Haley AguayoUnited Nations Foundation

    Haley Aguayo

    Alexandria, VA
    Manager, Benefits & Compliance
    United Nations Foundation

    Briefly describe your daily job duties.
    As the Manager of Benefits and Compliance to a 300-employee international organization, I oversee the management and creation of benefits plans and ensure that we are compliant regarding various federal and state legislation requirements. I establish positive relationships with employees, benefit brokers, and vendors to ensure our benefits are communicated efficiently and carried out effectively. Benefits are the backbone of employee retention and recruitment, and it is my job to ensure we develop creative solutions to build a robust and competitive benefits package that serves our demographics while also keeping up with the latest trends.

    As a person who stutters, share the most challenging part of your job.
    I think with any environment, people are used to fast-paced communication styles. When you stutter, it puts a different pace on meetings and conference calls. As with many career paths, my job involves a lot of communication. I frequently speak with employees, brokers, and vendors.

    During my career, there have been times when I have been presenting and someone who is participating remotely says that the line is breaking up or that the sound is coming in choppy. During these moments, I have to explain that I stutter, which clears the air, and then I can continue. However, I have never encountered anyone who was rude about it, as they only care about the overall message and my knowledge surrounding the subject.

    Did you self-disclose your stuttering during the job hiring process? If so, how did you do it and how do you currently disclose your stuttering to unsuspecting co-workers, clients and or customers?
    I am a firm believer in self-disclosure as it helps me feel more relaxed and confident during the interview process. When the recruiter first contacts me to set up the phone screen, I respond confirming the best schedule for me and ask if they wouldn’t mind scheduling a few extra minutes to the interview because I stutter and I’d like to ensure that I have ample time to answer any questions they may have.

    Then, during the in-person interview with the hiring manager, I usually state in the beginning along with my introduction, “Before we begin our conversation, I’d like to let you know that I stutter, so if you don’t understand something I say or if you need me to repeat something, please let me know and I’d be glad to do so.” And then I head into the interview portion. I feel this acknowledgment not only shows confidence on my behalf but it also allows the listener to understand what is happening, so they do not jump to assumptions.

    I used to struggle with being present in interviews because internally my mind was so loud with anxiety and actively finding ways to avoid stuttering. I would say words that wouldn’t make sense because they were easier to say or avoid talking about certain accomplishments, that I wasn’t focusing on showing my personality and my attributes for the role. I knew that my experience and background were a great fit, but I couldn’t convey them because I wasn’t present in the conversation. When your focus is elsewhere, it’s hard to shine in an interview.

    I think what helped me the most was realizing that the interviewer is human too. They are not perfect; they face struggles and adversities in their life as well. However, they saw something in me and that is why I was there at the interview. They believed that I was one of the top candidates out of the many who applied, which is encouraging. Once I realized this, it was easier for me to let my personality shine and I was able to answer and engage in the conversations confidently. I made them feel at ease with my professionalism, knowledge, and expertise. If I happened to stutter, so be it. Because at the end of the day, the hiring manager just wanted someone who they can trust to come in to do the job well, and I knew that I was absolutely that person.

    Describe how stuttering makes you a better, more valued contributor at work.
    I believe that stuttering has allowed me to be a good listener. When you work in human resources, people want to be heard. Showing my stuttering also shows my vulnerable side. There’s a humbling aspect of showing your struggle every day, and people find that relatable. Can you imagine working with someone in human resources who you find intimidating or not relatable? They wouldn’t be very approachable and they wouldn’t be effective at their job.

    I can choose to hide it by avoiding words or using techniques to be perfectly fluent, but I’m not fluent. I stutter, and it’s the way I am genetically programmed to speak. I once had a coworker tell me that maybe stuttering is my superpower. She went on to say that it has made me empathetic, patient, and a good listener, and not a lot of people have those skills. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    What is your proudest moment at your current company? 
    I’m still relatively new at my company, as I haven’t been there for a full year yet. But when I started, I hit the ground running wide-eyed with passion and excitement. This job is fast-paced and I was coming up on the busiest time of the year in regards to open enrollment planning and several compliance related projects. I might have had a few nerves here or there during this time period related to stuttering, meeting new colleagues, or leading presentations, but in all honesty, my main focus was that I came to do a job, and I worked hard to ensure that I was going to get it done accurately and efficiently. I’m proud that I was able to lead a successful open enrollment period, implement a new mental health benefit, complete several compliance audits, and find ways to improve existing procedures to better serve the organization, all within my first few months there.

    What’s your best advice for people who stutter just entering the workplace and for those in a career striving to achieve greater success?
    Be true to your passions because you will never be happy if you settle. Apply for that job that pushes your comfort zone. I majored in Graphic Design in college because I thought it was a safe choice regarding stuttering. I only learned after I graduated that I made the wrong decision because I realized that my calling was to help people. I was bored and didn’t find satisfaction with what I was doing, and I knew that I didn’t want to keep doing it for another 40 years until I retired. 40 years is a long time to do something that you’re already bored with!

    In college, I would have never seen myself as both a Human Resources leader speaking with people every day, but I love it. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone so that you can continue to grow. Don’t let stuttering define what your barriers are and don’t let it have control over your happiness. I promise that you will find confidence and happiness through pushing your limits and exceeding in ways you never thought imaginable. Stuttering is only a hindrance if you let it become one.