Rosandra Silveira has approached life’s twists and turns with enthusiasm and empathy.
The day with Rosandra Silveira begins and ends with laughter. A woman of color and an immigrant, Silveira is the senior vice president and general manager of Global Retail Sales at Dell, but is not your typical C-suite executive. Breathing rarefied air has not changed her values or erased the lessons she learned as a girl growing up in the small southern town of Santa Maria, Brazil. Rather than her small-town upbringing being an obstacle, Silveira has spent her career turning detours and road hazards into growth opportunities in business and joy in her personal life.
Silveira’s approach to her life begins with Santa Maria and her parents who raised their daughters to be tough, independent, hardworking and compassionate. Her father was a salesman, and her mother was a teacher. Silveira grew up with her older sister and a crew of male cousins, spending a lot of her childhood trying to keep up with the big kids. Her cousins refused to treat her differently because she was a girl. This message of being just as good as, if not better than, the boys was reinforced by her parents. “My dad never let us believe because we were girls we could not or should not do something,” says Silveira. “Instead, he reminded us that we needed to be strong; man or woman, people need to be tough to succeed in life.”
Silveira was indeed tough, and she was also fiercely independent. Her parents worked hard to provide for their family, and while they were not destitute, she wanted to work hard and help her family too. She started looking for a job at 12 and eventually was hired at the local Bank of Brazil as a teller at 14. From 14 to 18, she worked four hours a day, five days a week. Working in the bank showed her that she liked interacting with customers and learning new things. She then attended the Federal University of San Maria in Brazil. “My parents always stressed the importance of a great education. Even though my dad only completed elementary school, education was the key to a better life,” Silveira shares. Education was her top priority; she finished college and went on to complete a master’s degree in marketing from Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.
She soon realized her dreams were bigger than Santa Maria, as life in a small town did not exactly fit those big dreams. So, she decided to move to a much bigger city, Porto Alegre, which has a population of over 4 million, giant compared to Santa Maria, whose population is about the same as Lubbock. This move was not without its challenges, but the strength and confidence Silveira saw in her mother most decidedly did not skip a generation. In the months after her graduation, Silveira opened the phone book and started calling all of the major companies, inquiring about an internship program. When she finally got a yes, she had to figure out how to get herself to her interview—over four hours away. (By the way, at the time, Silveira did not drive.)
Undeterred by that seemingly major obstacle to her career and life in a bigger city, she found a ride and was able to become financially independent at 21. For Silveira, overcoming obstacles requires not focusing on the challenge itself but the path forward. She compares her approach to driving. “If you are focused on not hitting a car or driving into a ditch, you end up steering in that direction and hitting the car or ditch you were trying to avoid. Obviously, you need to be aware of obstacles, but your focus should be on where you are trying to go.”
Silveira credits her determination for getting her foot in the door, but she also attributes her willingness to listen and learn from others as a key to her success. Her mother taught her the importance of compassion and the golden rule—treat others the way you would want to be treated. “My mom never went to college, but she was my role model,” shares Silveira as her face wells with pride. “She was not a businesswoman, but she was independent and determined to always keep going. Most importantly, she was so compassionate and put love into everything she did.”
Silveira learned by watching her mother as well as numerous mentors and sponsors, both male and female, who “drive business transformation while making strategic decisions and inspiring their teams.” Silveira tries to learn something new every day. “There is always one thing I can learn, even if it’s a small thing,” she says. “I try to find something or someone to learn [from].”
For instance, another woman in leadership she admires is very introverted, and while Silveira is an extrovert, watching this other woman taught her to be her authentic self. “I admire leaders who keep their own identity. She reminds me you do not have to shape yourself into a stereotype to be a successful businessperson. I will always speak English with an accent, but there are advantages to being from another culture.” Silveira leads a global team at Dell, and her accent provides an opportunity to connect with other cultures and learn their stories. “Their stories are not bigger or smaller than mine, but by being committed to learning all the time, I demonstrate that their stories matter too.”
Just as her ambitions first led her away from Santa Maria, they would eventually lead her away from Brazil completely. After following a mentor to Dell, Silveira became one of the first employees when the company launched in Brazil in 1999. She would work her way up, gaining experience in a variety of units. She knew she needed certain skills to enter the C-suite. She recalls, “I was always clear about what I wanted to do. I had mentors who supported me, but I knew I needed to be great if I wanted to be a leader. So I was very intentional about gaining the experience I needed to lead a business unit.”
