"Every single Latina I’ve met, they never lack a dream"
Boasting an impressive personality that greets you at the door, Tiffany Tavarez is a force to be reckoned with.
With a notable career that matches her personality, her service in her role on PECO’s corporate relations team has allowed her to become one of the more recognizable names throughout the city. But never one to rest, Tavarez has paired her career with continued service throughout her community.
Currently serving on the executive committee of the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts program, Tavarez's passion for the arts may be the only rival to her love of service. Her interest of arts and culture started early on - she was the first to receive a full-scholarship for visual arts from Temple University - and it’s only one of the aspects of her high-energy personality. From her career to her diverse interests, the one word you can use to describe Tavarez is: dynamic.
Get to know Tiffany below.
Tell us about your current career, how did you get there?
I currently work at PECO. I'm a part of the PECO corporate relations teams. I’m part of a very small but mighty dynamic team. It manages a little over 6 million dollars annually in corporate and community sponsorship works with over 300 non-profits in the region. And these non-profits work in arts and culture, education (focusing on STEM), environment and community development. So this a perfect blend in terms of a career for me because it entails civic engagement, stakeholder engagement, philanthropy, corporate citizenship, impact and all of those things have really been interesting to me just because it’s something that I really like to do and it’s work in the community so working with the business to ensure that we achieve our own initiatives and our mission.
What's the most rewarding part of your career?
There’s so many rewarding aspects to my career. It changes from day to day but the main thing I can say is that we consistently make an impact on individuals and organizations in the city. And it’s not just about making impact and I hear about it, I get to actually meet the people that get impacted. I get to hear their stories. I get to meet the students who receive that scholarship. I get to meet the executive director of the non-profit that had an event for neighborhood families that wasn’t able to have that event before without that funding. To me that’s the most rewarding aspect. It’s not just people trying to achieve the mission but it’s the story after the mission is achieved.
What was your dream job as a kid and why?
I would say that as a child I had a culmination of things that I’ve been interested in which is similar to how I am right now. So even though I may not have the exact titles I used to list, there are aspects of each one that I thought I would be. I remember I used to tell my mom, I’m gonna be a lawyer because I wanted to fight for people who don’t have a voice but then literally the next day I’d say well I’m going to be a tattoo artist because I’m so interested by what people are willing to commit to and what they’re willing to put on their bodies. And then another day, I’d say I want to be the next Martin Luther King Jr. only because I wanna come up with an awesome speech and tell people that story, too. I used to think I wanted to be in advertising because I’m interested in the mix between people. But I don’t think I was actually interested in doing those things […] but in some way there are aspects of my job that have married the being creative, it’s married the being committed to something that someone believes in in some way and so that’s why I’m really happy with everything.
What woman currently inspires you and why?
The woman that inspires me at all times would be my mother, Janine. She is a force to be reckoned with. She is both tough and equally gentle at the same time, which is a thing I think women can relate to in general. She, at the age of 24, was going through chemo - she’s a cancer survivor. She’s a widow. She had two small children. I have no idea how she managed it but she did. And it’s because she had the kind of long-term vision in mind and so everyday she was able to get through it because she reminded herself what was the bigger picture. […] And I think that’s something I do for myself. Yes, this is happening right now. Yes, this is challenging but what’s the bigger picture? At the end of the day, I’m able to say that vision was bigger than whatever irked me at that moment.
How have the women in your life shaped you?
One of the craziest things my mother ever told me was do something that you love. I realize now that that’s a radical idea. There’s so many young people that I met that say I wanna be something where it’s a job that I can make a lot of money or I can be seen all the time but none of those things are naturally aligned to something that you love. Something you can live off of is something that you love. If you’re doing something you love, then the figuring out of how to live, how to survive and make a name for yourself will come along with that. Because people get inspired more by what you do and how it is that you do it than rather you trying to impress someone. And she was a very big example of that.
Who were your mentors?
