Gladys Arzola remembers the flyer she spotted as a student at City University of New York. It invited students of color to apply for an internship program through Inroads, a nonprofit, teaching the fundamentals of business and office culture, including how to write a resume, what to wear to a job interview, and what questions to ask when you get there.
“If I had not seen that flyer on the wall, I would never have gotten into the business world,” she reflects. “All of this experience, all my success would never have happened because nobody would have taught me.”
Her mother was a trained accountant in the Dominican Republic, but never had the chance to apply her skills in their new home in the Bronx. Both parents reminded Arzola and her two brothers that education was the key that would unlock the American dream. Knowing she would need to piece together scholarships to afford a university education, she followed up on that flyer. The internship program set her up for a demanding, high-leverage career in the corporate world.
Fifteen years into her professional life, Arzola serves as head of financial reporting and accounting policy at Oscar Health, a healthcare and technology company that offers affordable insurance plans and medical care through its online platform and mobile app. The organization went public in 2021; Arzola’s mission was to guide the company through the transition from startup to public firm.
“They needed someone who had the technical accounting expertise in public companies,” she explains. “They were embarking on a very exciting, complex project, so I enjoy that there’s a growth mindset across the company, a collaborative culture. We’re all centered around a common goal.”
Her path has offered a variety of opportunities to experience change and grow her expertise. She began her career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she had the chance to learn the work in a massive, highly-optimized firm. Later, she transitioned to Assurant, where she practiced looking out for potential process improvements in reporting. And after that, she landed at Tradeweb as director of financial reporting and accounting policy. Arzola took those experiences to start building processes from scratch and her inquisitive nature helped her to build a thorough understanding of the business and its practices.
Healthy change management has been a crucial skill, especially at Assurant and Oscar Health. Arzola notes that people often assume accounting is exclusively about number crunching. Instead, discussion and collaboration are critical to success. When implementing new processes, she says, “You can’t just say: ‘Here’s the answer.’ It’s important to get everyone’s perspectives to see if your proposal works; it’s a matter of working with everyone, reaching a compromise while still meeting the accounting guidelines.”
Along the way, Arzola has also recognized the importance of helping others like her who have the desire and potential to contribute to corporate America, but historically receive fewer opportunities. She mentors at the same program she joined as a student to train young interns on the same practices that helped her breakthrough. “I know it’s important to pay it forward, so I always go back to that program and volunteer to conduct those trainings,” she says. “I go out of my way to help young people in corporate America. If they come to me with questions, I try to take from my experience to give them tips and tools.”
Meanwhile, at Oscar Health, she participates in Black and Latino employee resource groups. At a recent company event, participants discussed cultural differences in relation to mental health norms. Arzola explains it’s important to be sensitive to those subtleties to advance a healthy discourse. Many first-generation college students and children of immigrants face those stressors alone, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Immigrants and first-generation Americans deal with the pressures of doing well in school and making sure their parents’ sacrifice wasn’t for naught,” she says. “Once we start seeing that this is a common issue, we can open up lines of communication and address it in a much more productive way.”
More broadly, Arzola remembers how challenging it could be for the people in her community to get health care. She was lucky because her family had a car; they could cross the city to reach a doctor. For others, finding treatment presented a challenging series of logistical and financial obstacles.
“My first job out of college, my parents were unconcerned with the work that I would be doing,” she recalls. “Their first question was, ‘Will you have good health insurance?’ It shouldn’t be that way; every American deserves quality healthcare.”
Now, she’s thankful to have landed at Oscar Health, where she can contribute directly to the mission of delivering access to affordable health care across the country. Her family feels the same way. “They’re rooting for Oscar,” she says. “My father proudly sports his Oscar T-shirts because this is really personal to us.”
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