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Laying foundations for success

Published on Friday, 09 Jul 2010
Su- Mei Thompson
Executive director of The Women’s Foundation
Photo: May Tse
Su-Mei Thompson with trainers and participants at a leadership programme.

Education has played an important role throughout the career of Su-Mei Thompson, executive director of The Women's Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the advancement of women and girls in Hong Kong.

A law graduate from Oxford and Cambridge universities, who also holds an MBA from IMD in Switzerland, Thompson started as a corporate finance lawyer in London in the late

1980s before joining Disney Television in Asia. She was managing director of the Financial Times in Asia from 2003 to 2007 and a senior executive at Christie's from 2007 to 2008.

"Education is key to everything," she says. "From empowering women to break out of poverty, to breaking down gender stereotypes that are preventing women and girls from achieving their full potential."

The foundation is engaged in research and community initiatives, with a strong educational component, including a leadership and gender awareness initiative for underprivileged teens, and a financial literacy programme for marginalised women living in poverty.

Thompson says she is fortunate to be able to use her skills and networks to drive social change. "It's very fulfilling to know that what you do matters."

As the mother of two daughters, aged two and five, Thompson takes a keen interest in her children's education and hopes that they will grow up aware of the social and cultural context in which they live. Her daughters have travelled with her across Asia, while her older daughter celebrated her fourth birthday with children from the Po Leung Kuk centre. Thompson tries to be present as much as possible. "I look for schools that welcome parental involvement and regard parents as collaborators to what is going on in the classroom," she says, adding that she takes every opportunity to contribute to school life - whether as "class mum" or serving on the PTA general committee at the Chinese International School.

"My goal is to balance eight or nine hours at work with three to four hours of quality time with my girls every day."

She took a year off from full-time work when her younger daughter turned one. During this time she joined a number of boards and co-founded Intelligence Squared Asia, a non-profit organisation which hosts debates on the economy, politics and culture. She joined The Women's Foundation last year.

"When I look around and see the many women like me who have had to make the hard choice between continuing to work or opting for a more children-focused existence, I am convinced that we need to reassess what defines career success for women," she says.

Thompson believes that women should step off the career ladder and spend some time working part-time.

"I hope more organisations will facilitate a way back for women who want to return to work," she says.

"We also need to do more to celebrate and honour successful female role models who have done just that."


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