February 25, 2022
With more than 26 years at UL, Carson joined as an entry-level engineer and advanced through technical roles, quickly growing into a management track. When the engineering organization’s structure shifted, Carson requested to transfer to a technical training role. In this training role, she could teach UL’s customers how to design their products to be safe and comply with UL Standards.
Eventually, the training organization reorganized to focus on upskilling UL’s employees, and Carson pursued a career in leadership and management training, where she’s continued to progress. Today she serves as UL’s director of Learning and Organizational Development for the Americas, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) ambassador for the Women in STEM (WiSTEM) Business Resource Group (BRG) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Region IV Professionals Pre-College Initiatives Chair.
How did it feel to shift from technical roles to training customers to a career in learning and development?
When I went to UL University, what is currently our virtual learning and development platform, and offered my knowledge expertise to train engineers designing products for our customers, I totally shifted my career into training right then and there. That has proven to be the most defining moment in my entire career at UL. To leave what I knew on the technical side and go into training because I thought I would be good at it and I thought I would like it … Well, that was a very scary personal decision. But working in training has been an evolving world. My role has changed many times to get me to where I am today.
You’ve held many positions over 26 years. Aside from the opportunities to advance and move across the business, what has kept you at UL for so long?
UL shifted, and I took it upon myself to shift with it to where I was both personally and professionally satisfied. Those were the personal decisions I made about how I was going to react to the changes happening around me. But it’s the mission and work we do at UL that means so much to me. It has always driven me to stay in the organization because I love the work we do and the people I work with here. It’s so satisfying to work for a company that helps make the world a safer place.
Which of your technical projects stands out to you as a highlight in your career?
At UL, we investigate new products that have never been seen on the market. Back in the day, they selected me to work on one of these projects, and I helped certify a power strip with a cigarette lighter port on it. This was years ago when we were using the cigarette lighter ports in our cars to charge our cell phones, and a power strip manufacturer incorporated that same receptacle onto their power strips so that people could charge their phones and other low-voltage devices in various locations. It was my responsibility to investigate the safety hazards associated with the product, so I can say I was the first engineer to get this unique product tested and certified. We see products before consumers see them, and that’s really cool.
What do you love most about your role today?
My role is to ensure that our colleagues in the Americas have access to all the learning and development opportunities that we provide. I’m responsible for the team that delivers that training, and I do some executive-level training myself. But the biggest part of my role is that I’m a people manager, which means I need to empower my team to be world-class trainers. I support, coach and prepare them to do this because that’s what they deserve, and that’s what we want for them.
You have set the pace for your career and shared how you’ve taken accountability for finding personal and professional satisfaction. That could not have always been easy. What did some of the tough moments look like for you, and how did you overcome them?
There have certainly been moments I’ve walked into a room and been the only woman or the only person of color. In those moments, you give yourself some grace to recognize that you’re feeling this way. You recognize, “This is my reality. I wish things were different and better, and I wish there were more people who looked like me in this room.” And then you give yourself a pep talk. You tell yourself that, despite those things, you deserve to be here, you are competent and you are qualified to be here. I think a lot of those feelings come from imposter syndrome.
When you’re in that situation, you start to feel like you shouldn’t be there because there is no one else there like you. You start to wonder if other people will view you as a competent and legitimate colleague or professional. You have to give yourself those pep talks because there’s no one else in the room to tap you on the shoulder and say you’re doing great. You have to accept that being the only one like you in the room and feeling a little uncomfortable with that is an authentic and legitimate feeling. That’s when you have to find the inner strength to push forward and disprove some assumptions despite being the only minority, whether that’s by gender or ethnicity or something else.
Now that you’re leading a learning and development team, why do you feel compelled to volunteer with organizations like NSBE and SWE?
I’m still an engineer at heart, and I will always be an engineer. Both inside and outside UL, I try to support the next generation of engineers. That’s a personal passion of mine, so I will always be connected to these engineering organizations — because I want to see more of us. I have a personal responsibility and a calling to support more women, more African Americans, more people of color, so they can have successful engineering careers. I also hope they can look at my career as a motivator to perhaps grow into business and management roles.
What drew you to volunteer your time as the SWE ambassador for UL’s WiSTEM?
Through NSBE, I became aware of the ability to hold a joint membership through SWE, and I started to learn more about SWE through one of my engineering colleagues at UL. As I’ve matured in my career, we’ve also pinpointed goals to become a more inclusive organization. Knowing about an organization that focuses on women — and women engineers in particular — made a distinction and helped identify valuable priorities and opportunities that other organizations don’t fulfill. I also really enjoy their educational articles, and everyone who has attended their conferences has had incredibly positive feedback. I wanted to explore, experience, know more and leverage that. I want to leverage that for myself, but more importantly, I want to leverage that for all the younger women out there who are building their careers; I want to ensure that they can take advantage of all that SWE has to offer. I think this is a great organization for UL to align with.
You’re very connected to UL’s mission to create a safer and more secure world. What else sets UL apart from other organizations that employ engineers?
Everyone across our organization aligns with the mission. They understand it and see how their specific roles and jobs support the mission. To me, that’s one of the big distinguishers from other organizations where people may just feel like a number.
The other part is that we are a truly global organization, and we work really well instilling that global mindset into our colleagues. While we are a U.S.-based company, we recognize that we operate worldwide and take that into consideration in everything that we do. It also provides opportunities for us to learn about businesses around the world. In my roles, including as an engineer, I’ve had the ability to travel internationally. It was fun and cool to tell my engineering colleagues at other companies who never traveled outside the U.S. UL exposed me to international travel and other cultures. I’ve taken that exposure, applied it and even expanded it, sharing it with my family, later taking them back to the places I’ve traveled to for work.
What career advice would you share for new graduates?
If someone had told me when I was graduating from college that I would not be working in a technical role, my reaction would have been shock and disbelief. That’s why I want to tell our young engineers that you never know where your career path may lead you. You never know where the opportunities may be outside of what you’re doing today. But guess what? Everything you’re doing today helps to develop you and helps you to aspire to that next role in your career, so just be ready. Take on every engagement and project as an opportunity for development and preparation for that next role in your career.
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