Wong Mei Fong grew up in a large family of ten in a village in Johor. The community largely consisted of farmers, and most of the kids eventually grew up to fill the boots left by elder siblings and parents. She fondly recalls staying in her grandmother’s house where her siblings and parents shared just one tiny room.
She often found herself side-lined by virtue of her gender, at a time when families were still largely traditional in terms of beliefs and customs where girls were not given equal opportunities. But Mei Fong came to realize that she wanted to carve her own destiny, and this drove her to defy convention and study hard towards completing a degree.
“I chose to challenge the cultural norm. Growing up, my ambition then was to be a teacher as it was seen to be an honourable profession. My mother—who was also my mentor—taught me the value of hard work and I’ve always wanted to pass that on by coaching others towards achieving their dreams. And now looking back, I realize that being a good leader is a lot like being a teacher.”
Learning, growth, and purpose
Today, Mei Fong manages a group of more than 500 people as Penang’s Assembly Test Manufacturing’s (ATM) senior operation director. Her journey at Intel began almost 27 years ago, when she joined the company as a production supervisor after graduating from the University Science Malaysia.
“I was not born a leader but my strong family values of teamwork and collaboration help me enable others to act. And on top of that, Intel gave me a platform to learn and grow. The pursuit of knowledge has always been my biggest goal. And growing up in the village taught me that you reap what you sow.”
Given her upbringing, Mei Fong is often hands-on in her roles and feels right at home when working with big teams, basking in the spirit of collective purpose and teamwork.
When the going gets tough
“For me, this pandemic reminds us of the roles that everyone plays, but it also highlights the inequality in society. Statistics indicate that in addition to the poor, more women seem to be losing jobs. Compounding this is the fact that women generally have more responsibilities with household roles in the mix.”
A mother of three, Mei Fong also acknowledges how deeply challenging the pandemic has been for moms and tips her hat to all the women out there, mothers and non-mothers alike, who continue to push through.
As a leader, Mei Fong believes this to be a time where both empathy and urgency are needed—prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of employees above all else while ensuring that the work continues.
“The role of technology and innovation in improving the lives of people in the world today has never been more pronounced—and knowing how central Intel’s role in this quest certainly keeps me going.”
Moving forward and breaking barriers
“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new,” says Mei Fong.
“COVID-19 has shaken the foundation of our world. It has also reminded us that for all our differences in culture and tradition, we are one human race. We are stronger together as we share the same planet. For everything COVID-19 has taken from us, it has also given us something: a reminder of what really matters and the opportunity to build a common future.”
Mei Fong knows it is easier said than done but urges perseverance. “Do not give into a victim mentality. Believe in yourself. We need to capitalize on the current environment as an opportunity to drive change, do something wonderful, and make a difference.” And in these unprecedented times, she finds renewed motivation to drive broader change. “Let us lead the way to break down barriers for future female leaders.”
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