The daughter of immigrant parents and mother of a disabled child, Grace Kong has faced challenges in her life, but she hasn't let them hold her back. As a program manager in the Military Engines Department at United Technologies' Pratt & Whitney our Fairygodboss of the Week is not only making use of her biomedical and electrical engineering degrees; she's also a successful professional and role model. "Do not talk yourself out of something even before you get your first foot out the door," she urges other women.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Grace Kong
Production Program Manager, Military Engines Department, Pratt & Whitney
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
I’ve been working in program management and customer support on military defense programs for the past 18 years with Pratt & Whitney, a company that designs, manufactures, and services aircraft engines.
This was not the career path I had envisioned for myself after graduating college with biomedical and electrical engineering degrees. When options were limited and I did not want to join high-risk start-up biomedical companies, I was very fortunate to have a friend ask me to interview at his aerospace company.
Throughout my career, I’ve had great opportunities to always learn and grow in a technologically advanced company. I’ve been able to work with different domestic and international customers, visit and support Air Force bases, develop suppliers, propose and negotiate defense contracts, and manage multi-billion dollar programs across the entire value stream. It is also very gratifying to know that what I do is to help “Power Freedom” in supporting the U.S. military and the men and women who serve our country every day.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
There are a few things I am most proud of. First, I am very grateful that my immigrant parents worked really hard so that my brother and I can have good educations and better futures than them. I am proud to have become a woman engineer and to be role models for other young women and to encourage them to get into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics).
I am also proud of leading cross-functional teams and talented people while collaborating with our customers to manage very large programs. It is both challenging and rewarding to work complicated problems and drive solutions.
Lastly, I am proud to be an active church member and mother.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
Being a full time working mother to a disabled child will always be a challenge. My son requires extra care on a daily basis and even more care when he is sick. With his disabilities, he will need me throughout his life. I work hard in my career, but I also understand that I need to work even harder at home with my family and my son.
During the weekends or at home, I try to give quality time to the family and not get distracted by other things. I find that I am always learning how to best balance work and family, where it means you just have to be flexible and make the most out of every moment either in the office or at home.
What is your favorite movie?
The Sound of Music. How can you not admire a strong spirited woman that turns around an entire family of seven children and a strict father with love and music?
What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
I love shopping for dresses and shoes. If I won the lottery, I would build one of those celebrity closets (to have more space for dresses and shoes).
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
Work hard. Put yourself in a good position through further education/training, learning something new, networking/mentorships and then be prepared when an opportunity comes. Do not put limitations on yourself. If you are interested in something, try it out and the worst thing that can happen is that it didn’t work out. Do not talk yourself out of something even before you get your first foot out the door.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
My Fairygodboss is one of my directors in my early career. She is smart and strong yet caring and compassionate. She was not afraid to innovate, and she worked during a time of very few female leaders in the corporate environment. She was a great role model, and she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself at that time. She gave me a chance in a leadership role, and it helped me grow significantly. I admire her for seeking opportunities to help future talent and teaching me how to be a strong female leader.
What do you do when you're not working?
I try to spend all my time doing activities with the family. Many times this entails researching things that my son can do and participate in with his disabilities. I want to enrich his life as best as possible. If he is having fun, then I am too.
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women - so each week, we celebrate a woman who made a difference in another woman’s career. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate her and thank her by nominating her here.