Welcome to the Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari
March 22, 2022

Episode 3: Teresa Rivero

Her grandfather was the last President-Elect of Cuba before Castro took over and her family was exiled and forced too start over in a foreign country, so Teresa Rivero  truly understands the value of an opportunity. Overcoming a learning disability that ...

Her grandfather was the last President-Elect of Cuba before Castro took over and her family was exiled and forced too start over in a foreign country, so Teresa Rivero  truly understands the value of an opportunity. Overcoming a learning disability that wasn't diagnosed until she reached college, and the expectation that a Cuban daughter should not stray far from family, she fought hard to achieve her educational and career goals independently... and is now managing hundreds of millions of dollars for one of the largest foundations in the world. Join us as Angela Gennari talks with  Teresa about her incredible and inspiring journey.


Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari, Episode 3: Teresa Rivero

Do you aspire to be a woman who stands in her power, is unapologetic for her success, and is unwilling to compromise on her standards, values, and goals? Welcome. This is the Pretty Powerful Podcast. Where Angela Gennari, speaks with extraordinary women who are breaking barriers, shattering glass ceilings, dominating their sports, and rising to the top of their industry. It's time to step into your power.

Angela Gennari: Hi, this is Angela Gennari with the Pretty Powerful Podcast, and I am sitting here with Teresa Rivero, who is a friend of mine and also an extremely impressive woman I am very grateful that you've taken the time to be here. I know you're extremely busy and you tend to travel a lot, so I know that your time is valuable. So, thank you. So, I'm going to read a little bit about Teresa so that everybody knows who I am talking to today. So, Teresa Rivero is a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation on the K Through 12 Education Team. She has worked with a variety of organizations across the Southeast, including state education agencies, school districts, and education, nonprofit groups. In her current role, Teresa partners with organizations to build networks for school improvement focused on advancing student outcomes for black, Latino, and low-income students.

Teresa has dedicated her career to working with organizations focused on improving the lives of the most vulnerable communities. This includes serving as the grant officer for the Robert W. Woodrow foundation, director of education at the Latin American association program director at the Whiteford school-based health clinic, and as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in Honduras. Teresa sits on the board of trustees and is a member of the executive committee at her Alma Mater Emory University. Where she earned a bachelor's degree in finance and a master's in public health. Additionally, she also holds a master's in business administration from Georgia State University. Teresa also serves on the learn for life board and leadership Atlanta board of directors. Teresa lives in Atlanta with her partner and three-legged rescue dog who also has his own Instagram and is a part-time office assistant on the weekend. She enjoys playing tennis, hiking, and riding her scooter to weekend festivals. So, thank you, Theresa.

Teresa Rivero: Oh my gosh! I'm already blushing. It's like uncomfortable in my skin.

Angela Gennari: I understand I'm still getting through this. I'm terrified of public speaking. So, this is okay.

Teresa Rivero: You're doing great.

Angela Gennari: So, I wanted to just kind of start. You have a pretty heavy responsibility with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. You are in charge of what is it? 200 million dollars or something like that, grants you have to figure out where is the best source and where are they going to have the most impact in the community. So, tell me a little bit about that.

Teresa Rivero: Well, Angela, I'm just so, I think the best way to say it is just so humbled by being here with you.

Angela Gennari: Well, thank you.

Teresa Rivero: And just everything you do, and what you stand for. So, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I've got to say it is pretty crazy to think about being a professional staff member for a foundation and I've been in that space for a number of years now, but it's not my money. It's other people's money that made that, and I was entrusted with looking for the best and most aligned opportunities and communities around improving outcomes for K12 Education.

Angela Gennari: And I love this because I read in your bio and some of your backgrounds, that education has always been a huge part of your life growing up, and that your family was very focused on your education. And so, tell me a little bit about where that comes from? And I know that your parents had immigrated here from Cuba. So, tell me about their journey and why education became such a focus of your life?

Teresa Rivero: Sure. And I don't know like this could take all day.

Angela Gennari: No, we got time?

