Karen Diosa credits her work ethic to her parents who immigrated to New York City from Colombia. “I saw how hard they worked to make sure that me and my brothers had a good life and we never needed anything. I always had that mentality because of them. I started working at a young age because I wanted to both work hard for what I needed and also be able to one day provide for my family to make sure they have what they need,” she said.
Diosa is one of four children, and the second person in her family to graduate from college. She’s also the first graduate of Gap Inc.’s This Way Ahead program to become a General Manager. This Way Ahead fights inequality by providing jobs and career mentorship to young people in underserved communities.
Diosa was excited to hear that in the spirit of unity, this July 4th, Old Navy pressed pause on social media to recognize the “power of we” as part of our ongoing commitment to change. The We. S. A. campaign included a $200,000 donation to This Way Ahead. An additional contribution to the company’s previously announced $2 million donation to the nonprofit partners who fuel the empowering program, comprised of 95% people of color.
A competitive bowler since the age of 12 - and like her father and brother who introduced her to the sport, Diosa knows not every throw is a strike, but she continues to push forward. Originally focused on nursing, she switched to major in health science and minor in psychology and sports science, all while holding down an internship and then promotion after promotion at Old Navy’s flagship store in Manhattan.
Diosa was just 16 and a junior in high school when she began her career with Old Navy through This Way Ahead, which also included the option to choose Gap or Banana Republic. “I liked Old Navy because I grew up with the products,” she said. “Since I was little my parents dressed me up in Old Navy. I still have a peacoat from when I was about 12 years old and it still fits me!”
For nine years, the Manhattan store was like a second home to Diosa, and when she graduated college, she had even more time to dedicate to the job. As leadership shifted and opportunities opened up, Diosa never missed a beat. She became a brand ambassador, a marketing specialist, an assistant manager and then held a business operations role.
“I saw this opportunity to grow with the company, so I said, ‘nothing to lose here, I'll go for it!,’ Diosa said. And go for it she did. She thanks Louis Reyes, her store director at the time, for mentoring her throughout the transitions from floor to leadership positions. A few years ago, she was presented the opportunity to move to the King’s Plaza store in Brooklyn, and try on the role of acting Senior Business Operations Manager. “I never thought I would enjoy that so much because I wasn’t ever a fan of math, but it became something that I was really interested in. I enjoyed setting the goals, competing with other stores, and learned to have a passion for running the business,” she said.
In February 2020, Diosa was promoted again, this time to General Manager making her the first graduate of This Way Ahead to do so. “If it wasn’t for This Way Ahead I wouldn’t be here right now. I took a big leap of faith because when I started I was very shy. The program helped me come out of my shell. I started speaking up and asking questions. There was more than just folding clothes. The Old Navy and This Way Ahead partnership is like a big family, a lot of networking: something I thought I would never do.”
This Way Ahead is now in its thirteenth year of programing. Diosa enjoys sharing her story with the new interns entering the workforce at her store, just like she did when she was their age. “I encourage them to ask questions. It’s very rewarding to be a role model. They see that I’m not stopping here. I keep going. They see the pride I take in the This Way Ahead program, and every year I see the program evolve and get better and better.”
Diosa is eagerly awaiting the return of interns, but due to Covid-19, in-store programming has been delayed. With that in mind, Gap Inc. recently hosted This Way Ahead career mentoring events in partnership with LinkedIn, to rave reviews. One participant said their takeaway from the event was, “We all have a voice that matters and holds power.”
“Old Navy brought out the best of me,” Diosa said, “Everyday I’m learning more and more about myself. You never stop learning, at this point I want to see what’s next and I’m going to keep going, keep going!”