Meet Veronica Aguilar, the founder and chair of Young & Empowered Women. Veronica brings a unique and diverse background in non-profit, mentorship, career development, service, K-12 and higher education.
As a first-generation college student and Hispanic woman, Veronica Aguilar’s life mission is to promote equity within education and blaze the trail for women leaders who want to solve a societal problem. Prior to launching Young & Empowered Women, Veronica served as a Teach For America corps member teaching 4th grade at ASU Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Arizona. Teach For America is an organization that works to ensure all children no matter what zip code they are born into, they have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. After witnessing the disparate classroom experiences students receive based on their zip code, Veronica wanted to scale her impact by joining the Teach For America National Recruitment Team and recruit the next generation of leaders.
Veronica’s passion for serving others, led her to arrive in her current role as Assistant Vice President of Outreach at Arizona State University. She serves as a senior leader on the team that provides strategy, direction and oversight to increase the number of students to enroll and receive access to a college education.
Veronica earned a bachelor’s degree in Business and received her MBA with a Leadership emphasis from W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University to learn the business skills needed to be an even stronger advocate to others. As a proud Arizona native, Veronica works tirelessly to improve the community by empowering women leaders as founder of Young & Empowered Women.
What inspired you to start the nonprofit organization, Young & Empowered Women?
Young & Empowered Women (Y&E) was created to provide professional development and networking opportunities to a diverse group of rising female leaders that are passionate about service, career advancement and empowering others. Our mission is to raise awareness and educate others on women’s rights, empowerment and equity through professional development sessions, mentorship and service opportunities.
Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Y&E has members from around the country and continues expanding with every cohort. Our members come from a diverse group of professional backgrounds, including the education, nonprofit, medical, political, and corporate sectors. While our professional goals differ, all Y&E members share a vision of strengthening the community and raising awareness of the complexity’s women face in the workplace.
This organization was created to connect and impact young women from various sectors at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when networking and career coaching needed to be redefined. I identified a desire for women to come together and empower each other during a difficult time and after our first meeting in June 2020, the members knew this organization was something special. As a group, we bring up topics such as diversity, personal branding, and how to be a powerful leader in male dominated industries.
As founder and chairman of Y&E, I am so honored and proud of the work we have done as an organization to bring together and empower rising leaders. I oversee the Board of Directors, executive committee and serve as the spokesperson for the organization. I provide one-on-one coaching for each of our members to support and develop their career trajectory. I am very thankful for the dedication from our supporters and advocates for their invaluable time and contributions towards the growth and future of Y&E.
How do you find balance leading as Assistant Vice President of Outreach at Arizona State University and running a nonprofit organization?
Finding balance in life is complicated and looks different for everyone. I have learned throughout my career in various roles that it is okay to not always have a ‘perfect balance’ everyday. Accepting there may be days I feel unbalanced has allowed me to find peace whenever I feel overwhelmed. Some days I will be able to give my all to my job and nonprofit, which may sacrifice time away from my family and friends and vice versa. As long as I know at the end of the day that I was the best person I could be for those I care about, then I will always be proud of my actions.
I love what I do and have found a way to put my passions into purpose!
What has been your favorite moment in your career so far?
After teaching at ASU Preparatory Academy as a 4th grade teacher and high school cheerleading coach, I was recruited to join the national recruitment team for Teach For America. This role allowed me to inspire and motivate graduating college students to join an organization that would allow them to learn the inequities within the education system and give them the tools to make large-scale change.
With my dedication for racial and educational equity, I was able to lead a four-year campaign that recruited over 350 Arizona State University students to become educators who taught thousands of children in high poverty zip codes across the country. I was able to lead the team that brought ASU ten rankings up to the top-three contributing schools in the country for Teach For America.
This moment in my career allowed me to meet incredible changemakers who wanted to fight for quality education. Even after teaching, these movers and shakers are continuing Teach For America’s mission by leading in their communities through policy, education, law and business. It has been an honor to watch my recruits lead in their communities and advocate for the students and families they taught.
What has been your biggest milestone / achievement so far ?
