Who is Yai Vargas?
My name is Yai Vargas and I'm the National Multicultural Marketing Manager at New York Life Insurance. I also head up and founded the Latinista, which is a Meetup group for women and Latina professionals interested in investing in themselves. When it comes to professional development, I would describe myself as resourceful, scrappy, a connector – I love connecting people. I'm also very unapologetic, so I try to bring my whole self to work and I try to be as genuine as possible.
I want my legacy to be one that inspires others to take action. When I leave this earth, I want someone someday to be able to say, ‘you know what, Yai really inspired me to take action on things that I was struggling with and I was challenged with.’ So hopefully I leave this earth inspiring others to just do something with their life and really dig deep and see how they can help others.
Tell is about your career journey.
When I think about my career journey, I think about the people that have helped me along the way. I studied Advertising and Marketing Communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology here in New York City, and I also took some continuing education classes at NYU - always in marketing, always around the multicultural and diversity space. I saw myself wondering how I can separate myself from the group that's also either studying or practicing marketing and diversity. And I was able to surround myself with people who were doing just such great work in the multicultural, community, and education spaces, and giving back. I like to think that I'm very philanthropic, that I encourage others to do something and also to take action; so digging deep and inspiring them to do more, given that we're so blessed to have so much in this life and we're able to do so for others.
I started out at one of my favorite brands actually - at Mercedes-Benz USA at the corporate headquarters. It was one of those times when I was really just fearless. I didn't necessarily have experience or a background in advertising or journalism or communications, but the company took a chance on me. I was able to say, ‘you know what, I'm studying advertising and marketing communications, and I don't really have any experience in this yet but I'm learning. And whatever opportunity you have for me to continue learning and giving back, I'd love to take that.’ And so I started my career journey there, and my trajectory brought me to a couple of other pretty amazing brands.
I was able to work with a public relations agency that really gave me a taste of other industries. So I worked with pharmaceutical, I worked with the nonprofit industry, also finance and entertainment. That's also where I got the fundraising bug. So I fundraise quite a bit for an organization that's very near and dear to my heart – it's the Latino Commission on AIDS. So for over ten years now, I've been helping fundraise and also get the word out about eradicating AIDS and HIV in the Latino community. That's something that's really important to me.
Along with that, I've been able to work for other great organizations, such as my current one. I work at New York Life Insurance. I've been there for a little bit over seven and a half years, and I manage what's called the multicultural marketing space. And when I say ‘multicultural marketing space’, that has everything to do with what you see on dot-com, social media – either in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. No, I don't speak all of those languages, but I am able to work with some amazing people and agencies that are more than willing to help me move forward in that space, and really change the way that marketing is going for big organizations like New York Life.
In addition to being at New York Life, I founded a Meetup group a little bit over five years ago. It's called the Latinista. It's a group where women and Latinas are able to join other like-minded professional women; to be able to invest in themselves when it comes to professional development. So think of really hands-on workshops when it comes to negotiating skills, taking control of your finances, learning how to speak in public, and also how to master LinkedIn for either acquiring new clients or being able to find that next big career opportunity.
What are your top accomplishments?
When I think of some of my top accomplishments, I think of being able to really take control of my finances, number one. Finances – specifically within my community – aren't necessarily a topic that's readily discussed among family. It's not really within our culture to talk about controlling your finances; even just saving and investing in general was something that I really didn't learn growing up. So when I think of one of my accomplishments, I really appreciate the fact that I've surrounded myself with people who've taught me how to invest in my finances and how to take control of my finances.
Another big accomplishment that I find was pretty significant, was the fact that I was able to grow a group professional women and Latinas called the Latinista – where other women and influential Latinas in the community are able to get together and really invest in themselves. Think negotiating skills, learning how to utilize LinkedIn to land a next career opportunity, and taking control of their finances.
