Recent winner of the Mujeres Brillantes award, presented by Prospanica & Prudential, as well as the Prudential Hispanic Star award and Influential Latina award, Claudia Vazquez is a bilingual and bicultural Latina Leader dedicated to diversity and inclusion, education, and uplifting the voices of women.
Currently, Claudia is a Director of Product Management within Prudential’s Group Insurance Customer Solutions Unit. There she leads the Business Resolution Team, which manages key activities and elements of the portfolio sales cycle. Claudia focuses much of her time assessing innovative customer solutions to help solve customer challenges.
In addition to her work at Prudential, she is also a servant leader who is passionate about education and strives to amplify the voices of women and children. Currently she serves as a Board Trustee of BRICK – Achieve Community Charter School, which services elementary children, the majority of which are Black Americans. Claudia has also done volunteer work for the Greater Newark Conservancy by developing a revamped hiring process for their reintegration to society program, and has volunteered at Northern New Jersey Girl Scouts by facilitating various badge workshops and at her children’s schools by facilitating STEM workshops.
The “perks” of growing up bilingual and bicultural
Claudia’s passion for helping others, and her career in the insurance industry, began when she was just fourteen years old. Living by the Mexican-American border and growing up bilingual and bicultural “had its perks,” Claudia says. One of these perks was the tourism that came into Baja California, Mexico from the United States. Every weekend, Claudia would receive these tourists and sell automobile insurance to American drivers. This was Claudia’s first job for which she was paid $50 pesos per day, or about five dollars for an eight-hour shift.
“I was selected to do the job because I was bilingual and able to grasp the insurance concept during a week-long training,” says Claudia.
Of her upbringing, Claudia says it was different than others living in the U.S. today. Originally from Mexico, her parents met and married in Pasadena, California where she was later born. At just one year old, Claudia and her parents returned to Mexico, settling in Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico where she would live until the age of thirteen.
“At the age of 13 years old my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to move to Pasadena, California with my aunt, so I could practice my English and learn about American culture,” says Claudia. “I was placed in ESL (English as a second language) classes with kids from all over the world. In my classes there were kids from Vietnam, Philippines, Armenia, Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, etc., as well as a mixture of cultures, races and languages that I had never experienced.”
This experience lasted 18 months and helped Claudia become more disciplined, focused, develop leadership skills and assimilated quicker to a new place and environment. She decided to push herself harder than ever before, refusing to take all ESL classes.
“I figured that if the purpose of me going to California was to practice English, then I needed to attend all my classes in English! So, I took a risk and requested the Principal and the Educational Director’s permission to be transferred to regular English classes, even though I would struggle in understanding and it would take me three times longer to finish my homework,” says Claudia.
With permission granted, she then worked diligently, translating her work with her English/Spanish Dictionary by her side.
“Nowadays, with Google Translate it would be a breeze,” says Claudia.
Still, even with the added obstacles, she managed to finish the school year and the next with some Honors classes, and mostly A’s and B’s.
This can-do, driven mentality would continue to follow her throughout her childhood and into adulthood as she began her career.
Stepping up as a servant leader
At 22 years old, Claudia found herself in Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico. At the time the village had no phones or running water and most houses had dirt floors and were constructed with sticks. Here, she would become an ESL teacher for elementary school children–an unexpected turn in her career.
“I got married at 22 years old. My husband is a physician and as part of his bachelor’s degree program, all Mexican physicians must complete one year of social services work in a rural area before they can graduate. Therefore, we moved to Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico,” says Claudia. “We were very lucky because we lived in the small clinic, where we had a small private room and bathroom, and the most beautiful view of the ocean. We were literally a few steps from the beach.”
Claudia describes these first two weeks as a “true vacation.” She took naps, walked by the beach and read, while her husband worked from nine to five. But after two weeks she began to feel anxious with so much free time.
“I started to evaluate what I could do? I had only worked selling insurance at the border, at McDonald’s as a cashier and as a sales representative for State Farm, none of which were transferable skills for a location like Zipolite. But I spoke English, and Zipolite received a lot of tourists from the USA and from Europe,” says Claudia.