My biggest milestone has been my ability to start my own nonprofit organization, work full time and graduate with my Master of Business Administration (MBA) at a top 25 program at Arizona State University during a global pandemic. During a time of great uncertainty, I am proud of my dedication to move forward with my education and deep commitment to help others navigate their own obstacles.
As one of the only women of color in my MBA cohort, I was able graduate in May 2021 with a 4.0 GPA and receive development that will allow me to create even more systemic change. I learned key skills from my business planning and management courses that helped me to create and implement my vision of Young & Empowered Women.
On June 22, 2021, one year after the first general meeting of Young & Empowered Women, we were granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Starting Young & Empowered Women took time, dedication and a deep belief in our mission to raise awareness towards gender inequities and provide a space for women to feel celebrated and empowered. The nonprofit now has 50 active members, a powerhouse Board of Directors and an executive committee who executed our inaugural leadership retreat. Many of our members have received promotions, graduate school offers, negotiated salaries and started their own businesses stemming from the professional development provided by Young & Empowered Women. We will continue to bring together diverse leaders from various backgrounds, create mentorship opportunities and partner with other value- driven organizations who want to empower women to reach their highest potential.
I am looking forward to the future of Young & Empowered Women!
What has been your key (or keys) to success?
I believe that investing in myself and lifting others up has played a role in my success.
The best thing someone can invest in is themselves, which is why I prioritize furthering my education, health and doing things that bring me joy. I have learned that taking care of myself has allowed me to have the ability to take better care of those around me.
I have learned that the way to achieve success is to help others around you succeed. Instead of asking, “What will I get out of this?” I have asked myself, “What can I do to help them?”. As a leader, I always want to inspire and empower my teams to be their best selves and if there is ever any way for me to help advance their goals then I will make it happen. I spend a great amount of time sharing my networks, reviewing scholarship applications, writing recommendations and coaching others towards their goals. Supporting and lifting others up brings me happiness and I believe is a reason I have also been successful in my own personal growth and development.
What are your future goals?
As an education and women’s empowerment advocate, my goal is to pave the way for others who want to solve a societal problem. I hope to achieve this goal by staying grounded in the mission of my work and lead with love, equity and optimism.
In the future, it is my intent to grow Young & Empowered Women as a nationally well-known, recognized nonprofit organization and impact as many rising female leaders as possible. I also hope to continue leading in K-12 and higher education by being part of large-scale change at Arizona State University to ensure as many students are able to receive a college education.
On a personal level, my goal is to lead a happy, healthy and fulfilled life with my parents, boyfriend and friends in Arizona as I continue to develop and impact my community. I will pursue leadership opportunities on local and state boards, volunteer activities and potentially run for school board in the future and become a college professor.
What mistakes are women making when they negotiate?
Not negotiating at all.
Unfortunately, statistics show that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries compared to men. They are also more likely to simply accept the first/ starting salary offer without negotiating.
It is important to make sure you know your value and are getting what you are worth by researching the organization and advocating for yourself in the negotiation process. The worst thing the company can say is ‘no’ and at that point you should have already decided your reservation price (the lowest value you are willing to receive) and what your next steps would be if that is their response. If salary isn’t negotiable, think of other things that are important to you (travel, virtual option, healthcare, etc.), which will help you at the negotiation table.
To all women- Always always always negotiate and advocate for yourself!
Do you have any special advice for other ‘entrepreneur diva’s’ out there?
Stay grounded in your ‘why’ and bring others along: If you stay grounded in your ‘why’ and purpose, you will continue to be invested in the work you do on a daily basis and achieve success. As an entrepreneur, it is imperative to invest others in the mission and purpose of your work.
Celebrate other women: In a society where women are striving for gender equity, we should celebrate each other’s wins and elevate each other’s voices. We are all in this together!
What’s your favorite social network – Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter? Why?
My favorite social network is LinkedIn! I love how LinkedIn gives me the ability to connect with other incredible business and community leaders at a local and global level. LinkedIn allows me to showcase my expertise, passions and build my professional brand. I have been able to network and learn from influential female leaders that have become lifelong mentors.
What is a skill you think all women should learn and why?
Advocate for yourself: It is important for women to self-advocate for their space, share bold ideas, apply for the promotions and take risks.