One of my greatest accomplishments is being able to give back to my community. So through the work that I do with the Latino Commission on AIDS, I'm really able to give back to the community not only in the fundraising sense, but just giving my time and being a volunteer and being present and just sharing opportunities and ideas with the organization and with others that are trying to eradicate AIDS in the Latino community – I think is a pretty significant contribution.
I think a lot of the time we’re strapped for monetary reasons, for time, and we don't really know how to give back. So I challenge people to really dig deep and understand how they can give back. And if perhaps they don't have the time to – money always helps. And of course, just giving your time whether it's on the phone or in person to some nonprofit organizations that are really significant and they're passionate about, we need the help. So if you know someone or you're interested in giving back, ask around. There are a lot of organizations and volunteer opportunities that you can get involved in.
How has your background influenced your success?
Being of Dominican-American descent, I really consider myself as a go-getter. Being one of the Latino community, I've always utilized that to be able to give back. So growing up here in the United States in the New York/New Jersey area, I was really able to surround myself with others who have a similar upbringing. My immigrant story is very similar to a lot of other Latina and women professionals here in the Northeast. Being born in the Dominican Republic and coming here at such a young age, I was pretty blessed. And growing up in a neighborhood here in the northern New Jersey area, I was really fortunate to surround myself with other really inspirational individuals who saw a lot more for themselves. So I was able to communicate pretty early on what I wanted to accomplish, and I noticed that I loved being around people. So I was able to use that to my advantage; I became a natural networker. I loved being around people and figuring out how I can help them. So a lot of what I do is not necessarily help others, but I help others figure out who I know that can help them succeed. So whether I have the answer or not or whether I have that resource or not, I'm able to really reach out and help others through my connections.
Utilizing my network, my connections, and the people that I know really gives me a great opportunity to do the job that I do every day at New York Life. Given the work that I do at New York Life, the multicultural background and the people that I surround myself with really make a difference in the work that I do every day. So, for instance, working with people that speak Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, really gives me a 360-degree, very holistic and organic approach when I'm working on different marketing strategies, techniques and campaigns. So being able to surround myself with people that have different backgrounds and upbringings and really different cultural experiences, gives me phenomenal opportunity to be able to inject that into all of the work that I do – so that we can really come up with some vibrant, really effective marketing campaigns.
I think it's important for myself and for others to not stay within our specific community or box. For example, I love working within the Latino community but I do a lot within the Asian communities, within the African-American communities, and just in other communities in general. I was really fortunate to find Meetup.com and start my Latinista group, and that really gave me a lot of insight not only on a cultural perspective but industry wise. Not only am I staying within the insurance and financial industry, or just the marketing industry; I've been able to learn so much about the tech world, as well as the entertainment world, also the Wellness movement that's going on here in the United States. I think it's really important for us to get out of our boxes and reach out into the community and learn as well. Not just stay within who we know and what we know, but learn from others and be able to share that – not only within social media but just in general with our friends or connections and our families.
Tell us your thoughts about the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles.
I really admire the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles and what it stands for. It takes courage to be able to say that you're going to make a difference in the community, but more than making a difference it's actually doing and inspiring others to take action and lead. The P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles really inspire me to reach out to other individuals and help them figure out how they can lead others, challenge themselves, and really understand what they are here to do.
I think one of the biggest challenges people have is really digging deep and figuring out what their greatest aspirations are. How they can really make a difference. And sometimes it's really simple. Sometimes people don't even realize that their calling is always following them. So I think the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles do a really good job of setting up that framework, so that you can then go down that list and really start digging deep within yourself and saying, ‘how do I challenge myself every day? What can I do today and tomorrow and the day after that can be significant to someone else, whether it's someone within my network, someone that needs my help’; and really also sharing some of my personal principles on how to inspire, develop others, and lead.
And how to really understand what your legacy is going to be. Whether it's making a significant impact on your financial legacy, whether it's raising a family to understand where they came from, their cultural background, some of their aspirations, or just traveling the world. I think really being in touch with some of those principles has everything to do with how you're going to succeed in life and how you're going to make an impact within yourself, amongst your connections, within your family, and also within the organizations that we live and work with.
