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Women from Holland America Share Advice on Navigating a Career at Sea

May 17, 2024

A 2021 survey distributed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) found that women represent just 1.2% of the global seafarer workforce (those who work on board a maritime vessel). And according to the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA), women account for 29% of the overall global maritime industry workforce.

First observed in 2022, International Day for Women in Maritime is sponsored by the IMO, a United Nations agency, to promote the recruitment and sustained employment of women in the maritime sector. 

Although Washington’s oldest industry has traditionally been a male-dominated one, the Port of Seattle and its partners are committed to making it more welcoming and inclusive. The Port partners with the cruise industry to provide employment for students, seniors, teachers, and others, offering more opportunities than ever for women and minorities to find a career in maritime. With the 2024 Alaska cruise season in full swing, there are hundreds of seasonal jobs at the airport and at the Port's two cruise terminals. This cruise season is expected to support 5,500 jobs.

Aboard the cruise ships that traverse Puget Sound, women serve in a wide variety of roles. To celebrate International Day for Women in Maritime, we asked seven women working aboard Holland America Line (HAL) ships in Seattle this season to share what led them to a career at sea, and what advice they’d offer to future women mariners.

Sherlyn Barker decorative

Third Officer, Eurodam 

What is your current position in the cruise industry? 
I hold the position of Third Officer, and I am also licensed as an Officer in Charge of Navigational Watch (OIC-NW). My work predominantly focuses on watchkeeping (watchkeepers are responsible for the safe operation of the ship — whether it is underway or docked — during assigned hours). Additionally, I take on the role of Assistant Training Officer, where my primary task is assigning individuals their emergency functions and delivering the necessary training for their assigned emergency roles. 

What led you to this profession? 
It’s a combination of personal interest and professional growth. In high school, I always wanted to be different from my peers, none of whom wanted to pursue a career in the maritime industry. I wanted to explore the world while navigating ships, and to travel and experience other cultures.  

What is your favorite part of the job? 
There are many! Maneuvering a 285-meter ship out of port, controlling the ship while embarking and disembarking pilots, learning how the ship responds to external factors, immersing myself in different cultures and perspectives, enjoying scenic cruising, and seizing opportunities to voice my opinions and feel empowered. 

What is your advice for young women who want to enter this career path? 
You must foster strength — not just physical, but mental and emotional resilience as well. You need physical endurance to meet the demands of the job, mental courage to stay committed to your career aspirations, and emotional strength to navigate your own feelings and protect your well-being. 

Patricia Zenker

decorativeFinance Manager, Eurodam 

What is your background in the cruise industry? 
I started as an International Concierge working in Guest Services with HAL in 2013, after graduating and seeking international experience. On my first contract with Holland America Line, I fell in love with the work dynamic and decided this was the work I wanted to do! From Guest Services, I have worked my way to Finance since this field is my passion. 

What led you to this profession? 
Since I was a kid, math and science have been easy for me. I love to solve problems with logic and be challenged with numbers. The logic and understanding behind accounting and finance fascinates me, especially the audit process. I have a good eye to identify things that are not supposed to be there and that helps when we are dealing with money. 

What is your favorite part of your job? 
Despite my passion for numbers, my favorite part of this job is managing people. I love making sure that they are taken care of, happy, well trained, and have all the resources they need to perform their jobs. I want to make sure they feel free and inspired to innovate and be the best version of themselves. If that happens, I go home happy every time.

What is your advice for young women wanting to follow this career path? 
Follow what makes you happy and satisfied. Make sure that you never stagnate and keep on learning. Understand what you are doing, the impact your job has on others, and be confident about yourself. Remember that to grow you don’t need to prove anything to anyone but yourself. Your achievements are to be celebrated! 

Isabel Blanco

decorativeHotel Executive Assistant, Eurodam 

What is your current position in the cruise industry? 
On board HAL I am the Hotel General Manager Executive Assistant (the longest job title on board). I complete administrative tasks like scheduling meetings, putting together different reports, and recording meeting minutes for the Hotel General Manager. I am also in charge of the VIPs who come on board. 

