Wavemaker Malaysia’s Michelle Achuthan on surviving a boys’ club

Wavemaker Malaysia’s managing director, Michelle Achuthan (pictured), is confident and candid as a leader. Previously the managing director of BBDO Worldwide Malaysia for about four and a half years, Achuthan was appointed to run Wavemaker in 2017 following the merger of Maxus and MEC.

Despite being a female leader in the ad industry that is often considered by many to be a boys’ club, Achuthan remains undaunted and believes in the need for women to empower one another to rise. She shares with A+M about the challenges women on top in the ad and marketing world face.

A+M: What has been the toughest thing about being a female boss?

Achuthan: I never thought of myself as a “female” boss but rather, look to benchmark myself against peers, regardless of gender. That said, I do believe that the hardest thing about being a working woman and boss, is to show our vulnerable side – the one that admits and that we’re so much more – we play multiple roles and are responsible for multiple people.

Female leaders do tend to shy away from publicly acknowledging that we’re constantly juggling. Worse is when we apologise for it.

A+M: Staff members aren’t always the kindest to opinionated female leaders, how do you deal with this?

Achuthan: Opinions are welcome even if debate ensues.

I don’t make excuses for having a strong point of view and I encourage the same in everyone I work with.

A+M: What are some of the biggest challenges women on top in the ad/marketing world face?


  1. The proverbial glass ceiling is real. Age-old perception toward the fairer sex being less committed to doing what it takes to make it all the way to the top does exist.
  2. Men do still expect women to acquiesce to them, made worse when that man is someone senior and/or influential.
  3. Women are women’s worse enemy. Most times women are harder and more judgmental of other women.

Shifts have happened and it’s less about being suppressed in a male-dominated world and more about women owning their path because they chose to do so.

A+M: A tip for ambitious women:

Achuthan: Be YOU. Be your own beacon of success, have an end in mind and carve your journey accordingly.

A+M: Last year, the #MeToo movement took the world by storm. Do you think the #MeToo movement had an impact in the local adland?

Achuthan: Not in the degree that it had in Hollywood though it was a big enough platform that many are now aware of their own personal behaviour and the inappropriateness of passing remarks usually masked as jokes.

A+M: Is sexism and harassment in the ad/marketing industry an issue in Malaysia?

Achuthan: In short, yes and both genders are equally guilty because of stereotyping.

A+M: Do you see tides changing locally since the emergence of the #MeToo movement?

Achuthan: At an intrinsic level, no. Global companies have policies in place and all employees are held to a higher standard of conduct. To be truly egalitarian is to start at the core of the industry – people. How we structure, hire, reward, grow, nurture and recognise individuals is the anchor upon which a winning culture is built.

At Wavemaker, we have a balanced mix of leaders across Asia Pacific and we’re proud of that but we’re also keen to empower all our female employees.

To that end, we support a range of initiatives like the global internal group, Women@Wavemaker, that organise mentoring, inspiration and education, and we’re involved in external activities such the UN Women campaigns. The goal? To make Wavemaker an inclusive and diverse work environment – and the world a better place for all.

This is part of an International Women’s Day series by A+M, featuring female leaders in the industry and their views on being a female boss.

Read also:
‘Opinionated doesn’t mean aggressive or masculine,’ says Pos marketer Schrene Goh
Grey Group Malaysia’s Irene Wong: ‘For me, taking charge feels natural’
‘Find your voice, not just to speak but to be heard,’ says M&C Saatchi’s Lara Hussein
Facebook’s Nicole Tan on mentoring women and creating opportunities around it
Ex-AirAsia marketer Kathleen Tan shares her personal challenges as a female boss

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