Tell us more about your P.O.L.I.N.G.® Story
In terms of my P.O.L.I.N.G.® story, I'm able to utilize the story of the Latinista. I started the Latinista a little bit over five years ago, and I started it to help other women really dig deep within themselves and understand how they can be better. Whether it's at negotiating skills, whether it's looking for a new career opportunity, and really just finding their inner voice to just be better – a 2.0 version of themselves.
So (P)erseverance is something that I encourage others to really seek. I'm able to work with over 1200 members in the Latinista, and we get together for some hands-on workshops; whether it's understanding your financial situation, whether it's how to find your inner voice to be able to develop your personal and professional brand, and also how others see you. I think it's really important, and some people may not be aware of what their personal professional brand is. So it's really taking a step back and understanding how others perceive you, and how you'd like others to perceive you.
When I think of five years ago when I started the Latinista, it was a small group of us. It was about 10 or 15 members at the time, and I was juggling not only my full-time job – my 9-to-5 – I was trying to invent my 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. I was trying to invent how else I can help others with the spare time that I had. And I think when I was challenged with, ‘this is never going to succeed. I'm going to spend so much energy trying to pull people together and really help them’ – it was a challenging situation that I was putting myself in. Because not only was I sacrificing some time with my family, with my friends, with my personal professional development; it was something that I saw within myself, ‘you know what, I'm going to persevere at this.’ It's a challenge, but I wanted to make sure that if it's something that I was passionate about, I needed to invest some time. So if it had everything to do with waking up on Saturdays and Sundays at 7:00 a.m., trying to figure out what my vision and my mission was for this membership base, for reaching out on my spare time and helping others either find their voice or find their next career opportunity, I was going to do it. I was dedicated and I was committed to persevering; and so I wanted to make sure that people saw that I was really in it for them, and I wasn't looking to get anything out of it. I just wanted to help people with the resources and the benefits that I had just acquired throughout my history.
So when I think of the N in the P.O.L.I.N.G.® framework, the (N)etwork that you build really is as strong as you want it to be. When I think of the network that I'm building, and I want to build for the future, I think of the women and the professionals that I want to surround myself with. Not only am I looking to build a network that's going to eventually support me in the long run, but I also want to reach out and figure out how I can help them. So it's not necessarily figuring out what this person can do for me, it's being able to reach out and making a concrete relationship, and it's developing a foundation to a relationship that's going to grow for the long run. So utilizing your professional network; it's something that's really strategic that you're going to want to assess, and figuring out how this network is going to be able to – number one – help you check off all of those boxes within your personal and professional development.
But you also have to figure out how you can help (O)thers. It could be something as simple as connecting them with other people, and it can also be something as simple as, ‘hey, I figured out how to use X website to build my own.’ I'd love to be able to teach you on how to build your own website. I'd love to be able to share the knowledge that I've acquired in unconscious biases. I'd love to be able to share some of the resources that I've been given throughout my short career here to be able to help you out in your next step.
When I first started the Latinista, I was able to connect with women and individuals all across the US that really we're looking for something within themselves to grow, and to understand how they can take that next step. Whether it was for professional growth or for personal growth. I think understanding what your next step is and giving yourself a timeline of when you want to accomplish certain things is something that we need to take responsibility for. So when I think of my personal and professional growth, I think of the relationships that I've been able to cultivate. I love that I've been able to help others grow, even if it's just understanding their negotiating power, understanding and grasping what their current financial situation is, or simply saying, ‘you know what, I've been able to grow within this particular role, and I need to move forward or move up in mobility within my current position, or whether it's within the industry or another organization.’
What do you think about the P.O.W.E.R. framework?
