Olivia Wong is Group Head of Diversity and Inclusion Lead for John Swire & Sons (HK) Ltd. In her 2021 Spotlight Series interview, she discusses the advice to her younger self, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, her passions, and much more.
- Tell us a little bit about yourself
I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the US. After university, I joined the Swire group as a management trainee and have been working with Cathay Pacific, Swire Properties and John Swire & Sons (H.K.) Ltd. I have held a diverse range of roles from commercial to operations in Malaysia, the Netherlands, Singapore and Germany.
In my current role, I am working with all our operating companies to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace. It is through embracing diversity that we reap innovation. To further advance on our Diversity and Inclusion agenda, we have developed a 5 year plan with specific targets and commitment centered around 3 goals, and 5 diversity areas.
While I am passionate about my job, I am also a huge water sports enthusiast. I am a qualified scuba diving instructor, keen dragon-boater, dedicated swimmer and novice wakeboarder.
- Think back to when you were starting out your career. What advice would you give your younger self?
The first advice I would give to my younger self is to ask questions relentlessly. It is important to stay curious, to learn and to listen. We may not always agree with what we hear but we should always be open to others’ views. It is often easier to make assumptions than asking the difficult questions or hearing the truth.
The second advice is to stand up and speak out against injustice. We may feel embarrassed or afraid of others reaction, but it is important to remember that if we stand by and do nothing, we are endorsing that behaviour.
The last advice is don’t sweat the small stuff! We will need to make many decisions every day and there will often be times when we get a lot of push back. Pick the battles and be aware we can’t always get what we want.
- This year has brought tremendous upheaval and disruption to all aspects of our lives. How are you and your company continuing to promote diversity and gender equality despite these massive changes?
While the pandemic brought massive challenges, it also highlighted the importance of ensuring an inclusive workplace for all. With the great “work-from-home” experiment, we see that women still take on higher proportion of domestic responsibilities on top of their “day job”.
Our company launched Flexible Work policy in March 2019 before the disruption. The policy provided options for our staff from stagger working hours, part-time work, remote working to sabbatical. We recognized our staff are diverse and have different needs, and we want to support them while they are contributing to the organization. We also shared wellness ideas with our staff and reminded them the availability of our Employee Assistant Programme. Everyone is encouraged to check-in with their peers to provide a network of support.
While we have not been able to meet in person, the pandemic has offered opportunities for us to connect with our colleagues from around the world and also to invite speakers that are not normally available due to their busy travel schedule. Being virtual has in some way level the playing field and help us to be more inclusive. It’s important for us to take the lessons learned and apply them when the world return to “normalcy”.
- Aside from work, what are your other passions?
Outside of my day job, I am the chair of Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong. I have been an active volunteer with Habitat since 2005 after the 2004 S.E. Asia tsunami. In the past 15+ years, I have joined build trips to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, Hungary, Romania, Haiti, Mainland China, Cambodia and Vietnam. I have been humbled by the people I have met on each build trip. I have seen first-hand how having a safe and decent home can transform a family’s life, especially during a time of crisis when family, neighbor, and community need each other more than ever. This has shaped the way I see myself and the world. It helped me to recognise my privilege but more importantly, it showed me how to help others in both my work and personal life.
Since 1976, Habitat has helped more than 35 million people build or improve the place they call home and despite the extreme challenges of the past 18 months, Habitat for Humanity have still been able to serve over 5.9 million people globally. Hong Kong is ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world, and with 20 percent of the population living below the poverty line, COVID-19 instigated a rapid acceleration in the need for sanitary living conditions. In Hong Kong, the pandemic has also exposed the extreme inequalities in the housing market. The families Habitat Hong Kong serve are at even higher risk now. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to devote my time to this worthy cause.