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‘Gender is still a huge challenge for women in shipping law’

Despite the evident progression in encouraging and supporting females to join the industry, shipping law remains male-dominated. Here, Alison Cusack provided her extensive insight and expert advice on how women can navigate and overcome the challenges and barriers they encounter in the shipping law industry.

user iconGrace Robbie 08 March 2024 SME Law
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In 2021, BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping released the Seafarer Workforce Report, which outlined that women only represent 1.2 per cent of the seafarer workforce worldwide. This stark figure underscored the significant barriers faced by women who enter the shipping law industry. It also highlighted the need for the industry to provide greater support to women already working in this dynamic industry.

Alison Cusack is the founder and principal lawyer for Cusack & Co. As a prominent figure in shipping law with over a decade of extensive experience, Cusack shared her insights into the industry and provided her perspective on the experience of being a woman in this dynamic sector.

Trends and challenges for shipping lawyers in 2024


When asked by Lawyers Weekly about the emerging trends and challenges that will face shipping lawyers in 2024, Cusack shed light on the international events poised to impact the industry.

“International geopolitics, namely the impact of the Russian invasion into Ukraine and the Red Sea, impacts with missiles hitting commercial shipping vessels,” she stated.

She underscored the significance of “green initiatives like the EU Emissions Trading Scheme incorporating shipping for the first time in 2024”, noting the imperative for companies to adapt and reassess their business operations.

Cusack further delved into national challenges by referencing “domestic union disputes leading to rolling strikes and impacts”. She offered a current example of the Maritime Union of Australia protest and strike at DP World Sydney, with the workers advocating for improved contracts and wording conditions.

How best to navigate these challenges

Alluding to the challenges she addressed, Cusack provided her advice on how individuals can navigate these issues. She emphasised the importance of removing the notion of needing to know “all things at all times” and rather encouraged the need to build a supportive team around one’s self.

“The best way to keep across the main headlines is to develop your non-legal network (surveyors, insurance brokers, tech people, industry commentators). I find this is the best source of pressure points that inform what challenges my clients will be facing,” she commented.

Barriers placed on women entering shipping law

With over a decade of experience in the sector, Cusack remarked on the clear barriers she has observed from women in the shipping industry.

“Gender is still a huge challenge for women in shipping law. From vessels that won’t allow women lawyers on board to take statements to industry stakeholders who openly demonstrate misogynistic actions, words and viewpoints, it is a struggle to balance ‘likability and rapport’ with ‘please show me basic respect and don’t touch me’,” she stated.

Passing on her knowledge

Cusack reflected on the lessons she has learnt during her tenure as a leading female practitioner in shipping law, offering key takeaways women in this industry can learn from.

“Accept people for who they show you to be, not their promises and maybes. I have learnt that people will show you again and again who they are, for better or for worse, and you should absolutely believe it,” she said.

“Stand up for yourself. Back yourself. Believe in yourself. Get yourself a group of peers who can listen and advise and keep your spirits high when the collegiality diminishes or dissipates.

“You are good enough to be in this industry, even if you took a twisty career path to get there. Don’t let the others make you feel like you don’t belong. Definitely walk away from any group that you constantly feel disheartened or unsafe around.”

What to look forward to in shipping lawyer

As shipping law continues to evolve as a dynamic and expanding industry, Cusack is excited about the future prospects for her role and the projects she is currently engaged in.

With shipping law being such a dynamic and growing industry, Cusack is excited about what the future holds for her role and the projects she is working on.

“Shipping is dynamic, and it still enthrals me even after more than a decade. Shipping law is about solving dynamic problems in real time, juggling contracts, international conventions, domestic legislation and two groups that have different objectives.

“There is more awareness of the shipping sector globally, and with that, more players and more opportunity. We’ve even launched a new product for clients called ‘Marine Roadside Assist’ to help clients avoid problems, or at least price risk before situations like the Red Sea arise,” she stated.

Advice to women in the industry

Cusack offers valuable advice that women considering joining the industry should take into consideration.

“Women coming through the ranks: you deserve basic respect, career opportunities, equal pay and physical and psychological safety. Any workplace that isn’t doing that as a bare minimum is not the place for you.

“It’s not your job to fix a bad workplace culture; it’s your job to look out and after yourself,” she said.