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Road less traveled
How an Afro Latina from the Bronx paved her own way to Corporate America
Thursday, April 01, 2021
New York - "Right place, right time". Rosiris Tejeda has kept these words from her dad dear to her heart. However, as she came to learn from a very young age, it also takes a village to achieve your dreams. Fermín Tejeda passed away in 2015, but his unmatched work ethic lives through his daughter, who went on to defy the odds and make it to Corporate America.
Born in New York to Dominican Immigrants, Rosiris was always exposed to hard work and determination. "Both my mother and father didn’t come with a trade by any means. My mom did finish high school, but my father did not".
What Fermín lacked in formal education, he made up with "hard work, grind, ambition and a go-get-it attitude". He started working in grocery stores to provide for his family, learning the ropes of managing a business and building relationships. Eventually, he saved enough to own a store. "It was really the entrepreneurship lifestyle that a lot of Dominicans came to this country looking for".
Eventually, he tried the taxi industry and ended up establishing an LLC called "Mark Transportation", named after his youngest son. Through his company, Fermín became very ingrained in the Wall Street business life due to his clientele. "He got a lot of exposure to people that were very different from who he was and cultivated that motivation in him to want to learn about a lot even if he wasn’t a school educated kind of guy. He read a lot and he researched a lot".
His wife, Wendy Tejeda, stayed at home for many years. "She did dabble in a few things here and there, but it never really stuck so she was a stay-at-home mom which is a job in itself so, I acknowledge how much work that is". When Rosiris was ten, Wendy decided to work at a school through a connection of Fermín's. Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long as she ended up getting diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. She is currently healthy and working within the Foster Care system. "She works specifically with medical children from anyone prone to having seizures to someone who is autistic to someone who has ADHD or ADD". Through her mom’s work, Rosiris has been very exposed to the system, and even has two adopted siblings, Johnny and Imani. "Not everyone is equipped or built to say, ‘I’ll be this person’s foster mother’, especially when they’re young and they have medical conditions. My mom is about to turn 49, is now a widow and a breast cancer survivor, but she continues to give 200% to her job, and I admire her for that".
Due to her father’s entrepreneurial spirit, Rosiris knew early on she would pursue a career in business. "I was creating invoices in Excel for him to send to his clients. I was writing down appointments in the appointment book… I was very involved in the administrative side of his business at a very young age". Both her and older brother Irwin would eventually follow in their father’s footsteps, yet as Rosiris had learned from her parents, nothing would come her way without sacrifice and perseverance.
At a young age, she recognized that she had to be strategic about her choices as she was thinking ahead about her career and future. "When you think about being an underrepresented minority and being from the Bronx, coming from a working-class family, we had to pave the way because you can’t just wait until last minute to decide what you wanted to do". Her parents were not fully equipped to help her handle the application processes to the schools she desired to go to, but she knew what she had to do first, "I had to make sure that I was positioning myself to go to a great high school, as the New York City public high schools do not have the best reputation".
After careful consideration, she decided to attend the High School of Economics and Finance as "it was very small, which wasn’t the case for New York City schools. You had to complete internships before you graduate as well as community service, and it was in Wall Street". The school offered courses that proved to be relevant to her career such as Accounting, Virtual Enterprise, Technology Operations, and even an Introduction class to Wall Street where she was tasked with creating a business plan and compete against her classmates, "I did get third place from my class" (laughs).
When looking into colleges, Rosiris was specifically looking for business programs that she could excel in, as she wanted to position herself to be in Corporate America. "I knew that as a woman, and as an underrepresented minority, and as a working-class individual, that was the gold stamp". However, finding a good fit for her academic and professional goals proved to be a heavy task, as her main concern was to find a great school with a business program she could afford. "My parents didn’t have a college fund ready to go for me. We were not a family that had a lot of savings or retirement funds".
For being a top performing student, she received a lot of support from her College Counselor, Mr. Makris, "who really had my best interests in mind". She ended up applying to "The Posse Foundation" Scholarship. Posse Scholars are diverse, talented students with "extraordinary leadership potential" that are trained, mentored and coached with the goal of "receiving full-tuition leadership scholarships from Posse’s partner colleges and universities".
Out of hundreds of students from New York City, Tejeda ended up being selected as one of the scholarship recipients after three rigorous rounds of interviews. "It was an amazing night. They called me up at midnight after being done with the third round at 10pm and I was taking the train back home to the Bronx for an hour". By then, Rosiris had decided on her dream school: the Marshall Business School at the University of Southern California. As she started preparing for her life at what would be a life at a "huge, predominantly white institution", she unfortunately had to drop out of the process. While she did receive a full tuition through the scholarship, the cost of attendance was too high, "my family couldn’t afford that. We had already one of us in college, that was already having to pay a lot out of pocket as well".
She ended up enrolling at one of her first choices, the University of Michigan, where she graduated from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business in 2016 with tremendous support from the Preparation Initiative program which served as a network of individuals who helped shape her experience during her time applying to Ross and throughout the rest of college. While she quickly made friends through extracurricular activities and her classes, Rosiris faced something she had not seen in New York City: lack of diversity. The University of Michigan’s Hispanic/Latinx population is less than 6%, and she had to adapt to a new, strange environment. "You have to play this game of… ‘do I belong here?’, ‘should I really be a part of this?’, ‘am I good enough?’, ‘will I make it?’ and you end up putting on a mask and start questioning whether you can be yourself all the time or not".