Teresa Rivero: No, not me on that journey. So, you're right. Education has been a pillar of just everything in my life, from my family's influence. So, I'll start where it comes from. So, my family had to leave Cuba. They were actually exiled from Cuba. And I'll share a little bit about why, and they left in the middle of the night and just had to start over in this country.

Angela Gennari: How terrifying?

Teresa Rivero: Yeah. So, in 1959, yeah. When they left with nothing making it this way what they just banked on is, hey, we're going to pull ourselves back up and we're going to focus on our children's education. So, that was a mantra. Like every second of every moment, it felt like growing up but the story of that is about my dad's dad. So, my paternal grandfather was the last president elective, in Cuba. And he was, you know, wasn't educated at the age of 13. His father passed away. And at that time, he was taking care of the farm. His brother was old enough and he just went to Havana to say, I want to get an education, and from that point on, he made it through law school at the age of 22, and then just essentially moved from being a journalist to getting involved in politics from his own experience and became a minister of education of Cuba. And so, to make a 60-year story, very short. When the revolution was happening in the mid to late fifties the dictator at the time said, I'm going to hold free elections. My grandfather was one of 10 or 12 candidates and won the elections. However, Castro and Chad, Guevara were taking hold and the revolution actually beat out any elections that were held.

So, when the revolutionaries hit Havana. Chris... it was New Year’s Eve, 1958 going to 59. My family literally had to leave that night from the presidential palace. There was a party going on because the dictator was leaving, others were leaving the country and a plane was left behind. Folks went to San Domingo and my family tried to get into the US but were denied coming in at the time because we were supporting the revolution. So, we finally made it to the states with nothing, and the stories, you know, here I am, but...

Angela Gennari: That's incredible. And your parents who, you know, obviously had a lot to lose going out of leaving Cuba and they had to start all over with nothing. And so, the one thing that I'm sure instilled in you is education, because nobody can ever take that from you no matter what, right?

Teresa Rivero: Yeah. My mom growing up would say, both parents actually would just say, and education's everything, but you're going to work hard and get involved. Like she would literally, I could say it in Spanish, but she would that phrase, like get involved in anything you do and...

Angela Gennari: Say it in Spanish.

Teresa Rivero: No! The follow-up to it is she would say [Spanish Speaking 07:52]. She's like get involved, works hard study because it's what the Americans do. And it took me decades to realize I was born in this country. I just happened to have grown up in that Cuban community over Miami.

Angela Gennari: Right, and I'm sure that's such a strong community because you have people who are in the same situation where they have all left to start a better life in America. And here they are with their children that are their legacy. So, it’s you have to carry on something that they gave up everything to give their opportunities to their children. And so, that's an incredible way to start, and how nice to honor that because you're not the only successful one, your brothers are most successful as well. So, I mean, I'm sure they must be extremely proud.

Teresa Rivero: Yeah. They're super smart and successful. I just work really hard.

Angela Gennari: And I love it because I was listening to one of your stories that I saw when you were giving a presentation to, which is the Latin American Association. And you were talking about how your parents always instilled in you to take every opportunity and to never let... and like, it wasn't easy for you. You had a lot of opportunities that were not presented to you, but you saw the opportunity and you went after it, you were proactive in making sure that opportunity was for you, even if it wasn't initially presented that way. And so, tell me about some of the opportunities that you have taken that probably wouldn't have gotten you to where you are had. You said, you know, I should let that go?

Teresa Rivero: Yeah. That's a great question. And when I think about your lead up to that one thing I'll say, and I'll get to the opportunity is there are two ways to think about those is because you have the book intelligence and smarts, and you can have your way, that way, or you have the kind of street smarts and some people have both. I come from a very intellectual family, and that didn't stick as much, but it was the knowing how to navigate and the street smarts. And I would say the opportunities were never super clear. I just followed what I just knew, I wanted to do, and I'll say I was never the fastest or the strongest in achieving things, but what it was is just persistence and staying at it. So, what my friends will tell me is I just sneak up on people.

Angela Gennari: Love that.

Teresa Rivero: And I learn enough to then understand this is how I can navigate. And I use that kind of street smarts to think about making an impact.

