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Drivers of Innovation: Learn, Change and Celebrate Successes

To celebrate Black History Month, we spoke with Tamara Small, a UL program manager and learned what led her to UL, her inspiration and how to interest more people of color in pursuing STEM careers.

Headshot of Tamara

February 4, 2022

Black History Month is celebrated in the United States every February as a time to honor the many Black Americans who have contributed not just to the country but to the world. As a way to help celebrate a rich history, we are highlighting some of UL's talented employees — starting with Tamara Small, a program manager with UL's Digital Transformation team.

What brought you to UL?

Small noted that her journey to UL took unexpected but welcome turns, as her initial plan was to go into the financial industry. After graduating college with a major in finance and a minor in business, she spent the first part of her career working for real estate investment trust (REIT) companies. Wanting to learn more about another industry, Small transitioned to the revenue department of a software development company and earned her master's degree in accounting, putting her on the path to becoming a certified public accountant (CPA).

However, while working at the software company, Small's career path shifted. She partnered with information technology (IT) colleagues to automate processes within the accounting organization. "I found this to be a lot of fun, and I was eager to learn more about IT," Small said.

"I transitioned to IT as a business analyst. They didn't really have people with a lot of functional experience at that time," Small said, noting that the role was a good fit for someone with her financial background and a growing interest in technology. Small soaked up as much information as she could, learning about coding and software development as a way to further develop her career and earn a project management role. She obtained Agile and Change Management certifications which contributed value to both the organization and managing projects.

"I was with the company for 10 years, advancing enough to become a program manager. I helped set strategic goals for the  IT organization, coupled with leading and running programs in the business applications space," Small said.

"I started looking for other opportunities where my skills were transferrable. I saw the position as a program manager at UL. I didn't know much about the industry, but my skills seemed applicable," Small said. "I have worked on the business side, but I can speak to the IT and development side of the work, too."

"I also liked that a woman is running the organization," Small added, referring to Jennifer Scanlon, chief executive officer (CEO) and president of UL, Inc. "I've never been in an organization that had a woman in a top leadership position. One of my goals is to be in a leadership position someday. Seeing Jenny as the CEO was both inspiring and intriguing. It made me feel like my goal is a possibility at UL.”

What's the best part of working for UL?

"I've been with UL for less than a year and live in Maryland, so my onboarding was 100% remote. The level of training and resources available have helped me acclimate quickly," Small said. "Global Project Management Training was available immediately. The collaboration and cross-functional ease were helpful, as I learned how people connect with the work I'm doing."

Small noted that the people at UL are one of the biggest benefits. "I'm impressed with how helpful everyone has been and how passionate they are about the work. Everyone has been accommodating as they helped me to learn different processes, and I feel very welcomed," she said.

"I was also interested in the Business Resource Groups (BRGs) from day one," Small stated. "I like being able to stretch myself and volunteer in this capacity. I'm the treasurer for the Women in Leadership BRG, and I'll be helping the Black BRG lead activities for Black History Month in February."

What do you think of when you hear Black History Month? Are there ways in which you celebrate?

"I like to celebrate Black history throughout the year. It's a way to remember the great accomplishments people have contributed to society. I hone in on leaders that have made tremendous strides, particularly women in C-suites and people who have created things we use every day, like cell phones," Small said.

"To me, Black History Month is the recognition that we are making strides and advancements, just like any other culture or community," Small said. "I’m constantly educating my kids on things that have happened in the world.” Small’s children are Black and Filipino. She teaches them about the history of both cultures in addition to anyone who has done something remarkable.

“It’s all about people as a whole,” she added. “I have great ambitions as a single mom and as a Black woman. I have great ambitions, personally and professionally. I like to celebrate anyone who is successful and inspiring.”

Do you have any role models?

Small’s family immigrated to the United States from Barbados and Trinidad, and she admires the strength it took to start a life away from what they had always known. In particular, she admires how they pursued their education and careers. One person that stands above the rest, however, is her mom.

“She raised me as a single mom, and I didn’t realize how influential her parenting would be. When I had children of my own, I had more appreciation for the struggles and sacrifices my mom made to ensure I was on the right track,” Small said. “She’s independent and strong. It’s so motivating that my mom raised me well, and I will raise my children well, too.”

How can we encourage more Black people to pursue STEM careers?

“Women of color tend to be inspired by having hands-on experience. I think we need to pull them in when they are young with visible and tangible experiences. We need to show young people how STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) connects to their everyday lives,” Small said, referring to how she equates her daughter changing a password to cybersecurity.

“We need career days where employees talk to different universities. We need to talk about what we do and how we contribute to society. It’s important to show STEM in our own lives and homes,” she said.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have allies that recognized my strengths. They’ve helped me in the best way they could,” Small said as she discussed volunteering virtually with high school students, talking about topics like how to keep information secure and what to keep on and off social media. She helped with resume writing and LinkedIn profiles. These practical applications of STEM in our everyday lives, taught by a mentor helping teens transition to the professional world, can be a real and personal way to bring STEM into their lives.