For Jayne Wong, a product manager in Dow Chemical Co.'s Singapore office, a step in the wrong direction early in her career turned into a valuable learning experience.
Wong left an earlier stint at Dow in 2009, attracted by the chance to move into a more commercial job at another plastics firm.
But she said she saw warning signs early: not enough autonomy; key stakeholders resistant to change; significant bureaucracy.
“What stuck to me was that I learned to love the autonomy, flexibility and creativity that Dow Chemical offered,” she said. “You realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side. And then if you water on your side it will be equally green or greener.”
So Wong, 40, returned to Dow and has progressed through technical and sales jobs. She's now product director for solution and gas phase polyethylene for packaging and specialty plastics in the Asia Pacific region.
Wong's an engineer by training, earning a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University College of London, and continuing her international education with an MBA from the University of Adelaide in Australia.
The Singapore native said she was always interested in plastics and saw it as a chance to apply what she'd learned: “I wanted to be out in the plant.”
She credits various mentors with helping her development, and being “brutally honest” with her in understanding areas she can improve.
Wong considers one of her greatest professional achievements to be receiving Dow's Pinnacle Award for Marketing Excellence in 2012, as well being part of a team that delivered record profitability for the packaging and specialty plastics unit in the Asia Pacific in 2015.
She also credits her parents, a teacher and an engineer, with bringing her up with the belief that “whatever men can do, women can do as well or better.” That's helped, she said, in the world of manufacturing, and in Asia, which she said is more male dominated.
Earlier in her career the stereotypes against women were stronger, she said, showing up even in small ways like male colleagues asking if women could climb the 10-meter staircases on blown film machines or could handle the hot temperatures in a plastics factory.
Those experiences build up and leave women feeling like “we would have to work twice as hard as our male counterparts to achieve the same result,” she said.
Times have changed and stereotypes are milder, she said: “We definitely moved in the right direction. It's just, probably for me and my female counterparts, it's just not fast enough.”
She said at this point, she would give the same advice to a younger woman or man entering the plastics field: have passion about what you're doing.
For Wong, that extends beyond the job. She enjoys dragon boat racing for the physical effort and the teamwork, and volunteering at a charity for youth with special needs.
“I have learned to focus on things I can control and for the rest of it, a quote from Bruce Lee: ‘Be like water, flow with it,'” she said. “I love this work that I am now doing and I'd love to hone my skills to a level strategic enough to develop others.”