Angela Gennari: Well, and I think one of the things that I consider when I think of women who are making their way is tenacity because I feel like nobody has more tenacity than a woman who is determined. And so, that tenacity is everything because you constantly strive and it's very rare that opportunities are clear. And so, I know so many times I've heard people say, well, I would've done it, but I just wasn't sure and I was hesitant because it wasn't really the right timing or the right opportunity, and sometimes you have to just leap, even if it doesn't seem quite right because you don't know, you don't know what that's going to lead to and you don't know the path or the roads that are going to open as a result of at least walking and moving forward.

Teresa Rivero: You know that from building businesses and that's for sure. It's like walking your path and that path isn't going to necessarily be super clear, and it's just that one thing I'll say about the kind of growing up in Miami is there's a couple of significant things. One I spoke Spanish until I was five. So, my brothers would come home, they're both older and we would speak some, but my first language until then was Spanish. And then when I got into elementary school, it was English during the day. But when I got home, it was Spanish. And so, it was two languages, two cultures. One foot in the US one foot in the little Havana in Miami. It was navigating that. So, just understanding that the other was, my parents were looking for the best education in the public school system they could get. They didn't know what that meant, but they knew that they would try to get into neighborhoods that had that. And as a result, we moved quite a bit. So, I went to 10 different schools in 12 years, and there's no better way to one side, and two learn how to just assess situations and new environments right away, and know-how to navigate, figure out, okay, these are the rules of the game. Figure that out. The downside to that, Angela is, and I don't talk a bunch about this, but I had a learning disability I'm dyslexic that wasn't diagnosed. Until I got to college where an English professor was like, why are you working so hard? And essentially what he's saying is, and this is what it's producing because you would see it. And I couldn't string in a... I could because I worked really hard, but it was the product wasn't like didn't match the effort.

Angela Gennari: The input didn't match the output. So, nobody discovered this while you were in school in elementary and middle school.

Teresa Rivero: I went to so many different schools. So, if you think what happens.

Angela Gennari: So, I see.

Teresa Rivero: So, we moved, not that we, or when we moved, I was in one school and then we'd get redistricted and I went to another school. So, I had that experience.

Angela Gennari: So, they couldn't catch up with it? They didn't have enough time.

Teresa Rivero: Was the, yeah. I think that's probably right.

Angela Gennari: Wow. That's interesting. So, then all the way through school your parents are moving you from school to school to give you better opportunities, and yet there's this big thing that's happening underlying issue that you didn't know about until you got to college and somebody figured that out. That's amazing.

Teresa Rivero: And the other piece about that is I am super close with my brother. My brother is under this and God bless and they are the smartest and most achieving folks and they can love to read, love, to debate, love to do amazing writers. Our parents never compared us to each other but they flew through everything. And we're in the... there were honors programs and it would... I snuck in because the only time I went to school at the same school was my high school and my brother Carlos had gone there. He graduated before I got there. But I kind of wrote his coattails on. Hey, she'll be in these classes. So, it was just hard work.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. That's incredible. So, I know that when you left Miami, there was this idea that maybe a girl shouldn't go that far from Miami right? Like you were the baby and you were the girl and you should stay close. And so, how did you get that courage to go to Atlanta versus stay in Miami?

Teresa Rivero: Yeah, I was so, I don't even know how to describe it. I was fortunate because both my brothers paid the path to go outside of Miami. So, they went up to schools in the Northeast and we got to my parents and I visited them at different points and it just kind of opened up that, that door. I didn't apply to any school that was in Miami. My parents were somewhat. They were open to it. It was the rest of the family. The grandfather I talked about literally sat down to my dad and said, should a girl go this far away, but I think the bigger thing was I never thought about going back to Miami right after college. And that was actually a bigger deal for my parents. Oh, they pushed really hard to come back to Miami. That's to live.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. And your brothers live in Miami now?

Teresa Rivero: One does my oldest and the others in New York.

Angela Gennari: Well, that's awesome. So, I think it's great that you came here and you built your own way and that takes a lot of courage, especially coming from a family that is so tight-knit, and obviously, you have a community there and you have family there and that's wonderful.

