Birgitte Louise Sølgaard has always been into sailing, and when she started law school she knew that she wanted to make her career in shipping.
“It sounds silly saying it today, but when I started working as a student helper at Gorrissen Federspiel after high school, I was very fascinated by the shipping cases they worked on there. In the hallways, I would admire the company’s glass boxes showcasing model ships, and I remember one time when they had an interesting case about a collision, and there would be charts and such lying on the tables; that’s pretty much how I found my niche within law,” says Birgitte Louise Sølgaard.
She pursued her dream and - with an LL.M from NiFS, the Nordic Institute of Maritime Law, in Norway - today she is an attorney at MAQS Law Firm, with several shipping companies as her clients. From them and in general, her experience is that the biggest challenge in the future for the industry will be the environment.
“Because of how environmentally aware we have become, the shipping industry is facing the challenges of the ships’ massive fuel consumption. The industry is working to find new and different alternatives to make sea transportation cheaper and more environmentally friendly. I think that’s interesting, because it’s a puzzle that we absolutely have to solve,” says Birgitte Louise Sølgaard.
Decks and polished floors
As a shipping attorney, you have to be comfortable both on the deck and on the polished floors, says Birgitte Louise Sølgaard, and the industry is not always aware that women are capable of that.
“There are a lot of men in senior management who started their career as mariners. And when a woman walks in wearing high heels, it’s not unlikely that they’ll think, ‘she has no idea what she’s talking about – what does she know about oil and machines?’ I wouldn’t say that I’ve been met with a lot of prejudice, but you do have to be prepared to prove that you can be wearing flat shoes one day, standing on a deck and talking to a port worker, and then be wearing high heels the next day at the office, handling difficult negotiations,” says Birgitte Louise Sølgaard.
A unique network
It is the commitment and the ability to work broadly in a once very male dominated business that has made her join the board of Wista – Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association, where she is the event manager and plans Wista meetings.
“It’s actually very interesting, because I often find that my male colleagues are eager to participate in the events. They don’t have an alternative, which shows that we have a unique way of coming together,” says Birgitte Louise Sølgaard.
She stresses that, in her opinion, the most interesting thing about Wista is the fact that the women of Wista have different perspectives on the shipping industry, which makes for very interesting networking and sharing of knowledge.
“We arrange visits and lectures at different companies – this could be insurance companies, the Danish Maritime Authority, law firms, shipping companies, the Danish Shipowners’ Association, and many other like that. It’s important that it’s an international network, where we use each other across the various countries,” says Birgitte Louise Sølgaard.