Tamla Olivier learned a hard lesson early in her career that she hopes more women can avoid. “I approached my career with the mind-set that if I kept my head down and worked hard, people would take notice and great things would happen for me,” the president and CEO of Maryland-based home services company BGE HOME says. “I quickly realized that that philosophy only works for some people.”
After working diligently in a role at T.Rowe Price, Olivier says that when the time came for a well-deserved promotion, she was passed over. “I just knew I was going to be tapped for the position, and when I wasn’t, I was left scratching my head about what had gone wrong,” Olivier says. “It was because I didn’t voice that I wanted the opportunity; I didn’t relay the value I was adding to the organization and let them know that I was ready to step into that role and absolutely kill it.”
That experience is exactly why Olivier has spent the latter part of her career working to empower women in their careers and encourage them to give voice to their goals. In spearheading D&I initiatives at BGE HOME and its parent company, Constellation, the nation’s leading retail energy supplier, Olivier has worked to bring more diversity to the often male-dominated energy sector. The company has engaged some novel thinking in working to get more women in the trades and encourage more girls to consider STEM-based careers.
When a colleague declined the position for which Olivier was initially passed over, the company then looked to her to fill the role—and she took it on with aplomb. But Olivier says that in a strange way, she’s grateful for not initially receiving that promotion early on in her career because it provided the necessary context for a significant period of growth. “I realized that I had to take an active role in my career,” she explains. “Don’t put your destiny in the hands of other people.”
The president says that doing the opposite lets silence limit one’s potential. “The idea of having a voice is one of the biggest pieces of advice I gave to my two daughters as well as the people I mentor and sponsor,” Olivier says. “It’s one of the strongest recommendations I can give because I don’t want other people to have to make that mistake before they figure it out.”
When it comes to community service, Tamla Olivier looks back to look forward. “My grandmother always had foster kids when we were growing up,” Olivier says. “She put many of these kids through college or trade school and made them feel loved and cared about.” That’s one of the reasons why Olivier chooses to invest her time in organizations that can aid children and families. She is proud to be involved with the Ronald McDonald House as well as Partners in Excellence (PIE), an organization that provides scholarships and other resources for Catholic school education in Baltimore. Olivier also led the creation of a mentoring program that pairs Constellation and BGE HOME leaders with seventh- and eighth-grade students at a local middle school, to guide them in such topics as safe social media use and self-confidence.
Olivier is also cognizant that a company that promotes a culture of inclusion is much less likely to leave its people behind. Despite the energy sector’s reputation for being mostly male, Constellation and BGE HOME are doing their best to combat the stereotype. “We really started to pay close attention to any group we were partnering with, be it tech or trade schools, and I told them that I wanted to know exactly what they were doing to attract women to the trades,” Olivier says. “If they’re not, we’re not going to partner with them. If they are, I want to figure out how we can better work together to make sure we’re spreading the message.” That includes a Constellation-sponsored STEM Gems after-school club with the mission of giving girls access to female leaders and hands-on experiences in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building their confidence to pursue careers in those fields.
When metrics were put to these efforts, Olivier says positive signs crept upward. “That’s the funny thing about metrics,” Olivier says. “When you decide to focus on something, things start to move.” The solution for other companies may then rely on taking the idea of diversity and inclusion as not just an ideal but an active goal to work toward with key indicators and tangible numbers.
One of Olivier’s service managers came up with an inspired idea to get more women into the field. Olivier says they approached key women in their customer care centers to see if they’d be interested in rotating into the field for a designated period of time. “These are people who already interface with customers every day and understand our products and services.” They would be mentored by other technicians and develop their skills on the job. A sign of the effort’s success: none of the women who ventured into the field have been willing to come back into the office.
It’s also worth noting that the expert technicians who were charged with mentoring the upstart technicians—men who were used to working either exclusively with other men or with no one at all—have expressed great interest and pride in their young mentees. “I’ve had technicians stop me and show me videos of these female technicians on the job,” Olivier says. “They are proud to be teaching, and they’re proud to be part of the program.” The company went from zero to eight women in the field, simply by deciding that it was a challenge worth tackling.
In coming to BGE HOME, Olivier says she’s very cognizant that an emphasis to be inclusive can’t live with her and her alone. “The folks around me have to understand why this is important and we have demonstrated that if we decide to focus on it, we can get it done,” Olivier says. “They have proven it time and time again here; it’s been a phenomenal run.”