Teresa Rivero: I have 35 cousins in cousins in Miami and all those cousins have kids.

Angela Gennari: Oh my gosh!

Teresa Rivero: And they're all in Miami. And so, it's massive.

Angela Gennari: So, I'm sure family functions are interesting. Being around your family, does that impact your heritage? Your family, does that impact how you work? Do you think that impacts how your drive, and your communication styles? Like how does coming from a tight-knit, Cuban, Latino family, how does that impact everything else that you're doing?

Teresa Rivero: Yeah, there's a lot of debate. The debate of issues and ideas. The volume gets really like, Gretchen my partner often will say, why are you all yelling? And you're never yelling at each other. And we just are passionate. So, it's that, I think one thing about culture and I thought about this before when you made the really thoughtful invitation to come here is what about my culture and the way I grew up either enable whatever success means. I think it's connected to feeling like I can engage and make a difference in my community or that I'm a good person and moving through my days. Not doing harm to a lot of people. But the culture's really interesting because when I think of the Latino culture, it's magnified to me, the roles of women, and what a woman's place is having kids or creating a house, taking care of a husband. And that's very stereotypical, I realize, but I'm also thinking about the generation that I grew up in my parents' generation. That was very strong in growing up. What women do and what women don't do.

Angela Gennari: Right. And here you are leading this, you know, you're leading funds for some of the largest foundations in the world. You work with one of the richest men in the entire world and you have a huge responsibility and you are entrusted with something that most people can't even fathom the amount of money, but you are one of the things I think is so impressive is you've got like governors and politicians on speed dial on your phone and they're coming to you wanting favors, not the other way around. They're saying, hey, how can we impress Teresa to get her to invest in our programs. So, where do you find in all of your education, that you have those incredible backgrounds and responsibilities with your career? Where do you feel like the biggest gap is in funding? What do you seek out? Where do you feel like money is well put into education?

Teresa Rivero: Yeah. That's boy, that is a tough question. So, the work that we do, so I'm going to bound that a little bit in how we fund and that's the question you're asking is bigger than that. So, we're really working within systems and thinking about how systems, when I say systems, either school systems right. School system, like Atlanta public schools, or it could be a state that has a bunch of school districts, right. Are trying to improve their outcomes for students where the systems had failed them. Right. So, there are big education gaps in our country and folks will have a lot to say about why those exist. So, we can put that aside...

Angela Gennari: That's a whole other episode.

Teresa Rivero: That's another episode really needs to be debated that. But I think that some of the most powerful investments I've had a part to do, I could talk about, oh, the investment that supported this really cool infrastructure that helped professionals have real-time information or how it developed all these measures for something or contributed to the research. But the most powerful investments are where it elevates students and families, voices to say, this is what matters to us and our education, hey, are you policymakers? Hey, are you people that run systems and listen to what actually works for us? Because we know and don't look for a fancy way of saying in all the jargon but this is what we need today. So, how to elevate voices and bring those voices, create space. It's not that those voices don't want to be part of the conversation, but create space for that.

Angela Gennari: I love that.

Teresa Rivero: The most powerful investments.

Angela Gennari: Well, and I think that when you start giving people a voice who have previously not had when you discover major gaps in why is our system failing? Because everybody can look at our education system and say, there are broken pieces, there's a lot of good, but there's a lot of broken pieces. And how do we bring those together? And you can't do that from a high level. You can't be 10 feet up looking down and saying, well, I think it's because this and this, because only the people who are there. No. And so, getting to meet people where they are, I think is a big part of that.

Teresa Rivero: That's so big. It's so easy to intellectualize. How do you fix it? Which public education and look at the people that we're trying, that the systems are trying to serve to say they're the problems. Which really, it isn't the case. So, speaking of voice. I've been thinking a lot about that since seeing some of your, you know just things to think about before the podcast, and when I think of finding a voice, I really think of looking at where have we seen in society, women that use their voices to make a difference, and one of the things that recently I'm so excited to see in philanthropy are women like McKenzie Scott or Melinda Gates, who now, because of circumstances and forces right now have their own major efforts, and are redefining. That's what philanthropy is...

