SINGAPORE – Having worked for more than 25 years, Maarten Van Den Bos has experience in domains like  sales, marketing, business development, events, networking, hosting meetings, public speaking and customer presentations. He has been posted in cultures as starkly different as those in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and North America, which has helped him acquire a global outlook towards life and business. 

He is an expert in getting stuck businesses ‘unstuck’, helping them tide through difficult times and flourish again. He realised over the years that at the base of every success story are human relations and interactions. Therefore, his work usually revolves around the people, the team, and the culture of the company. 

The other two areas that businesses required help were their digital presence and on-ground activities. Therefore, when he started he restructured his consultancy firm Bright Forever Consultants to cover the three focus areas through Bright Business, Bright Digital and Bright Events. For as long as he has worked, Maarten has been an ally for his women colleagues and he tells Women Icons Network how he goes about it and bringing gender equality into the workplace, among other things. 

Starting Out 

Maarten started his career in the merchant navy first and then oil and gas. Though both industries have the reputation of being very male-dominated fields, he had the pleasure to see several females entering into the industries and thriving as well. “It was always evident though that they did have to work harder and prove themselves more than men in the same position. Once they did establish themselves in the role though, they were seen and treated as equals by most of the crew,” he remembers. 

He enjoyed working in the diverse teams that he was a part of. He believes such teams usually thrived more as well. However, he admits that drill rigs and such places can make for very tough working conditions. Additionally, he was posted in countries where several cultural issues didn’t allow much by means of diversity and inclusion.

Working with smaller businesses, start-ups, and innovation hubs which have a very dynamic and diverse environment has been a joyride for Maarten. “More and more women are breaking through in this space with amazing ideas and a huge entrepreneurial drive which is very exciting to witness,” he says. In fact, most of his current projects have women running the companies and the innovation.

True Equality 

True equality needs to begin at the hiring level which consists of hiring the best person for the job, based on their skills and experience, not what they look like, he insists. A supporter of blind selection processes, he thinks, it would be much better if some method was developed such that an interviewer can’t see the person being interviewed at all. He believes that a great company is one where it doesn’t matter what you are but what you can achieve and have achieved. 

Being able to look beyond the exterior of people, he believes, is essential to bring about gender equality at the workplace. One should be more interested in the skills that a person brings to their job – problem solving capability, humbleness to come out and ask if they are not sure or need help, he adds. “If we cannot see beyond what the person looks like or what gender or race they are, we will not be able to truly create an equal and diverse work environment,” Maarten asserts.

He also practices what he preaches, by treating each member of his team equally and shows them they are all important for their collective success. He ensures that everyone’s voice is heard and all inputs would be evaluated equally. If any team member is disrespectful towards another teammate, he makes sure to let it be known that such behaviour is unacceptable and that the people involved must work out their differences separately. 

Men at Work  

In the initial phase of his career, he came across several incidents that could be called offensive for the women involved. One was in a drilling location where a newly assigned female drilling engineer pointed out the inappropriate images in the crew’s changing room. She requested other crew members to take them down. When the others resisted, the rig manager met all of them together. After a discussion, it was decided that the posters would be removed from all public areas; the men could still put them up in their private quarters. 

However, Maarten thinks saying things like, ‘Men need to help the women to feel part of the team,’ only highlights the differences and increases the divide. Instead, he believes in creating a level playing field by ensuring all voices are heard in a meeting or discussion. “Most of the women I worked with always felt that they were not allowed to speak up or share their opinions. I worked with them to make sure that they would speak up and to show that it was safe to do so,” he shares. 

Change of Scene 

Making sure that everyone is included and seen as an important part of the whole team is the way to ensure inclusiveness and equality, he adds. While we are still a long way away from achieving truly equal workplaces, he feels happy to see more and more women starting their own businesses and making the right decisions for their own company. 

Throughout the pandemic, he worked in a small company consisting of two men and women. The CEO was a woman and the decision making process is as equal as he has ever seen it. The team ended up working with several start-ups, most of them set up and run by women. “I think women know their value more and more with each passing day. In the future, they will take their own decisions on how they want to go forward and set up their own businesses. It is an exciting time ahead!” he gushes. 

Future Projections

As they have ignored it for too long, large companies really struggle with inclusion and diversity initiatives, thinks Maarten. He adds that they now need to take drastic actions to catch up for which they will hire more women in the near future. 

While this may not seem like a problem, this still means the hiring would be done based on the person’s gender rather than skills. Once they make the appropriate numbers, they will start undermining the new hires leading to more stress and division in their workspace.

He sees a great future for smaller companies though, especially start-ups. “Their challenge will be dealing with the established male dominated investor arena. Fortunately, there are smart women who are already working on creating a whole new ecosystem with all women and pro-women investor groups,” he informs. 

Maarten hopes that these movements also keep gender balance and equality in mind. Otherwise, they could end up tipping the scale completely the other way, which, too, would be counterproductive.