It wasn’t always easy to fit in, so she had to go out and find her crowd. She sought out other students that could relate to her own experiences as well as her culture. Driven by her passion of business and diversity, she helped in bringing an ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals for America) chapter to her school, where she served as President during her Senior year. Their main roadblock? Ensuring that the organization was sustainable enough to outlast previous Latino professional student organizations that didn’t make it on campus. "It was really hard to get folks to come to events because the sheer numbers wouldn’t allow for it". ALPFA had to partner up with other underrepresented groups such as BBUS (Black Business Undergraduate Society) and NABA (National Association of Black Accountants) in order to get higher turnout on their events. "The hardest win was to get corporate sponsors that want to help you, that want to see the potential and the talent in these folks that are just as qualified, but unfortunately, they just don’t have the same sponsorship or the same resources that other student populations do". Securing those sponsors was challenging when the turnout for events just wasn’t there, "and that’s half of the battle alone".
As it’s always been the case for her, Tejeda was always two steps ahead and landed coveted internships through her first years of college, most notably with The Emerging Sovereign Group (later acquired by The Carlyle Group). Initially, she thought of following a career path in Investment Banking, yet her passion for corporate never faded. "There was a part that was missing for me, which is why I shifted to corporate internships in my Junior year… I was recruiting for both Corporate Finance within the CPG space and Investment Banking but ultimately decided to focus my efforts in the Corporate Finance space". She specifically wanted to pursue a career in a CPG company since she could "combine my Finance skills, my analytical skills and apply it to something tangible".
To get closer to this goal, Rosiris applied and got accepted into the "Management Leadership for Tomorrow" (MLT) Career Prep program, in which high-achieving women and men from underrepresented communities are equipped and emboldened to realize their full potential "to make a mark, and make a difference". Through MLT, Tejeda landed a Finance internship with her now employer, Mondelēz International. "I really liked the internship. I was probably given more responsibility than I thought I would have been given. It was my first hands-on internship as Mondelēz prides itself on giving you real time work and exercises that are going to be used and valued in that space".
Rosiris has been promoted from Associate to Senior Analyst in a short amount of years. However, she struggled at first to fully express herself and feel safe as a woman of color in the work environment. "I felt like I had to keep who I was to the core at a limited stance". The Bronx native has never been shy, yet she found herself talking less and less, "I was afraid of sounding different. I was afraid that my articulation or how I was expressing my ideas because I thought they weren’t going to be communicated in the best way".
While at the University of Michigan, Rosiris minored in Women Studies with a focus in Race, Gender and Nations, as she wanted to gain more emotional intelligence, "but also be aware of the bias that exists in the workforce and be prepared for it". But as she quickly found out, living it and researching it is not exactly the same. "I was so invested in myself, in my career development as a Latina in Corporate America, and I thought, ‘when those issues arise, I will be ready. That was far from the truth".
A recent study by the Center of Talent Innovation found that 53% of Latinas feel that they must sacrifice their identity and conceal their culture in order to succeed in corporate. That same study found that Latinos in general who put more effort into repressing their cultural identity, are more likely to advance in their careers. For Rosiris, she finds that as Latinas, "we shield ourselves from opportunities that might be uncomfortable, or conversations that might be uncomfortable to have". She also thinks that in order to bring more Latinas into the corporate workforce and help them succeed, there needs to be more than affirmative action. "We need to be honest with ourselves about where we default and try to course-correct that when possible. And when we are able to identify candidates that are truly qualified, we need to welcome them with open arms and not skepticism".
Through it all, Rosiris has been able to find great success at Mondelēz. Her hard work, even at her junior role stages, has helped her build a solid reputation among her peers due to her collaborative nature as well as always going above and beyond to deliver outstanding results. "It’s really my outspokenness, my decisiveness, my ability to problem solve, to communicate… I am able to say, ‘I influenced something, I impacted something’, I think that’s really what’s rewarding in any role, it’s a very ‘feel good’ moment as a Latina and as a woman".
Four years into her career and currently in her new role as a Senior Financial Analyst, Rosiris looks back and thinks about all the pivotal moments that helped her get to this place. "If I could tell something to my younger self, definitely bring your authentic self at all times, do not be afraid of who you are, and just be unapologetically yourself". She fondly remembers Miss Patty, a Teacher’s Aid in Elementary School that took her under her wing. "Miss Patty was huge in keeping me grounded, making me feel safe, making me feel loved. She just had a spirit to her that was so grand, and she was a strong black woman, who made me feel so grand and she always watched over me."
Rosiris is still finding her purpose, but positive influences in her life like Miss Patty and all of those who contributed to her success have inspired her in always wanting to help others. "My ability to help people, be there for them in any capacity they need… when I think of purpose, what has made me so good in my roles has been my ability to step out of my immediate ownership and help others".
As she thinks about her next steps, it’s all about finding the sweet spot. "I took an emotional intelligence class and the professor had us do an exercise where you would do a Venn Diagram with three questions: ‘What do I enjoy?’, ‘What am I good at?’, and ‘what do I care about’. Where those three circles come together, is your sweet spot". She’s gotten down the fundamentals and technical aspects of Finance, but now she’s ready to give back. "And how do I give back with my skillset and my experience? It’s something that I constantly think about. Whether it’s five years from now, ten years from now, who knows? You can’t predict the future, but you can plan for it, and that’s my next goal, trying to find what my sweet spot is".
This blog post was created by our Sales Recruiter Rubén Colón Velázquez (https://www.linkedin.com/in/rubencolonvelazquez/)