Angela Gennari: That, I love that. I've been watching that as well. And I think when you have a powerful husband and he's leading the effort and that's the name, everybody knows that's the household name. And you're just kind of the, you know, you're the wife. You're just the one who is the, almost an accessory. And now you have your own power and you are stepping into that power and you have your own voice, and the things that are changing are significant and impactful. I'm so excited about that too. I've been watching and I have been like, cheering them on.

Teresa Rivero: Defining how to share power? Regardless of whether I can be the most thoughtful, most community-driven come from a community, but a role in a professional role in philanthropy or the type of role that a billionaire may take is power. And not just these two women, there are others. Those are the ones that come to mind right now are redefining how to start to distribute how that looks different?

Angela Gennari: And I think that it's going to be a bigger impact. Because I think women by nature, we are nurturers. We don't want to take care of a system; we want to take care of a community. So, I think that that's going to be more impactful. I think you're going to see it reach the people who need it more now that, you know, you have women in charge of where those funds are going. And so, I'm super excited about that because I feel the same way and those voices that you were referring to that when you give a woman a voice who has been quiet for so long and suddenly women watch, we tend to watch, we tend to observe, we're going to sit back, we're making notes, but we don't always have a voice to express how we feel about something. And once that voice is heard, now you have what has been built up over so long.

And we look at how to fix an entire generation? How to leave a legacy? How to make sure that this isn't just for this one thing. We're not funding this one project we're funding this project that can lead to a bigger community effort.

Teresa Rivero: So, you're spot on. You must be working at our shop.

Angela Gennari: That's right. I have observed. So, no, but it's amazing. And so, I'm excited about that. So, you have been doing a ton of really cool speaking engagements, you were a commencement speaker for Emory, and you have done which is one of the most prestigious, I mean, universities in the Southeast. And so, I mean, what was that like?

Teresa Rivero: So, you may know... So, it was part of Emory. So, Oxford college. So, I got to... I guess it was 2017, Doug Hicks, who's the Dean there called me up and invited me and literally said, listen, Oprah turned us down, but you were our second.

Angela Gennari: I love it.

Teresa Rivero: It was cool and stepping on the stage, my, my parents came my brothers, oh my gosh came, you know, a couple of my best friends were there, but the graduates were right up front. And I had that moment. It was a windy day and I had that moment of like, I have nothing these graduates to offer.

Angela Gennari: Right, that's terrifying.

Teresa Rivero: But I leaned into it that terrifying moment. And leaned into it, and it was fun because I had really focused on the message. Just really getting clear on what I felt like I could authentically share. And it was about finding, you know, you've got this privilege, you're graduating from this institution.

Angela Gennari: The whole world is at your hands.

Teresa Rivero: The whole world is at your hands. And so many people want this opportunity and don't have it because of life circumstances. So, you have the responsibility to find how to use your voice and have an impact.

Angela Gennari: I love it.

Teresa Rivero: So, I did it through also some storytelling.

Angela Gennari: And I think that's more impactful. Right. So, I was talking to somebody last night and was explaining that I could learn everything in a book because we were talking about the value of an MBA. I said, I think an MBA can be extremely valuable, but as an entrepreneur, I've owned three companies for over 20 years. I just have an undergraduate degree, I never got an MBA, but there have been a few times where I'm like, I really need to get this MBA. And so, I'd go back and I'd start doing some online courses and I'd sit there and say, I already know that yep, I learned that the hard way, yep, I also learned that the hard way. So, there's value in having that structure of this is how you should do it, this is the guideline you should use, but there's also value in making those mistakes because when you have real money on the line and you lose real money that stays with you. And so, I think there's such something to be said for how much we put into education, but also how much we put into experience because you have an incredible amount of education behind you, but some of the things that you're doing in your career, I'm sure have had just such a major impact and had you not had to education, you wouldn't have had the opportunities, but that life learning that real-life learning that you're getting when you actually give a grant to somebody and when you actually put funds somewhere, you speak to students, that's coming from life experience. That is coming from your life, experience, your family history, your career that is where that comes from, and while the education offers to give you the opportunities, the life experience gives you the stories. That I think is really impacting people.

