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Aaron Varella AAPI Month

Aaron Varella (B.S. ’19) has navigated his cultural heritage and professional journey with a distinct sense of purpose. Growing up with diverse influences, Varella’s leadership is rooted in lessons from his family and the multicultural experiences shared with friends. As he transitions from Dominion Energy to pursue an MBA at Vanderbilt University, Varella remains focused on cultural representation and community connection.

Read on for his thoughts on advancing AAPI communities through meaningful engagement and more.

How has your cultural heritage shaped your personal and professional journey?

It’s a huge part of both my personal and professional journey!

I’m a child of immigrants, and the lessons I’ve learned from my family shape my journey. My parents have different personalities, but I’m a product of their unique differences, similarities and shared values. My brother and I have recently reflected on this as we both have gone through our respective grad school application processes. Many of our leadership values started as kids through teachings from our parents.

Equally, my experience has also been shaped by my friends I’ve grown up with, from introducing me to new cultures and foods to traveling new places.  One of my favorite books is American Like Me by America Ferrara, which brings multiple celebrities and athletes together to detail their personal journeys of living life between cultures.

I’m excited for Vanderbilt this fall to expand my worldview even more through all the international and domestic students that I will be meeting soon.

You’re now five years post-grad! Are there any impactful moments or achievements that you’re proud of and would like to share?

VCU gave me life-long friends, but through five years at Dominion Energy (DE), I’ve met so many new people. Personally, my favorite moments have been furthering these friendships. I’ve been able to experience post-grad life with them, from local RVA events to traveling coast to coast. Thanks to some VCU Business alumni, it’s also been fun learning how to snowboard at various resorts. It took me some time and many sore days, but those memories have been meaningful.

Professionally, my work at DE has given me opportunities to lead large projects that recruit very talented students from across the country while also managing our annual summer intern program of 250+ interns and co-ops. My two top professional moments in the last five years have been leading the recruiting trip to the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez for back-to-back years. The weeks of logistics and planning where challenging, but we recruited some very smart students. The second would be being recognized in Virginia Business magazine’s “100 People to Meet in 2022” for my work. Seeing my face in a major statewide magazine was something that I’m still in shock about, but I’m very proud and blessed to be recognized.

The theme for AAPI Heritage Month 2024 is “Advancing Leaders Through Innovation.” Where do you see innovation being integrated within the RVA AAPI business community?

Right now, most people may think “advancing leaders through innovation” means AI or technology advancement. But for me, I think we need more ideas and projects on how to connect and build community through real-life human connections.

Our world has been thrust into a post-pandemic virtual environment, and we need more opportunities to meet each other and learn about one another. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean more in-person workdays, or events (I’m a fan of hybrid flexibility) but finding intentional ways to connect with people regardless of whether it’s virtual or in-person.

In this aspect, the Asian American Society of Central Virginia (AASoCV) and Kasama Collective are two groups that I think are helping further connect the greater Richmond community. I would encourage anyone to look up their organizations. At DE, our Asian Pacific Islander Employee Resource Group (API ERG) hosts various events to help connect our current employees to each other. While we may be in different operating functions and roles, we can still relate on a shared AAPI journey.

Hopefully, more organizations can continue to foster this AAPI connection with our local Fortune 500 corporations, community partners and educational institutions.

Can you discuss the significance of representation in leadership and community programs? Have you faced and overcome any challenges as an AAPI professional?

In non-tech companies, industries and roles, AAPI representation in leadership isn’t as prevalent. At DE and in the broader energy industry, our AAPI representation in leadership isn’t strong either (this is published in our annual DEI report). Having leaders and executives who look like you and come from a similar journey and background is highly important. It’s a unique experience being an AAPI professional, immigrant, child of immigrants or minority. Companies need more programs to showcase AAPI leadership, whether through lunch-and-learns or small group sessions. Having representation provides advocates when you are up for promotions, salary increases or leadership roles. It also ensures you have support through your journey.

I asked this question in our DE API ERG group chat, and these are a few words they mentioned about having more AAPI representation in leadership: Seen, Understood, Included, Connection.

McKinsey & Company did a public report on AAPI workers in 2022. I highly recommend reading it for those interested in learning more about AAPI representation in the workforce.

Overall, we need more!

As a recruiter, how do you think companies can better ensure representation and inclusion of AAPI individuals?

Companies need to be intentional in their recruiting initiatives aimed at increasing their workforce representation while also rethinking their hiring practices during the interview process. At DE, we’ve reviewed our interview process and implemented a few practices that help with this.

I believe this also includes involving current employees through employee resource groups. DE’s API ERG group fosters internal collaboration across groups and business functions while also showcasing the wide AAPI culture and community. The AAPI diaspora is huge, and we host events for current employees to learn about the many cultures. API board members also partner with our recruiting teams to ensure we have representation in the recruiting efforts.

What advice would you give to current VCU students who are navigating their cultural identity and career aspirations?

  • Find your community: Aim to find your community. You may be one of one at your company or you may be one of 100. Being part of the AAPI diaspora is unique. Embracing it and meeting people who are on the same journey as you is amazing.
  • Take breaks: In the AAPI culture, we are often seen as go-getters and high performers. Keeping up with this often comes at the expense of our work-life balance, mental health and lifestyle. Take your PTO. Take those mental health breaks. Enjoy time with friends and family.
  • Curious Mindset: Seek to ask questions and understand. Look to create programs, events or initiatives where you see a need for improvement. Don’t get stuck in just your role. Some of my favorite projects have been those where I stepped outside of my core duties to work on projects that I questioned.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’m here to be of service to any VCU student or alumni who may need advice on starting or progressing in their career, specifically HR advice, including compensation, negotiation or resume help. Send me a message on LinkedIn at

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