The first mentor outside of my mother is a high school teacher. Her name is Kahse and she used to drive me so crazy. I used to think she was super loud, super rambunctious, and just like “This teacher is so crazy.” Little by little she grew on me and I think little by little I grew on her. She was the first person who taught me to give something back. When I say that, it was my senior year of high school, I could not afford kind of general senior year activities most people would enjoy. So the cost of a class ring, the dances, the trips, graduation pictures - all those things add up. Before you even hit college you start to experience the burden of bills, right? In high school - and I remember - I walked into school one day and there was a bake sale going on. I remember all these teachers were selling cookies, and I thought, “Ok great it’s a bake sale. It’s another event.” The next week, Ms. Kahse actually comes up to me and she hands me this envelope and says, “Check this when you get home.” When I got home, I saw it was a check. It said, “Tiffany’s Senior year.” What she had done was she garnered all of the teachers to come together, host this bake sale and help me pay for those expenses for my senior year of high school. I remember going back to her and saying, “Are you sure I’m not going to get an invoice for this?” […] The number one thing I can describe is the feeling that I had - the feeling of someone giving something to me and not expecting something in return. It’s a very unnerving feeling for someone that has not experienced that before. Almost to the point where if they have a very survival of the fittest background they’re going to have trouble having faith in it. […] Every time I have that feeling I think of her because she taught me, it’s ok to pay someone back. The way you pay someone back is doing the same for someone else.
Who has been the most influential woman in your life?
The ones that inspired me were the ones that I met in school. The ones that had a dream about becoming something else or becoming a better version of themselves in some way. And to me, it was really interesting to have the Latinas that I looked up to actually not be in the place they want to be yet, right? They were all Latinas that were in the midst of something, they were building a momentum for themselves. […] And is for me, that was very inspiring because I still looked like them. They may not have had a lot of financial success or had the dream job that they wanted and they were similar to me and working towards the same cause and that was enough for me. One of my personal goals is ensuring we get to know each other and focusing on how we server as reminders not just for who we’re going to be but also where is it that we want to be.
What does it mean to you to be a Latina in your industry? Do you find yourself to be the only woman or Latina in the room often?
I often find I’m the only Latina, the only young person, and/or the only female, and that’s one of those things I check. And it’s a very fine line and a very tricky balance because even though you’re representing yourself at that moment, or your organization at that moment, in a lot of ways you also serve as a token. Often times, I meet people who have never met someone who is of Latina descent. And all of a sudden, your words have more weight. All of a sudden your behavior becomes a lot more closely watched and sometimes even judged and so when you’re in that space, it’s 100% needed that you be as confident as you are competent. Cause you can be the most competent person in the world, but if you don’t have the confidence as such, no one is ever going to be able to see that.
What career advice would your give to younger women?
My advice to young Latinas is that they need to be just as audacious as they are ambitious, especially in Philadelphia. Every single Latina I’ve met, they never lack a dream. They never lack ambition. What I do find is that inner culture we lack teaching young girls - young women - to have the audacity to reach that goal. Because if I have an ambition but my audacity to reach that goal is not there, it’s kind of like a tree falling in the woods, no one is going to know you have it.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
The way that my mother raised me is that there is no doubt that ever in your life you’re going to encounter barriers. I think that I encounter barriers everyday. But it’s more about your mindset. If you believe that a barrier is going to prevent you from getting from one point to another then in a lot of ways, that’s going to control your action. It’s going to control your behavior and how you think. And even though there are times that I think I may have encountered a barrier, I say to myself, “Is this enough that I should allow it to have power over how I think about myself or about my community?” And once I realize that’s completely ridiculous, and giving something power over me, I let it go and do what needs to be done.
What can be done to increase the number of Latinas in your industry?
I think the more that we can diversify our network, then we can diversify our perspective. And we need a number of different perspectives at the table. Often we just say, we need to support women or we want to support people of color. And I think that that’s needed and that’s fantastic but as much as the workplace has evolved, I think our advocacy and activism in the workplace needs to evolve. So I think it’s ok to say there are no Latinas in this room and be deliberate about it.
Any secret talent or hobby? Community work?
My personal and my professional life are two streets that run parallel to one another. As much as I try to work for my organization, […] I try to make sure Tiffany is happy with Tiffany’s work and I try to hold it to as high a standard. I currently serve on the board of PHL Diversity, […] I also serve in the executive committee for the board of directors for the Mural Arts program, which I absolutely love because I’m a huge arts advocate. So they definitely keep me busy.
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