Singapore Tatler - - STYLE JEWELLERY -

Ste­fanie Yuen Thio is a for­mi­da­ble force with an in­sa­tiable de­sire to do good and cre­ate change. For the last 20 years, she has helmed the homegrown TSMP Law Cor­po­ra­tion with her hus­band and part­ner in crime (pun in­tended), Thio Shen Yi—a part­ner­ship both de­scribe as great, but not suit­able for every­one. The se­cret to their healthy pro­fes­sional and per­sonal re­la­tion­ship? Shared val­ues, com­ple­men­tary skills, hon­est yet tact­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and a deep un­der­stand­ing of the de­mands of each other’s jobs. Both are un­afraid to vo­calise the causes they are pas­sion­ate about, but the topic of fe­male em­pow­er­ment hits es­pe­cially close to home, as both were brought up by strong ma­tri­ar­chal fig­ures. The lead­ing lawyers dis­cuss more about their grow­ing-up years, and the re­al­i­ties faced by women in their in­dus­try to­day.

Grow­ing up, I was told that while a man may en­joy go­ing out with a woman who speaks her mind, he’ll want to marry some­body who is docile and a good wife ma­te­rial. Was that some­thing you ever felt? Well, my mother had a suc­cess­ful ca­reer, so it’d be a bit strange for me to ex­pect my wife to be a docile house­wife. As a fa­ther then, what have you taught our son about women’s rights? Noth­ing ex­plic­itly, but I sus­pect that he gets it. He’s grow­ing up in a house­hold where his mother is a suc­cess­ful lawyer, and she doesn’t get any grief from her hus­band about work­ing late and be­ing away at work, some­times even on the week­ends. And that’s the best way, right? Not to make women’s rights this big flag that you need to wave around. What’s im­por­tant is that par­ents walk the talk, as if it’s their nor­mal daily rou­tine. Is there a woman you ad­mire? Yes, my grand­mother. She lost her hus­band when she was preg­nant with my mum dur­ing World War II. Af­ter she had Mummy, she would walk home from work dur­ing lunchtime every day just to breast­feed her baby. Re­mem­ber how we used to joke that she was Car­los the Jackal, and that she was an in­ter­na­tional spy be­cause she was so ca­pa­ble and al­ways go­ing around Sin­ga­pore by her­self ? Yeah! By the way, she shared how her great-aunt ran Sin­ga­pore’s most suc­cess­ful brothel, which had the pick of the pret­ti­est girls com­ing off the boat. So I come from a line of strong fe­male lead­ers—that’s where I got it from, hon. Any­way, back to law. How do you feel we’re do­ing in terms of gen­der equal­ity? We’ve seen fe­male man­ag­ing part­ners in most of the ma­jor cor­po­rate law firms, in­clud­ing ours, but there’s still a short­age of se­nior fe­male role mod­els in the lit­i­ga­tion bar. Yes. When I first started out, I was told that as a fe­male lit­i­ga­tor, you need to come across as very strong. Yet if you come across as stri­dent, you’re called a bitch; if you’re too soft, peo­ple will say you’re us­ing your fem­i­nine wiles to get your way. It’s a lose-lose sit­u­a­tion for women. The les­son here is ac­cept­ing that women can be ag­gres­sive and tough, and still be fem­i­nine. It’s a mind­set change that’s re­quired. Also, women have to say, “I don’t care. I’m go­ing to own it, I’m go­ing to do my job.” Do you think this is some­thing leg­is­la­tion needs to ad­dress? I don’t be­lieve leg­is­la­tion can change mind­sets. What we should have is a mind­set where if you need gen­der di­ver­sity, ap­point a woman on your board be­cause if not, you won’t have that al­ter­na­tive per­spec­tive. I mean, it’s in the statis­tics that boards with women do per­form bet­ter. It’s also partly our own fault, isn’t it? Women pre­fer to not put them­selves for­ward. Yet, when we don’t step for­ward and ac­cept an ac­co­lade when it’s due, we’re do­ing a dis­ser­vice to the women who come af­ter us. You have a point. Women won’t put up their hand to vol­un­teer to do a job un­less they’re 100 per cent sure that they can do it. Con­versely, a guy would say he can do the job if he’s just 40 per cent sure. What about sexual harassment in law—have you seen or ex­pe­ri­enced it your­self ? Sexual harassment in the work­place ob­vi­ously ex­ists. The ques­tion is, what’s our re­sponse? It’s im­por­tant to em­power peo­ple to talk about this and be will­ing to say, “This doesn’t make me feel com­fort­able.” We women also need to stop treat­ing our­selves as vic­tims. We some­times feel like, “Oh, if he treats me like this and I don’t feel com­fort­able, it’s not for me to tell him. It’s for him to stop do­ing it, and then I go and com­plain.” But the man might not know that it’s an area of dis­com­fort! So it’s also for us to learn to say, “Please back off ”. And all this must be done in an at­mos­phere with­out re­crim­i­na­tion. One of the things I’ll be ask­ing my fe­male as­so­ciates af­ter this is if we’re cre­at­ing a safe work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for them at TSMP. Yes. I also be­lieve fe­male lead­ers shouldn’t just worry about their fe­male em­ploy­ees. They should also make sure that their male em­ploy­ees are be­ing looked af­ter be­cause it’s im­por­tant to pro­tect their fam­ily lives. I agree. The world isn’t en­tirely equal yet and the topic of women’s rights is a con­ver­sa­tion that has to con­tinue, but I be­lieve we’re gen­er­ally mov­ing in the right direc­tion.

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