Michelle Tham Motley Crew Consultancy

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For International Women's Day, we want to raise awareness around gender-based workplace bias and start the conversation on how we can create a work environment free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination where everyone can thrive. To do this, we interviewed female leaders about their experiences and how to break the bias.

Interview with Michelle Tham, Managing Director, Motley Crew Consultancy

What do you think business leaders can do to help break gender bias in the workplace?

Much has been said about educating people on gender bias, and evaluating and standardising pay and benefits. But what I think is most critical is to give everyone in the workplace the right tools to have uncomfortable conversations. Setting up a helpline is one thing: people often turn to that as a last resort. More often than not, it’s the little things, like an off-colour remark here or the way a situation was handled there that are signs of how gender bias is so entrenched that we sometimes don’t see it. Giving everyone the tools to have a constructive conversation about these seemingly small things in the workplace is far more effective in weeding out these entrenched behaviours.

Have you personally faced any gender bias in your career? How did you handle/deal with it? 

The unfortunate reality is that it happens all the time. After I had my first child, my boss got his PA to text me within the first month of my maternity leave to ask me when I was coming back to work – the national policy was 3 months of maternity leave at the time. After I had my second child, another boss of mine jokingly said: no third child for you, Michelle, you’re far too important. I don’t really know which is worse. 

What is even more ironic is that I’m in a largely female-dominated industry, but I’m one of a few women who made agency head in the agencies I’ve worked at.

What did I decide to do? Create a pathway for women on my team to get to lead positions without having to experience the same treatment. 

Are there any good initiatives at your business that support gender equality you would like to share?

We often think about maternity and childcare support for women, but we also need to start looking at women’s needs much more holistically. There are certain women’s health issues that we need to account for and create a system of support for across the different life stages of women.

Setting initiatives aside for a moment, we need to get past policies and look at real attitudinal change as well. I once hired someone who didn’t come from a big agency and whose career choices were limited because of her personal responsibilities to her family. She turned out to be one of my best hires of all time. The reason I share this example is because hiring managers, especially, need to look past the obvious check boxes to see what each person has accomplished in the context of their personal circumstances. This approach has given me far more insight into a person’s potential.

What do you feel are the next steps in breaking gender bias?  How can women support breaking the bias?

I think the movement has gained much ground in recent years and we have arrived at the point where we all have the responsibility to really normalise the advances, changes and improvements so these become lasting behavioural and attitudinal changes, not just something guided by policy.

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