Hong Kong’s Women’s Foundation seeks new CEO, with Su-Mei Thompson to step down after eight years as its head

Head of charity that promotes gender equality in Hong Kong and works to improve the lives of city’s women and girls is moving to UK, and says leaving will be ‘a tremendous wrench’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 12:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 12:50pm

The Women’s Foundation is seeking a new chief executive officer, with Su-Mei Thompson to step down as CEO in September after eight years in the role. The board of governors of the foundation, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls in Hong Kong, announced her departure on Wednesday and said the search for her successor was under way.

Thompson says she is leaving Hong Kong to start a new role as CEO of Media Trust, a UK-based organisation that connects charities with the media. “With TWF now well positioned to continue its strong growth, I believe this is the right time to make way for a new leader and for me to pursue new career opportunities,” she says.

With TWF now well positioned to continue its strong growth, I believe this is the right time to make way for a new leader
Su-Mei Thompson

“Leaving TWF will be a tremendous wrench and I will miss our fantastic staff, board members, NGO and academic partners, corporate sponsors, steering committee members, volunteers, supporters and donors, who are fuelled by a common mission: to provide brighter prospects for women and girls in Hong Kong and to meaningfully engage men and boys in these efforts.

“While I am sad to be leaving, I take comfort in the knowledge that because TWF is such a special, stimulating and supportive place to work and given our impact, reach and reputation, there will be no shortage of excellent candidates to take my place.”

Q&A: Su-Mei Thompson on her fight for gender equality

Thompson grew up in Malaysia and studied at private boarding school The Cheltenham Ladies College in Britain before reading law at Cambridge and Oxford universities. She began her career as a lawyer and moved to Hong Kong in 1993. She held senior management positions at The Walt Disney Company, the Financial Times and Christie’s before joining the foundation in 2009 after having children and taking a year out from her career that she described as her “eureka moment”. During her time away from a desk, she said, she realised the prejudices women can face, and how Hong Kong is lagging behind when it comes to gender equality.

“Employers in Asia – and Hong Kong – are much less focused on the drivers of gender diversity, such as engagement of male middle management, pay equity, making it more transparent, looking at performance ratings, and [seeing through] a gender lens,” Thompson said, citing a “sobering” 2015 World Economic Forum report that said the world is 118 years away from gender equality.

“If current trends continue the way they do, we are getting nowhere close to parity. If you talk about Asia, and women in business … sadly we are projected to have the lowest representation of women executives in 2025 versus all other regions of the world.”

Media in Hong Kong promote gender stereotyping, Women's Foundation says

Since Thompson became its CEO, the foundation has worked to improve the lives of more than 15,000 Hong Kong teenagers –girls and boys – as well as parents and teachers, through its series of Teen Gender Awareness and Life Skills workshops.

Last year, the foundation celebrated the release of documentary She Objects, which looked at gender stereotyping in the media and its effect on women’s self-esteem. The film was part of the Official Selection at the Sundance Festival Hong Kong.

The organisation runs free coding workshops for girls in the city’s poorest districts, literacy and professional mentoring programmes, and a Cambridge University scholarship scheme which enables Hong Kong students to read gender studies at the British university.

Thompson is a particular champion of female representation on company boards, and has rallied a cohort of 40 male leaders committed to achieving gender equality in their organisations. Under her leadership, the foundation has undertaken research into female entrepreneurship in Hong Kong, and why girls are not choosing to study sciences.

Hongkongers call for an end to sexism in the workplace with video campaign on International Women’s Day

The foundation’s latest campaign, “My Real Career Line”, highlights casual sexism and negative stereotypes of women in the workplace. The cause is supported by Olympic swimmer Stephanie Au, writer Bud Ming, corporate lawyer Teresa Au and model Janet Ma.

Susan D. Hutchison, the foundation’s chair, said: “Su-Mei’s contributions to TWF have been outstanding. We are extremely grateful for her vision and leadership, thanks to which TWF has the international standing it enjoys today. We are now in the process of finding a world-class CEO who embodies TWF’s passion and entrepreneurial spirit and who will enhance our partnerships with donors, corporations and the community. We are very glad to have the benefit of Su-Mei’s ongoing leadership to ensure a smooth transition and we wish her every success in her new role.”