January 2019
For one and all

Last year, Swire created a new senior role that will champion diversity and inclusion within the organisation. Swire News talks to Olivia Wong about her position as Head of Diversity & Inclusion Development, and discovers why she’s so passionate about promoting this important aspect of the business.

Olivia Wong
A childhood incident playing basketball ignited Olivia's passion for her role.

Olivia Wong

Head of Diversity & Inclusion Development
John Swre & Sons (HK) Ltd.

What do the words diversity and inclusion mean for Swire?

Let me begin with this quote: "Diversity is a fact, and inclusion is a choice." Like all large organisations, we have natural diversity because of differences in age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, and cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. However, I think inclusion is different, because you need to make a conscious decision to embrace and respect people who might not be the same as you. It takes a lot more effort, but it's also very rewarding, because innovation and creativity only come about when you have people from diverse backgrounds working together. For Swire, if we promote diversity and inclusion as a whole, we will be able to attract and retain the people who can truly benefit the organisation, which will, in turn, benefit them as individuals, as well as society and the communities we serve.

What compelled the creation of this role, and how will it develop?

This is a new position, which I only took on in August last year. However, for some time, we have been looking at diversity in the group. For example, in 2013 we set up the Swire Gender Diversity Committee. Later, in 2015, we launched the Women's Network. While gender diversity is still a key focus, all areas of diversity and inclusion are important – a belief championed by Swire Pacific Chairman, Merlin Swire, and one which is critical to our operations.
We can start by looking at Swire's workforce. The gender split within the group in 2017 was 62.4% male and 37.6% female. At entry level, the gender balance is more equal, but the further up the scale one looks, particularly within senior management, the split is approximately 70% male and 30% female. Naturally, there is greater variation amongst individual operating companies, but, ultimately, we are missing out on a large percentage of women in the leadership team.

Olivia (centre) at the Gender Equity Conference 2017.
Olivia (centre) at the Gender Equity Conference 2017.

Another area of diversity, which is particularly relevant in Asia, is age; indeed, Asia has some of the fastest-aging populations in the world. As the birth rate continues to decline, the employee segment that will grow most quickly will be the 64+ age group. It is also worth noting that these people will not only be our talent pool, but will also become our key customer target.

What are some of Swire's new initiatives that will improve workplace diversity?

Currently, we are putting together strategies, formulating our vision, and setting targets. For example, we are making strides with flexible working hours. The Swire Women's Network has drafted a policy and we aim to provide guidelines that help different people within our workforce to find the optimal way they can contribute without sacrificing productivity. Once finalised, the policy will give a range of options to line managers in different operations so they can work with their employees on bringing their best to the organisation. Generally speaking, the areas we will cover include gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and culture, disabilities, and age. Because of this, we have to set priorities and focus on one area at a time. This way, we will ensure we keep up the momentum.

Are many other large organisations in Asia creating roles like yours that focus on diversity and inclusion?

It is quite rare at the moment. I think this is because in Asia, there is the perception that diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a Western notion. So Swire is one of the first conglomerates in the region to pioneer this type of role. It is true that many overseas corporations with offices in Hong Kong already have diversity and inclusion initiatives, but these have usually been developed in their home countries, often in the West. What makes Swire different is we have established our own local diversity and inclusion team in Asia, which allows our initiatives to be tailored to the social contexts in which we operate.

On a personal level, what drives your passion for diversity and inclusion?

My family moved to the US when I was still in elementary school. We lived in a typical American suburb. All the kids in my age group were boys and, as well as being the only girl, I was also the only Chinese person. I remember our next-door neighbour had a basketball net in his front yard where the neighbourhood kids could all shoot hoops. I often took advantage of the setup but when other kids (boys) showed up, they would exclude me from the game as I was perceived as being different. One afternoon the neighbour came out and asked why I didn't join the game. I said that the other kids wouldn't let me play because I was a Chinese girl. He took the ball and told them that if I couldn't play, then nobody could. Of course, very soon we were all playing together! The profound impact this had on me was learning that, at times, we all need someone to stand up for us as an ally. People can feel alone or shunned, so having someone who defies injustices is really important. Secondly, once you are given that opportunity to be included, don't lose it. I played every basketball game after that, and nobody tried to exclude me again.
Swire News 2019 January Issue
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