What led you to this profession? 
When I was 18 years old, I wanted to work on board, but at that time only one Italian company was hiring my nationality (Brazilian) and only those who spoke fluent Italian. I was fluent in English but not Italian, so I gave up. My dream of working on board was forgotten until several years later when my mom came up with an idea. She saw on the news that cruise season was about to start and companies were hiring crew members. She wrote down the email address and called me. At first, the idea sounded insane. By that time. I had a five-year-old son and leaving him was not an option until my mom convinced me that she could help. I joined my first ship one month after I sent in my resume. After that day, my life changed completely and almost 19 years later I am still sailing, thanks to my mom. 

What is your favorite part of your job? 
My favorite part of my job is traveling and seeing different places. It is exciting to go to sleep in Spain and wake up in France. Getting to know different people from all over the world, either guests or crew members, is the most interesting part, as you learn something new — about a language, a culture, a place, or a religion — every day.  

What is your advice for young women entering this career path? 
Working on board is a job that is not suitable for everyone. To deliver an impeccable guest experience you must love what you do, and you must love people and love dealing with them. You must be flexible and be able to adapt to last-minute changes.  

Mariana Peschke

decorativeNurse, Eurodam 

What is your current position in the cruise industry?  
Currently, I work as a nursing officer within the medical team on board after stepping down from Senior Nurse in 2023. I have been privileged to work across several brands. 

What led you to this profession?  
From a very young age, I have had a big passion for caring for people and animals. I frequently pretended to play nurse and forced all my friends and siblings into being my patients. As an adult, I was looking for a career where I could contribute to the community and serve those in need. 

What is your favorite part of your job?  
I get to meet patients from all dynamics and aspects of life — ranging from different cultures to different ages and stages in life. 

What is your advice for young women wanting to go into this career path?  
Go for it — full force. In the beginning it might be overwhelming, but the work and job satisfaction exceeds all. 

Janet Danao

decorativeSecurity Supervisor, Eurodam 

What is your current position in the cruise industry? 
Before joining my first Holland America Line ship, I was in the police force. Currently, I am one of the Security Supervisors on board. My job is to make sure that the ship’s security and safety are maintained and not jeopardized by enforcing the procedures and policies established by the company.  

What is your favorite part of your job? 
Ensuring the safety of our guests and crew is my favorite aspect of the job. But I also get the opportunity to travel for free and explore the world, indulge in diverse cuisine, and of course meet people who become friends. 

What is your advice for young women wanting to go into this career path? 
Be goal-driven and persistent in what you want from your career. 

Cynthia Boorsma

decorativeGuest Services Manager, Eurodam 

What is your background in the cruise industry? 
I started as a trainee in 2015 as part of my bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management and worked my way up the ranks. From trainee, I moved up to International Guest Services Associate, Guest Services Lead, Guest Services Admin, Front Desk Supervisor, Front Desk Manager and now I am the Guest Services Manager. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, so being part of Holland America Line’s rich culture is something to be proud of. It’s been a home away from home. 

What led you to this profession? 
My mom’s side of the family has a background in hospitality; therefore, I’ve been working in restaurants, hotels, and resorts since I was 16 years old. On another hand, on my dad’s side of the family there are seafarers. Once my parents took me on a cruise vacation as a teenager, I found the perfect combination between both worlds. 

What is your favorite part of your job? 
I like my job because of the diversity. I love everything from the hectic turnaround port days, to organizing and planning a great day ashore, to making a special memory for our guests. It’s not always easy to turn a negative experience into something new. However, I always mention to our guests, ‘’I can’t change the past. However, I might be able to change the future.”  

What is your advice for young women wanting to enter this career path? 
Follow your dreams! If somebody tells you that you cannot do it, try harder! One day you will prove them wrong. Working on a cruise ship is the best job you could wish for — you get to travel the world and get paid! 

Patricia Anne Bruselas

decorativeAssistant Chef and Culinary Clerk, Westerdam 

What is your current position and work? 
I’m a kitchen assistant as of now. In June, I will be a commis cook which is a French word for assistant chef. I am also the culinary clerk in the galley.  

What led you to this profession? 
I aspire to be in this profession as my passion is dedicated to exploring the culinary arts world. It is my passion to create new dishes and develop different cooking methods for knowledge and experience, as well as gain valuable skills for personal growth in this profession.  

What is your favorite part of your job? 
It matches my passion and career goals. That is my favorite part of my job. Traveling around the world for work is also amazing.  

What is your advice for young women wanting to follow this career path? 
Keep your goal in mind. Be confident with your skills and abilities. Don’t limit yourself. Keep learning, as hard work pays off. 

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