2019 Honoree

Debbie Fiorino

Chief Operating Officer of Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

“A Power Woman should know how to embrace those qualities and leverage them for the good of their company, family, and communities. For me, determination, drive for success, managerial courage, transparency, and trust are paramount.”

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

Being you! Everyone has different qualities and competencies. A Power Woman should know how to embrace those qualities and leverage them for the good of their company, family, and communities. For me, determination, drive for success, managerial courage, transparency, and trust are paramount.

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

I am passionate about women understanding that their body types, appearances, and brains are all exactly what they need to be. Hollywood still promotes a certain look and it can make girls feel less than. We don’t show enough diversity in certain professions, C-Suites, Pilots, Captains of Ships, Engineers, and the list goes on. In addition, while we have seen an increase of women business owners in recent years, I still believe there is even a greater opportunity for women entrepreneurs to go into business for themselves.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Climate Change debate?

Of course there is a need for women to have a role in the Climate Change Debate. Anybody who is qualified to make educated and rational policy changes and participate in debate–whether man, woman, or transgender–should have a voice. It is common knowledge that women make up the majority of the world’s less fortunate and are, therefore, more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. It is also important for women to step up and support each other even in times of change.

Do you believe industry and commerce (and government) should factor into a ten year plan the costs involved in mitigating the effects of Climate Change? (According to an Oxford University supported survey, the total global economic cost would be €200-350 billion per year by 2030. This is less than one percent of the forecasted global GDP in 2030).

I do not have enough in-depth knowledge about this topic to answer this question.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

I truly love my job! But, if only for one day, then I would say a CEO of a cruise line. It would provide me with a different perspective of the entire travel industry in a way that would give me more insight and a greater platform to create more awareness for the travel agent community.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Eleanor Roosevelt. Regardless of your politics, when we look at Power Women Eleanor was a woman who had power and used it to stand up for her beliefs and drive change. She battled with not having the typical body type or physical attractiveness–something we still battle with today as women. She used her qualities, wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in, and moved the country forward. This is one of my favorite quotes by her: “A woman is like a tea bag. You don’t know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.”

Why or why not? In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?

One way I work for women’s power and equality is to champion men to champion women. I am a strong believer that “Fair is not Equal.” We don’t need to treat everyone “equally,” but we do have to treat everyone fairly. We need men to champion the issue of fairness for women–to get the same chance at opportunities that men have. Today, men are in positions of power in larger numbers than woman, and, therefore, can have a positive influence. I am extremely fortunate to have a husband, boss, and peers who all champion women through their actions, which are always more important than words. One action, as a society, is to promote women on TV and in magazines who are currently not in traditional roles and who have non-traditional body types.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

I don’t have a particular situation when someone or something specifically blocked me from career growth. However, gender stereotyping was common in my prior role as a leader in Human Resources, a traditionally female-dominated position where you are perceived as a touchy-feely person who doesn’t understand business or economics of business, and many think that you are there to just offer rewards and recognition to attract and retain employees. Luckily, I had female mentors in HR who were always advocates and led the way to show that we are business partners and can understand, or even run, a business unit as effectively as, or even better than, any revenue driver. These women have been influential in my career path to my current position as the head of a national home-based travel agency franchise and travel business opportunity.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? NY State recently outlawed this practice. Should we push for a nationwide ban?

I applaud the effort, but don’t believe this would help the pay gap issue. I understand the thought process. If a woman earns less than a man (82%) and provides a prospective employer their previous wage, employers will naturally try not to pay much more than it has to, thus continuing the cycle of pay gap inequality. Some women are making more, so why set them back and have to renegotiate all over again? As a businessperson, I am also against too many government regulations, especially for small businesses. There are business practices that are important for regulation, such as FLSA, minimum wage, etc., but I think we should be cautious placing too many regulations on them. It is important to evaluate what type of impact the regulation will have. In this case, I don’t believe outlawing the practice of asking previous salary requirements will help the pay gap issue. What we need to do is hold those accountable who are discriminating against any protected class. The consequences for those offenders will change the equation.

Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

Yes, I think we have seen changes everywhere! My son is thirteen and the first president that he remembers is an African-American, his first political race that he remembers included a female. I would say it is changing for the better. Our children, men, women and future leaders of our world, will not have the biases and inequalities to deal with that have existed, and which we are still dealing with.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

There have been lots of them, but probably the most recent was when I sat down, as the leader of Human Resources, with my CEO to discuss backfilling an open senior role running one of our divisions. We were discussing other senior execs that may be interested in taking on this role. At that time, I was the only female executive and I was leading HR. He went through all of the senior executives and said all who would be interested. When I replied that I may be interested, he just looked at me for an awkward second (felt longer at that time) and said, “I love it!” I immediately replied saying that I had been thinking of moving from HR to a revenue position, but I’m not ready at this time because I don’t want to move, etc. A week later we both followed up about that conversation. The defining moment was realizing that someone, who I thought may have thought I couldn’t do this, was so reassuring. Now, looking back, I needed that reassurance. I learned that I don’t need someone else to reassure me, I only need my own assurance, courage, and determination.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

You can! A prior mentor, SVP of Human Resources, Kathleen Federico, would push me to do things that I always felt were above my pay grade and that I wasn’t qualified. She would push and push me out of my comfort zone. It was the best thing she ever did for me, even though I didn’t like it at the time. Now that is what I try to do with my teams. The other piece of advice: “If you never hear no, you will never hear yes.” That is from my current CEO, Brad Tolkin.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions?

I certainly believe a qualified female in the board room will have a positive impact on any company, as much as a qualified man. I am a big believer that you need to surround yourself with people who aren’t like you, whether that is people of different gender, sexual preference, race, backgrounds, competencies, etc. If everyone was the same, we would not be making the best decisions for all. I do believe companies should look at their ratios and ensure they have no barriers or unconscious biases preventing inclusiveness. I am fortunate to work for a company where there are no gender biases, and I am working in an industry that is championing women leaders. Some examples of firsts for our industry are: former Power Woman Honoree and the first female CEO of a cruise line, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo; Kate McCue, the first female captain of a cruise ship with Celebrity Cruises; and Belinda Bennett, the first African American cruise ship captain with MSC Cruises.

Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so, why is it prohibitively expensive? If not, why not?

I believe education plays a predominant role in human civilization. I believe we have the opportunities today that we have never had before. In addition to formal traditional college settings, we now have virtual classrooms, on-demand learning, etc. I don’t believe getting a good education has to be prohibitively expensive. Yes, certain colleges are, but I believe there are plenty of opportunities to get a good education at a great institution at tuition levels that are affordable. In addition, there are many resources to get aid or loans that helps reduce and minimize these financial barriers to getting an education.

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

Too many to name one! Any book by John Grisham. Right now I am reading and enjoying The Trust Edge, by David Horsager.

What do you most value in your friends?


Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?


What do you consider the most over rated virtue?


“Anybody who is qualified to make educated and rational policy changes and participate in debate–whether man, woman, or transgender–should have a voice.

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