Women in Procurement Wednesdays: Christina Ong on diversity

Women in Procurement Wednesdays: Christina Ong on diversity

Christina Ong procurement Christina Ong is the PMO/Transformation Director at Solvay, a chemicals company that takes on social, environmental and industrial challenges. (personal image)

One of the key principles Christina Ong keeps close to her heart is to “always keep an open mind. You never know what an opportunity can bring.” When a headhunter first approached her more than a decade ago with an opportunity in procurement, she thought they were making a mistake. After all, she never had a day of procurement experience in her entire life. Fast forward 13 years later, and Ong has “never looked back” on this opportunity that led to a fascinating career in procurement — one that she says fits her personality much better.

As a chemist by training, Ong spent the first part of her career doing work in a lab. During a technical support role at a polymer blend producer, Ong discovered her flare for connecting with people. These skills steered her to a role in sales and marketing, where she led the market development of a new range of products for a plastics compounding company.

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Now, Ong is the PMO/Transformation Director at Solvay, an international chemicals company that creates solutions to tackle social, environmental and industrial challenges.

While she is now once again based in her home country of Singapore, a compelling part of Ong’s journey took place four years ago when she was given an opportunity in Brussels to manage projects leading up to the 2020 roadmap for Solvay. While this move to Brussels would mean being on her own without her two children and husband, she saw it as a great challenge both personally and professionally.

“I took the brave plunge,” Ong said.

She encourages anyone facing an opportunity to “grab it … be daring. Sometimes you may have to make a decision based on the 80/20 rule. Be ready to adapt and adjust along the journey.” Without this mindset, she would never have gotten to experience her time in Brussels — nor would she have even started a career in procurement.

Another key principle for Ong throughout her career has been the importance of diversity. She emphasized that diversity comes in many forms. It’s not only about gender but also about age, ethnicity and other factors.

For example, “people with different ages will have different levels of exposure and see things differently,” Ong said. “Those things will guide them in their approaches and thoughts. … That will bring about a different dimension when you solve a problem or are faced with challenges. It is by considering all these different diverse views and inputs that you can be more holistic in your approach to a problem.”

Plus, it’s not just about diversity within an organization itself, but the value of diversity in the supplier portfolio from a procurement perspective. The pandemic has proven that having a diverse portfolio does help. When, for example, “the supply chain comes to a crunch, always having an overseas supplier portfolio does not always help you when logistics become difficult,” Ong said.

She underscored the importance of nurturing and supporting local suppliers while also working with overseas ones: “You never know which one will bring the value in the end when things come to a challenge. It could be the supplier next door that could help.”

When it comes to the pandemic itself, for Ong it brought a whole new perspective to her career, specifically as a PMO and transformation professional. In her role, she follows up on a number of projects and speaks with a lot of stakeholders to ensure alignment and success. The effects of the pandemic have meant that “our ability to connect with people is limited to virtual connection,” said Ong, noting that “a lot of the essence of communication is lost along the way.” This has in fact led her to connect more often, from different angles and also with additional external stakeholders to get an overall view of what is happening.

She recognizes how the pandemic also has shed new light on risk. Specifically, she said that “this whole pandemic puts an added stronger meaning on how a buyer should always assess our risk and have mitigation of risk such that we prioritize our approach to be able to deliver on our procurement values.”

Speaking of procurement, during our conversation we also touched on why Ong loves working in the field of procurement. She sees procurement and supply chain very much as an integral part of a business — one that, when done well, will have a major impact on the profitability of the organization.

Ong also has enjoyed working throughout the years to stay close to the topics of innovation and sustainability, especially how they relate to procurement. In essence, “what continues to drive me is to see how all this comes to life from the procurement perspective,” she said.

From her view as a woman working in procurement, Ong offered some advice that rings true for women and even men in the field, as well as for most working professionals in other areas. For one, a piece of advice that she received in her career is “that you can never stop learning … from the very day you start coming into this world, you learn. You learn from your mistakes. Throughout your career, a person needs to learn and adapt.”

One way to keep on learning about new technologies and new innovations is to “always leave no stone unturned,” Ong said, which includes always challenging the status quo.

For women specifically, while up until now procurement and supply chain have been quite male-dominated, Ong excitedly explained how “that doesn’t mean that women can’t do it!” After all, Ong described how women are often detail-oriented, careful and perhaps even natural negotiators — all of which are good values that can help women be successful in procurement.

Beyond her insightful advice, Ong also spoke about digitalization. She noted how basic analysis and scanning of the environment can now be done digitally to help people do their jobs better. It allows us to look at real-time market intel to guide procurement professionals to make better buying decisions, with detailed information on real-time risks and warnings to quickly mitigate those risks. These types of trends will enable professionals within organizations to focus on higher-order thinking, if they embrace the changes and technology to complete their jobs better and more efficiently.

At the end of the day, Ong encourages women and men alike to move toward that higher thinking and to “keep on sharpening our knowledge. Attend webinars and seminars, leverage internal and external resources, your peers and others in the industry. … This is all how we can become more successful and a better person along the way.”

Read about other professionals featured in our “Women in Procurement Wednesdays” series.

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