I started at UL in 1996 after receiving my electrical engineering degree from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). At that time, I was married and I had a two-year-old child. It had taken me three schools and six and a half years to get my engineering degree, so I was ready for employment. I was ready to work for UL.
I had always sought leadership positions in organizations I was a part of. For example, I was in the Girl Scouts for ten years, from the brownies through the seniors. And I founded the National Society of Black Engineers chapter at Chicago State University, which is the school I attended before IIT.
I also joined Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and became president of that chapter. So, it wasn’t a surprise that after about four years into my career with UL, my manager approached me and said, “Would you be interested in becoming an engineering team leader at UL?” And I was like, “Yes, of course. I would love to get into management.” And so, I became a team leader, and from what I hear, I was the first African American female engineering team leader in the Northbrook office.
That was an exciting and new role for me. I progressed from a team leader to a group leader, and then in 2004, UL went through a reorganization where we went into these strategic business units. I was given the opportunity to become the engineering manager for a laboratory equipment group here in Northbrook, Ill. Again, another first for myself at UL and another first for African American females.
I did that for about six and a half years. I was in engineering, and I absolutely loved the work that we did. I liked the ability to travel. I had been traveling domestically and internationally and met a lot of people, but I also wasn’t blind to the looks I sometimes received when I arrived at the clients’ facilities and said, “I’m the UL engineer here to test your products.”
The look was one of surprise—a black female is here to test my products, to evaluate them and to say whether or not it gets the UL mark on them. As you can imagine, that was a challenge, especially as sometimes they didn’t want to go out to lunch with me. They would go out to lunch with other engineers, but they would say, “You go find your own lunch. You go find your own restaurant to go to.”
I made the scariest career move of my life in 2010 when another reorganization occurred. I decided I was going to leave engineering and go to UL University to train clients and staff. I had already followed the traditional engineering path. Engineering was very clear and very organized as to how your career was going to progress. You knew what the next steps were. To leave engineering and go into a corporate function, that was scary. That was strange and new, but I had a passion for training. I wanted to be in training. I wanted to teach others. And so, I pursued the role. I went to ULU and said, “Can you please hire me? I want to be in UL University.” And they found a role for me; they did that for me. That was a turning point for me because I went and looked for the opportunity. I didn’t wait for the chance to come to me. I looked for it, I asked for it, and I received it.
My role has changed in my almost eight years at UL University. Originally a technical engineering instructor role where I taught our clients and our customers how to evaluate their products or how to design their products to comply with the medical and laboratory equipment standards that role evolved into my current role, corporate training.
I support many leaders around UL with organizational development interventions, what we call OD interventions. I get to interact with leaders and to help teams become higher performing teams, something I would have never thought I would be doing when I first started UL in 1996. But the work we do here, the mission, that’s what has kept me here.
Looking for a job in 1996 was what I wanted, but a job didn’t keep me here for 22 years. What kept me here was the work that we do, the strong mission of keeping the world a safer place. I have a lot of pride in that mission, and I enjoy talking about UL. And now I get to help others educate the people who make the world a safer place.
As far as characteristics that we need to embrace, we really need to be unafraid. Be fearless. Ask for what you want. Don’t wait for someone to give you an opportunity. Seek those opportunities. Look for them yourselves. And find ways to be involved and to stay out of a box. Get out of the box. Get out of your comfort zone. Get out of everything that’s in your way. Don’t let anything be a barrier for you. Look for ways to interact with others and to get to know others and to get to know other parts of the organization. This is a large company. You don’t have to stay in the same group, in the same area that you always needed to be in. You can move and expand to other groups and to other areas. There are so many opportunities out there, just don’t be afraid to go after them.