Teresa Rivero: Yeah. I love that. That's exactly right. And it's funny you can look at the education. I was going to be my brothers they paved the way and that opened up. My oldest brother opened up colleges is possible for us. Because we had no money. We didn't the three of us, we didn't know we were poor until we got to college, and we qualified for full financial aid, and got work-study and other need-based grants. But that's where that came in. My parents understood. They had gone to college in Cuba, but couldn't prove they had it. So, they actually went to college back in the US to have the degree. So, it mattered because they believed in education, but I've got to say once I graduated undergrad, the last person who was going to go to get any graduate work was me. I worked in Chicago because it was so as much as I valued it, I was like, get my hands.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. I'm hungry for experience.

Teresa Rivero: And I'm the learner that has to hear things. And reading I don't learn from the book. I'd never missed a lecture. I would always absolutely go on, you know, sit in the front seat, I would stay after those questions just because it's how I learned, but where I got my best education was in the peace corps.

Angela Gennari: Oh wow. That's amazing.

Teresa Rivero: It was, I worked in Chicago for a couple of years and then went to the peace corps. I applied to college and my parents were like, this is the culture like, you're not doing that.

Angela Gennari: No ma'am.

Teresa Rivero: For you to go to central America. I'm like, and it took me a couple of years in Chicago to realize, wait, this is my life. So, I kept the application, but Angela's talking about women and really powerful women in the peace corps. I was assigned to rural Honduras because I was a native Spanish speaker. So, it was way out there. There was nothing. No running water, no lights, lived in a village and an Adobe hut. They'd never had a peace Corps volunteer, but the agency I was assigned to The Development for Women in Business was funded by the Swiss government, these micro-loans in the late eighties were just for men than farmers. These were grass, these were really small little businesses but the loan and the loans were maybe a hundred, $150. Which is still a lot.

Angela Gennari: Right. Especially in the community.

Teresa Rivero: So, there were, and it was for women who had some existing little business. They might have been a market out of their house, they might have been fattening up pigs to resell or butcher or they may have had a business. I had to work, I do some training in groups and then the women were eligible for loans and I would follow up with all the technical assistance and make sure they'd stayed on track and showed things like accounting. These women were just rock stars to about, I was close to a hundred over my two and a half years in the Peace Corps.

And not just going against societal norms and having a business. But they became like, they were the rocks of their communities. They get things done, but they would have to push against, the others in the community that said women shouldn't do that, they just were so proud to have these loans, and when they paid it off, they were a sense of accomplishment when they could be so empowering.

Angela Gennari: Oh my God. I love that.

Teresa Rivero: And they taught me everything. They like, I remember I'll tell you one other quick story. We would have these group meetings because there were a couple of community projects and there were no clocks anywhere, there was no go by the sun, but we would call a meeting, let's say it was like two o'clock on a Tuesday, and I had my watch my first six months in the peace corps. And I go to the little house where the meeting's supposed to be at two o'clock it's like four o'clock later and people were showing up. Happened a few times and they look at me like there's more time than there is life. So, sometimes other things get in the way, but we're here. So, when we're here, let's use the time we have, I ditched the watch, it wasn't going to work, and I just had a little, a couple of little kids in the village. Just tell me when people would start to gather and get me.

Angela Gennari: Oh, I love it. I love that. Well, and those are the opportunities where you realize again, meeting people where they are. So, if you went in there with your own rules and structure of how things needed to be, you would get frustrated. Instead, you meet people where they are and everything changes, like now all of a sudden, you're making an impact. And people are working together because you hear them, you're not just there to set structure, you're there to be part of the community. And so, you have to integrate into the community.

Teresa Rivero: That was the big learning for me. Just captured it beautifully is not what the structure that I thought we said we were going to meet its let's when we do, how is it? We're going to work together and I love each other. It was amazing.

Angela Gennari: I love that. All right. So, what inspires you or who inspires you?