When I think about the P.O.W.E.R. framework, I reflect upon all of the resources and the network that I've been able to build, and really take a deep breath and take a deep dive to really assess. ‘Am I utilizing all of the resources that I've been able to cultivate?’ Probably not. But it takes a lot of responsibility and self-reflection to be able to understand that, and really understand how to change that. When I speak with others about cultivating their networks and utilizing resources, we're able to talk about really digging deep and asking. Asking for favors is not a bad thing. So being able to cultivate a network that has extensive resources is something that we need to utilize more. I know for a fact that I don't spend much energy on something that I know someone else can do fairly easily and fairly quickly. So I'm able to reach out to that other person and say ‘I need a favor. I'd love for you to either show me how to do this effectively, or do it for me.’ And I'm able to trust others with work that I know they're going to do a little bit better than I am.
When I think about utilizing one's resources to further our professional development, I start thinking about some of the resources that I've been able to cultivate within my network. I'm able to reach out to someone who's able to, let's say, build a website fairly quicker than I'm able to and I'm able to trust that person and say “You know what, my energy is probably better utilized somewhere else.” And I'm able to trust that that person knows what they're doing with building a website or some of the other activities. And I'm able to trust that that person can do a fairly efficient job much better than I can so that I can utilize my energy and my skill and my resources in a much better space. Given the fact that I've been able to trust a lot of resources that I've been able to cultivate gives me a better handle and gives me some time to focus on what matters most – being able to focus on my priorities and make sure that I get my obligations completed.
When has your background posed a challenge?
I never felt that my background was ever a challenge in my upbringing. I actually felt that it was an opportunity and also a strategic use of growing up Latina. I was able to utilize my language skills – speaking Spanish and a little bit of Portuguese to be able to really master the insight and research and depth of information that I was able to collect. When I think about the Latino community, it’s a very diverse one. It’s a very vibrant one, and it’s rich in culture. You can’t necessarily say that you’re an expert in the Latino community because it’s always changing, from being bi-cultural, from being now Latinx, from being bilingual or trilingual. It’s something that’s always moving and it’s absolutely colorful.
So I’m always learning about the Latino community and about other communities, but I certainly see it as an opportunity to grow, and it’s never been a challenge for me. I’ve always utilized it as one of my strongest points; to be able to utilize not only my speaking skills, but also just the amount of knowledge and information that I really enrich myself with.
Who are the people who have influenced you the most?
When I think about the individuals that have influenced me, I think of not only mentors, the sponsors, and champions, but I think of a lot of the managers and people that I've been fortunate enough to see lead others. I think it's really important when you surround yourself with really great leaders, and some of the characteristics of really great leaders that I see stand out are the fact that they hold you accountable. I think accountability is huge, not only in your professional growth, but also in your personal growth. When you reflect and say, ‘I want to accomplish this particular item,’ I think you should share that with the world. So when you share your responsibilities your obligations and some of the things that you want to check off in those boxes, I think it's really important to share not only with your network, but also with your community and also with your family.
When I think of the individuals that have inspired me and also helped me be accountable to the professional and personal growth that I've wanted to accomplish, I think of those that have not only applauded what I've been able to accomplish, but that have pushed me to seek out more than what I'm currently capable of. So those individuals are from all different walks of life. Not only was I working side by side with them, but they're everyone from family and also leaders within the community. I've been able to learn so much from people who have such a dynamic and diverse background, as well as upbringing. I think some of the leaders who've inspired me come from a very diverse backgrounds. I've been able to be inspired by small business owners, by women in politics; I think also women and men who've really built communities around themselves and have utilized their power and their network to give back. So fundraising is a huge thing for me, and I really look up to people who so quote-unquote ‘put their money where their mouth is,’ and spend their hard-earned money or their special time – whether it's after work or on the weekends – to help give back to others.
