The Glass Hammer: Tara Stafford, Project Manager, PGIM Operations & Innovation
“Don't be afraid to be authentically you." says Tara Stafford, project manager, Operations & Innovation at PGIM.
“Lean into all experiences, professionally and personally,” says Graciella Dominguez. “Find the opportunity to grow from everything you experience, channel those lessons, and then use them to do good.”
Dominguez was drawn to accounting due to her love of numbers – concepts like credits and debits that felt concrete and measurable. She began working for Ernst & Young while in college, and then joined Prudential a year after graduating. After switching to a smaller firm for a few years to try out auditing, she returned to PGIM, Prudential’s global asset management firm, where she has been for 23 years.
“That brief experience in auditing really challenged me and gave me a lot of confidence in going to different places, interacting with different people and tracking with different levels,” she says. “It was pivotal for my career, but it wasn’t for me long-term, so I brought what I learned back to PGIM.”
PGIM has grown tremendously during her career, and so has she. Although Dominguez went into accounting because of a love for numbers, her work focused just as much on supporting people as she stepped into leadership.
“You really have to push yourself in areas of unexpected growth. When I started as an accountant, I didn’t realize that interacting with people and building relationships was going to be more central to my experience,” she says. “I have been able to grow my relationships, and they are so important – and rewarding – in accomplishing greater things.”
“What has been most pivotal in my career, and truly in my life, was when I became a mom,” says Dominguez. When it comes to the challenge of dividing your energies between work and home as a working mother, nobody understands what that means more than she does. She lost her 11‑year-old son, Alexander, five years ago. Throughout her son’s life journey, Dominguez worked, mostly full-time. One of her key motivators was providing for her son and his needs.
“I think we as women have to lean into all of our experiences. For me, that included leaning into being a mom of a child with special needs. It shaped me both as a person and as a professional,” she says. “I learned from his great strength, determination and courage in his short life.”
Alexander was born medically fragile, immunocompromised, hearing‑impaired, legally blind and ultimately unable to walk. While parenting a child with several medical needs, Dominguez had to find her voice in advocating for what was important when it mattered most.
“Being a mom to a child with so many medical complexities gave me the confidence to speak up and say, ‘No, I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with how you’re going to treat my son,’” she says. “And that same confidence to speak up for what I believe crossed over into my work.”
Her motherhood has also inspired her to be a more empathetic leader. “As a leader, I’m more compassionate now,” she says. “Because I understand that people have so much more going on than you see at work. You don’t know the challenges people are facing day in and day out. Everybody has a story.”
She continues, “But at the same time I also expect a lot from people, because I saw my son, who was completely disabled, and his friends who faced the same conditions, show up for school every day with a smile and ready to work. That inspired me and really shaped me. Witnessing that has given me the courage to face anything. That is how I honor his legacy to make him proud.”
Dominguez describes her son as a social butterfly with a sparkling personality and smile that shone through no matter what challenges life threw at him. Knowing him has pushed her to get out of her comfort zone – as an introverted person – and show up more with her own voice to share her story and her son’s legacy.
“I hope sharing my story can inspire people to learn how both amazing and fragile life is,” she reflects. “We all have these gifts and abilities to do good things, so never take that for granted.”
Being detail- and research-oriented has supported Dominguez throughout her career, as well as her principle of doing due diligence for the work and her clients. Integrity is the most important value to her – being who you are, being true to yourself and leaning into your experiences.
As such, Dominguez is inspired by leaders who show openness and truly embody their words and what they stand for. “I admire the leaders who truly act and behave from who they say they are and who show up as their authentic selves,” she says. “I respect integrity.”
When approaching any challenge, Dominguez emphasizes process – taking the necessary extra steps and knowing the why behind every decision you make. This comes to the forefront especially when bringing junior members on board – helping them learn processes in a way that helps them appreciate each step and helping them question each decision. She aims to always rise to the challenge to do the best, most complete job for the task at hand.
As the daughter of Cuban immigrants, Dominguez prizes hard work. “My family came to this country seeking freedom, and that’s not lost on me. My family left everything and sacrificed so much. Their experience instilled in me a strong work ethic,” she says. “My grandparents and my parents (who immigrated as adolescents) understood the importance of education and hard work to succeed amidst challenges, and that drives me. I want to honor their legacy, and my son’s, with how I show up in my own life.”
Dominguez appreciates working in a culture that also values high integrity and high standards, and emphasizes diversity and inclusion. She is also co-founder of the PGIM Operations & Innovation Latinx Networking group.
“Representation is really important to me as a Latina woman. Earlier in my career I used to observe women in more senior positions. I love working for a company that really values diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, and puts so much effort into their initiatives for diversity and inclusion,” she says. “It’s really important to me to use my voice and honor all the women who paved the way for me. I am also trying to pave the way for other women. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”
For those beginning to make their mark in the professional world, whom she also learns from, she advises, “Be yourself. Hard work and integrity pay off at the end of the day. Be yourself and be open to possibilities.”
Reflecting back she says, “I wish I would have been kinder to myself as a young mom. Challenges can look so big sometimes, but you will climb them and be successful, and it’s going to be OK.”
“The more I go through life, the more I realize we do not know what challenges people have every day,” reiterates Dominguez. “So above all, we need to practice kindness towards ourselves and others.”
Classically trained in piano, Dominguez has also returned to playing piano since leaving it behind in her early 20s. She is remembering how to read music again and starting out first with greatest hits.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Dominguez is passionate about volunteerism and giving back to the community. She is on the finance council and works with children at her church. In honor of Alexander’s birthday each year, Dominguez and her husband collect and donate books to Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, the local hospital where their son spent so much of his time.
Article originally published by The Glass Hammer.