Teresa Rivero: Gosh, well, those women inspired me. There's not one big name. I just I'm really inspired by it's like the extremes that every day, people just trying to do something in their community. It's little as it may be the volunteering to do this or the generosity. To that just people do have then just also just inspired by being outside and seeing the bigness of our world.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. You realize how little we are, right. The more you get into on a higher level, whether it's nature, whether it's hiking, whether it's exploring traveling, you realize how tiny our little universes are. So, that we operate in and we think everything is so big and significant, and then you start traveling and you start seeing other cultures and you start seeing, nature in its grand form and you think, gosh, my little concerns at home, my internet being down. That's not a big deal.

Teresa Rivero: The gift of the pandemic for me was to I've always gotten outside a bunch was I walked all over the place but is to take those deep breaths and just look around and absolutely it's amazing things on.

Angela Gennari: It's impactful. So, as women, we give our power away a lot. So, we tend to give our power away easily. It's our family, our career, we give accolades to everybody, and we rarely step into our own power. Tell me about a time when you stepped into your power and what that meant to you?

Teresa Rivero: I think the one that just sticks with me because it had to do with raising something at work had to do with money. So, it was about, I won't say where, but I realized inadvertently, that I was being paid significantly less, probably about $30,000 than a male colleague that I adored and would pay it was worth every penny he was being paid. What happened was we got these... it was a while back. We got these letters because our vacation time was being bought out. Oh, okay. And this colleague, his name in the alphabet is right after mine. Somehow our HR department put both of our letters when you still sent letters. In the same envelope. And I open it up. I mean, I thought I'm reading the second. I'm looking at the second page and I'm like, why is this the same thing? And I realize I have somebody else's but why it was significant as it gave us our per hour of a buyout. To buy out the vacation, and I realized it was how much more so I quickly did the math. And I got, as you can imagine, really off, of course, same experience, same education, same role, same promotions. And I had the couple of folks I consulted that I really trusted.

Like, let's go, sue, you have there's no reason had to think about it. And I found, I had to find what I needed to do. And I went to the person that led our division, who happened to be a woman, and said, I put the letter back and sent it to HR said you made a mistake but then I went to the person that led our division and said, this has come to my attention. I would've never known and I chose to go that route. She was relatively new. So, it wasn't her doing, but she had the opportunity to do something about it. And I had a really great relationship with my immediate supervisor but I realized he was part of the challenge, and I sat down and said, listen, I know this, it's not my nature to make a, you know, I'm not going to make this big public deal, but how are we going to make this? She sent me, she said, you're absolutely right. I didn't have the letter. Right. It was just my... but it was there and she said, give me, can you give me 90 days? Because I need to know how to navigate this and I will come back to you if not before, and within it was within a month, it wasn't just an equal, it was a significant bump and retro good, kind of from the time that it was pretty clear the time. So, that felt right.

Angela Gennari: Well, and absolutely. And the way you handled it; I think was right. Because it's easy to go into a lawsuit situation, but it takes more courage to say, I'm going to give you the opportunity to make this right and I hope you do. And go that way because I think it saves your integrity. I think people look at you in a different way and say, you know what she did this the right way. She really stepped into her power; we owe her this. This is, you know and it still is shocking to me the inequity of pay when it comes to women and men, you know, in the same role. And it's a challenge because I've worked for myself for most of my life. And so, there are many years, and I never took a salary at all. But I was looking at CEO salaries a couple of months ago and I just thought, wow, that's incredible. Because I pay myself like nothing.

Teresa Rivero: Nothing, I'm sure.

Angela Gennari: So, all the money goes right back into the company but I look at what CEOs get paid and is just incredible. Especially, when you look at the disparity between what a CEO gets and the rest of the team. And it's a little shocking. A friend of mine is a... she works for a major company in Atlanta and was just saying that they had had the largest bonuses that they had ever given out in 2021, but they have a consulting company that comes in and they want to eliminate a large part of their staff and it happens to be mostly female. And so, she's kind of going to, she's looking at this as you know, she's kind of in the later years of her career, is this going to be something that she can come back from?

And probably not yet, it's tough. They're justifying it after giving all of these major bonuses to the executives of the corporation and it's just, that it feels so unfair because you're putting people in a situation where they may not be able to rebound financially. So, good for you for standing in your power and going to them and saying, look, this is the right thing to do. I'm letting you lead the way on this.

