that if we double down on our efforts and stay the course, together we will create a brighter future."