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Growing in leadership and motherhood: Silvia’s EF journey

“I tell women they can have it all—maybe not all at the same time—but it’s totally possible,” says Silvia, mom of three and EF Education First’s Vice President of Finance and Strategy for EF Ultimate Break. “When I hear others say they can’t start a family right now because their jobs won’t allow for it, I encourage them not to put that off.”

This comes from a woman who gave birth to her first daughter while finishing up two master’s degrees at Harvard University, and who found out she was pregnant again within days of starting at EF. Five years after this discovery, she’s welcomed two more girls into her growing family and received just as many promotions. Silvia fully embraces her identity as a business leader and a mother—and at EF, she’s never felt like she has to choose between the two.

Tell Silvia she can’t do something and watch what happens next. Growing up, her Trinidadian mother encouraged her to be the best at whatever she did. Not the best girl. The best. So, when high school friends told Silvia she wouldn’t get accepted to Stanford University, she replied: “watch me.” The international relations and economics major traded life in small-town Georgia for college on the West Coast.

With dreams of becoming the first female president, Silvia spent her college summers in Washington, D.C., interning at the U.S. Senate and the National Economic Council. After graduating from Stanford, she considered earning a law degree, but ultimately decided to take time off from school and opted to build new skills at a global management consulting firm.

“Everything I had done up until that point was policy focused,” remembers Silvia, who quickly realized her work in the private sector could make an impact in the public realm. When Silvia’s firm was selected to work on a pro bono case for the Gates Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving people’s lives in developing countries and the U.S., she volunteered to lead the team. “The Gates Foundation came to us and said, ‘We’re funding a malaria drug, but we don’t know if we can get it to rural villages that need it most. We want you to tell us if we should continue funding it, and if so, how do we get it to people.’”

Using Tanzania and Nigeria as case studies, Silvia and her team investigated multiple angles, speaking to everyone from animal researchers to mining company operators. Eventually, they developed a distribution strategy that would make continued production of the drug possible, potentially saving millions of lives each year.

“I saw the real value creation that happens when the private and public sectors work side by side,” says Silvia. “That’s when I decided to go back to school and earn my MBA and master’s in public policy.” A few days after her wedding, Silvia and her husband made the move from California to the greater Boston area. Two years later, Silvia gave birth to their first daughter, Ruhe, during her final year in graduate school.

“I was the only person in my graduating class who had a kid,” recalls Silvia. “At that point, I realized I had to be very cognizant of my time.” Being the only mom among 900 students came with a lot of pressure, but Silvia made it work. She doubled up on courses before her daughter was born, found babysitters on campus, and visited the university’s nursing room between classes. Her planning paid off, and she finished her program on schedule.

After school, Silvia started pursuing work in the education sector, having witnessed the vast opportunities that earning a degree opened up for family members who immigrated to the U.S. Not long after, she was invited by the EF Recruitment and Employee Development team to discuss possible roles at the company’s Boston headquarters.

“I felt such an energy when I walked in the building for my first interview,” says Silvia. “I met a whole host of super passionate, hardworking people who described cool work opportunities in an industry that was not only fun but had a real positive social impact on the world. I was happy to accept a position right then and there!”

Silvia signed on to spearhead the creation of a global customer loyalty program, working directly with the CEO. Two days into the job, she learned she was pregnant. Feeling nervous and overwhelmed, she spoke to a colleague on the Recruitment and Employee Development team who assured her family always comes first, and that she should break the news to the CEO whenever she felt comfortable and ready. Ten weeks later, Silvia let him in on the news—and she couldn’t have asked for a better reaction.

“He was so thrilled for me,” laughs Silvia. “He excitedly told me about how he just revamped EF’s maternity leave policy, and we sat down on the floor and went through all of it together.” From then on, Silvia knew she had not only found a place where she would be supported and valued as a leader but also as a mother.

“Over my five years with EF, I’ve been in three different roles, met hundreds of really amazing colleagues, traveled to far off lands, and seen firsthand the impact of what we do for our customers,” she says. “I have a true appreciation for what it’s like to work at a company that values life outside of work and made it manageable to be a working mom.”

Today Silvia puts her MBA chops to good use working “cross-functionally with other departments from sales and marketing to product development and operations to help deliver an awesome travel experience for millennials.” Her EF Ultimate Break colleagues respect that she never schedules meetings before 9:30 a.m. (because we all know daycare drop-offs don’t go exactly as planned) and that once a month she’s busy having lunch and “trading war stories” with all of her EF mom friends.

“Mom guilt is a real thing, and I don’t feel it here. EF has done a great job making mothers and families feel welcome with our maternity leave, mother’s room, and kid-friendly events. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to grow here,” says Silvia, who’s thrilled to announce she’s expecting her fourth child.

For Silvia, discovering a career she loves while continuing to grow her family has been life-changing. “It’s been so rewarding and fun. If you think travel is transformative, try having a kid,” she laughs.

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