It was then that she decided to use her bilingual and bicultural experiences to become an ESL teacher and servant leader within the community. Quickly Claudia set to work and created her own teaching material by cutting images from magazines and pasting them onto cardboard. Soon enough she was teaching evening classes four days a week to the children of Zipolite.
As a servant leader, Claudia also began assisting her husband at the clinic in Zipolite during the day. “I learned to give vaccinations, assisted him with the delivery of babies and completed medical history reports that were due at the end of the month. It was then that I realized that my calling was to help others succeed. This 12-month experience helped me become creative, tenacious, and more compassionate.”
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5-Step recipe for success
Being a dual-citizen, bilingual and bicultural, and fully embracing her cultural background has given Claudia a unique perspective in her career. From her work in education as an ESL teacher to her leadership roles within the insurance industry, Claudia’s background has helped her succeed and help serve the growing Hispanic population in the U.S.
“As of 2020, there are 60 million Hispanics in the US, representing 18% of the population. According to Nielsen, by 2023 the buying power of the United States Hispanic population is expected to top $1.9 trillion, which is higher than the gross domestic product (GDP) of countries like Australia, Spain and Mexico,” says Claudia.
The Hispanic population has tremendous power but many Hispanic individuals face roadblocks on their way to success. Immigrants often struggle to access resources due to language barriers. Claudia has worked to eliminate these gaps throughout her work in the insurance industry. Prior to working at Prudential, she led the Hispanic Initiative at Unum, which was an end to end customer/claim bilingual program to serve non- English-speaking claimants, which resulted in the company saving over $300K in translation services and improving the customer experience.
Claudia also strives to uplift the voices of Latina women. She is passionate about helping women follow their dreams and achieve success. Over the years, Claudia developed this five-step recipe for success that has helped her on her personal journey:
Connect with your inner soul and rediscover your true essence
When Claudia was in her mid-twenties, she decided to permanently move back to California. She had a dream that she had been putting off for years: finishing her Bachelor’s degree. It was a dream that could no longer wait.
“This was a plan that had always been in my mind and in my heart, but due to several socio-economic barriers, a move to Oaxaca and then Chiapas, I was not able to do it sooner.”
Have a clear plan with specific goals to achieve your dream
Claudia was determined to break the transgenerational cycle and become the first in her family to graduate college.
“It was at this time that I realized that unless I had a clear goal and a plan to achieve this goal I may not succeed.”
Stick to the plan and adjust as needed
“It took me six years to finish my bachelor’s degree while working full time, being pregnant with our first child, managing the purchase of our first home and volunteering as an ESL teacher and as a Citizenship instructor to more than 80 Hispanic students who achieved their US citizenship by attending my classes at a local community center. The feeling of not being enough, of not belonging, of not being smart enough came several times throughout the six years, when I could not understand certain economic concepts, statistical regression analysis or computer coding. Then once again when I applied to an amazing Fortune 500 company and I was hired at 20% less salary than others because I had not finished my Bachelor’s.”
Be grateful, every day, every time
“Nonetheless, I did not quit, I did not blame anyone, I did not stop pursuing my ultimate dream. On the contrary, I persevered–I got up every morning and remained positive, determined and diligent. I ultimately arrived at the desired destination at the age of 30. We had our first son, and 40 days later, I graduated with a degree in Psychology. The transgenerational cycle was broken– I was the first one in my family to graduate from college!”
Pay it forward and always find time to help others
“At Prudential one of my greatest accomplishments was being the connector between our Financial Wellness team and various National Hispanic Organizations in the US. As a result, we were able to provide free tools to improve the financial opportunities for over 100,000 Hispanics across the United States.”
Finally, Claudia says it’s important to believe in yourself and follow your heart. “I know this sounds easy and sometimes we don’t have role models, support systems, or the socio-economic means to achieve it. But I can guarantee anyone that if you have conviction, people, and resources, opportunities will manifest themselves as that is how the collective wisdom works.
It takes a village. Surround yourself with those who believe in your dreams!”
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