One of the most influential women and Latinas that I've been able to look up to is Sonia Sotomayor. Having received such an honor and accomplished so much within the higher ranks of the judicial system is something that is really inspiring to me and other women. I think people just in general being able to utilize that power and that influence and that community building aspect of her upbringing I think is really inspiring. Sonia Sotomayor has such a diverse background; when you think of the people that she's surrounded herself with, you think of the communities and the actions and the challenges that she's had. It's really inspiring to see someone like Sonia – with her challenging upbringing – to see how far she's gotten. And now that she's a person of power, she's been able to help so many others where it's needed the most in the judicial system.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Speaking to my younger self when it comes to career advice, I'd certainly say, ‘Speak up more. Be a little bit more inquisitive.’ I think when you're young and you're starting out in your career, you don't necessarily find your voice until a little bit later on. For me it took quite a bit of time to find my voice. Very early on in my career I was able to take some very challenging situations to be able to define the type of professional that I wanted to be. So if I had some career advice for some people going into the market today, I'd say find your voice early on. Be inquisitive. Ask questions. Be the first person to say, ‘let me clarify that. Is this what you mean?’ I think being very inquisitive gets you far.
I think diversifying your network very early on in your career is going to give you a really good outlook on other perspectives. When you think of diversifying your industry, your network, your profession; it's really important to surround yourself with others who have a different upbringing. I encourage you to not only reach out to people among your peers but also to reach up. When you're in an organization or a very large company, you have an opportunity. You have an opportunity to reach out, as well as reach up within your network. Being able to reach up and mobilize yourself within your network, it can teach you so much. Ask that individual what challenges they've come across within their professional and personal development, and also ask them how you can get more involved within the organization. There are so many opportunities for you to get involved within an organization. For example, at New York Life there are six different employee resource groups. I'm part of three different employee resource groups. When you're part of an employee resource group, or a business resource group, it gives you the opportunity to meet other individuals throughout the company that are not necessarily within your department or within your division. I think this is super important. You learn not only about technology, the legal side of things, philanthropy, the marketing, the communication, but you meet individuals who've been able to diversify their career opportunities, and you learn a lot from someone who's in another division as well.
What is your call to action for individuals?
When it comes to an individual's responsibility among a big or a small organization, I think it's really important for them to stand up and talk about their hobbies, their passions, and how they love to bring their true self to work. I think about the connections and the network that I've been able to cultivate, and I think about all of the resources that I've brought to the table in my organization. I think it's important for individuals to stand up and really make a difference when it comes to diversity among an organization. There's a lot of opportunity for you to raise your hand and say, ‘I'm for this organization, but I can bring so much more to the table because of X Y & Z.’ For example, I know that many organizations have an intranet site. You can share your story and see how you can empower others to make a difference.
I think it's important for individuals to understand that they bring so much more to the table than their professional skill sets. When you bring your hobbies to the table, and when you bring your particular skills from the outside into a professional organization, I think that you have a lot of opportunity to build a network within an organization. There's a concept called ‘Intrapreneurs,’ and so a lot of the times not only are you innovating within a particular organization, but you're motivating others to think outside the box. I challenge everyone to not only bring their authentic diverse cultural view within an organization, but also to motivate others on how they can be Intrapreneurs and how to innovate within that particular organization. I think we can go really far when we innovate within an organization when we bring in our cultural nuances and diversity of thought as well.
What is your call to action for corporations?
So when I think of the call-to-action to organizations or companies that want to build a more diverse community, I think it's really important for organizations and companies to really understand who their people are. When it comes to demographics among your organization, it's really important to know who are the professionals that are really working hard to bring your mission and vision forward. I think it's really important for organizations to be able to leverage an individual's personal passions. It's really important to understand that particular employee – what drives them, what motivates them. It’s a pretty unique opportunity to be able to have so much diversity within an organization, and it gives you a certain amount of diversity in thought, diversity in ideas. I think it gives organizations an enormous opportunity in utilizing some skill sets and some resources that their individuals are passionate about. As an organization, I think it's an enormous opportunity to be able to cultivate and utilize a lot of the resources, skills, and passions that our particular individual brings to the table when they bring their true self to work every day.