Teresa Rivero: Yeah, no, it was... I also wrestled why it felt so terrifying. I have no doubt, I don't, this is going to be a gross overstatement, but a male colleague just steps into it without this is the thing to do, way before, even in the negotiations, and its women, we're just...

Angela Gennari: We're afraid to ask for what we deserve.

Teresa Rivero: So, it was a real moment of you know what I was so pissed off. And I had to channel that energy to, it was a channel that energy to figure out how I needed to do it.

Angela Gennari: Well, and I think that when you have men in the workforce, they're comfortable asking for what they want because they feel like they deserve it. Women have the opposite. We don't feel like we deserve it as well. Like we're not as determined to get something that we feel like we deserve because we serve everybody. So, we're used to sharing accolades, we're used to making sure everybody is okay. And so, for us, it wouldn't be unusual to take a smaller salary to make sure everybody has something equal for a man. It would not necessarily be that way.

And I'm not saying, oh, men, I'm not trying to generalize, but you know, generally when men get a raise, they feel like they deserve that raise. Whereas a woman we're like, wow, you know, I got to work extra hard, I got to do, I've got to do more now. And so, I think that that's our way of, you know, how we've always been growing, how we've always nurtured others. So, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Teresa Rivero: Gosh, I think it's around this is, it would be something around finding a voice, and knowing that's a developmental thing, but to not, I never really have worried. Like, hey does my career path or the things I'm doing make since I don't think I would've done them, but is that it's okay not to know what the next thing is, but in that journey, find ways to articulate to I stand for this and just to stay true and grow in that. Find a kind of a clear voice to let people know who just know who I was. I would've loved to have had that insight.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. I love it. All right. So, you can answer this question however you want. What do you wish people knew?

Teresa Rivero: I am dogged. I sometimes don't know why like I work hard. I play hard. I know reasons why, but go by instinct, and if I just think something just needs to be, I will call I'll find you on team zoom, just email you until we talk about it. So, it plays out a lot of work or on some of the community things I do. So, just to be relentless, relentless, and I just the other thing is it's just, I feel so fortunate to grow up the way I did because it absolutely has given me just a sense of why I do things, a sense of the while I only have one set of experiences to be able, just to put myself in someone else's shoes, even though I may not have walked, their paths have given me just some empathy and absolute passion for people that are trying really hard and just really struggling to make their way.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think we are as women, we see those people and, and while they're overlooked many times, I think as women we see them. And so, we can do something about it. Well, thank you so much, Teresa. I really appreciate you being here. And I learned so much and I'm sure our listeners have as well. So, I really appreciate everything that you've done to be here and your journey. And I know it will impact a lot of people. So, thanks.

Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of the Pretty Powerful Podcast. If you are enjoying the show, please feel free to rate, subscribe, and leave reviews wherever you listen to your podcasts, we'll catch you in the next episode.

Teresa RiveroProfile Photo

Teresa Rivero

Lead Senior Program Officer at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Teresa Rivero is a Lead Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on the K-12 education team. She has worked with a variety of organizations across the southeast, including state education agencies, school districts, and education non-profit groups. In her current role, Teresa partners with organizations to build networks for school improvement focused on advancing student outcomes for black, Latino, and low-income students. Teresa has dedicated her career to working with organizations focused on improving the lives of the most vulnerable communities. This includes serving as the Grant Officer for the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, Director of Education at the Latin American Association, Program Director at the Whiteford School-Based Health Clinic, and as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in Honduras. Teresa sits on the Board of Trustees and is a member of the executive committee at her alma mater, Emory University, where she earned a Bachelor’s in Finance and a Master’s in Public Health. Additionally, she also holds a Master’s in Business Administration from Georgia State University. Teresa also serves on the Learn4Life Board, and Leadership Atlanta Board of Directors.

Teresa lives in Atlanta with her partner and three-legged rescue dog (and part-time office assistant). On the weekends she enjoys playing tennis, hiking, and riding her scooter to weekend festivals.