But even her well-crafted plans had to yield to her desire to grow her family. When she finally got the call to lead a business unit, Silveira and her husband were planning to have their second child. “I got the offer to lead this new team, and I was upfront with my boss about wanting another baby. He told me it did not change anything, so I took the job.” Within a month of getting her dream job, she was pregnant, but her boss supported her leadership, and even with her prolonged absence when she had just started learning the role—Brazil is one of 88 countries that mandates at least 120 days of maternity leave—everything worked out. Silveira thought she was settled, but after serving in the top leadership at Dell Brazil for five years, she began to wonder, “What’s next?”
Silveira knew she could make a lateral move in Brazil, but owning her career meant a move to Dell’s headquarters in Austin to continue to advance. The move did present some obstacles. Her husband had a successful career in Brazil, her young children did not know any English and she worried how her parents and sister would do if she left the country. Silveira sat down with her family, her husband and her kids to get their opinions. “My kids, who were 8 and 4 at the time, said, ‘Mom, you should go. It’s gonna be hard, but you should go.’”
Everyone agreed she should go, but not without first placing her kids in an international school where they could spend two years learning English. Silveira’s multiyear plan to move into the C-suite is a reminder that sometimes good things take time to come to fruition. Some dreams may be microwaveable, but others require many ingredients and several hours in the oven. Part of being successful is determining the difference, and not rushing the process to meet ambitions.
Silveira and her family would eventually move to Austin. She began leading the Dell.com team, before becoming senior vice president of the Global Consumer Channel and Outlet Sales divisions. She jokes that coming from Santa Maria, Rio Grande (do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil), and a family of ranchers prepared her for life in Texas, but the first 18 months after her move were difficult. Amidst working to resettle her family, she forgot about herself. Then her mother passed away. Silveira realized that to take care of others, she needed to take care of herself. She warns against trying to save everyone and putting yourself last on your to-do list. You can be a leader, but self-care is an essential part of leading well. “Before focusing on everybody else’s needs, I need to focus on myself first so that I am in a better position to help others.”
There is always one thing I can learn, even if it’s a small thing. I try to find something or someone to learn [from].Rosandra Silveira
Silveira is familiar with the working mother’s conundrum: “having it all” while achieving some semblance of perfect balance. But her life seems less about balance and more about finding a rhythm that works for her and her family. She makes sure she attends Pilates classes at 6 a.m. a few times a week no matter what. She goes out to new restaurants with her girlfriends. She makes time to connect with her husband and children, and they go on family vacations. Silveira practices radical presence. “When I am playing with my youngest son, I am with him or cooking dinner with my husband; we are talking, not trying to maximize my efficiency by reading emails, so that when I am at work, I am 120% at work with my team and not anywhere else.”
Silveira leads with empathy. She laughs that her team would call her tough but fair. In addition to her commitment to learn something new every day, she is also committed to making a positive impact in the lives of others every day, whether it’s in a team meeting or at the grocery store. Silveira is putting her mother’s wisdom into practice. “I am at the stage of my career where it’s not about me. It’s about helping others grow, find their own strengths and talents, and the projects or positions where they will be their best,” she adds with delight. “I want to build environments where people can be vulnerable and build something meaningful and purposeful with people they trust and respect.”
Silveira owns every part of her story. Her small-town experiences meant that Silveira never cared about being the only woman in the room, another experience that served her well as she pursued her career goals. Women are only 1 of 4 C-suite executives, and for women of color, reaching the upper echelons in corporate America is even harder. According to McKinsey’s 2022 report on Women in the Workplace, 26% of C-suite executives are women and only 4% are women of color. Silveira is determined, and while she credits her background for helping her soar to her current career heights, she also recognizes the systemic issues that keep women from succeeding.
At a time when many are shrinking diversity and inclusion commitments, her employer, Dell, has continued to invest in diversity and inclusion programs. They have set moonshot goals to expand the archetype of a Dell executive—by 2030, 40% of their global leaders being women and 15% of their U.S. teams being led by people who are African American or Hispanic. Silveira, too, is committed to seeing more Latinas in executive leadership through her nonprofit work with L500, a group she co-founded that champions Latina leaders rising into executive roles.
Silveira insists she was able to overcome the glass ceiling because she was “never focused on it.” She was focused on trying new things and figuring out how to grow despite the obstacles. “Be the lead in your story, not a victim of the situation. But also have joy along the way.” Know your strengths and make the most of what you do have even as you continue to learn. Her guide for success is a reminder of the gift of resilience. Women of color may face many obstacles because of gender and ethnicity/race. Those obstacles can derail us, or we can adopt the Br’er Rabbit strategy of the generations of women who came before us.
Malcolm Gladwell highlights the ways in which the underrepresented and the under-resourced rely on their intellect to out-maneuver their circumstances or those who wish to block progress. We can be intentional in directing our time, energy and resources into our families, ambitions, neighbors, employees while addressing systemic barriers facing women of all races and ethnicities. Whatever we choose, hopefully in tackling our obstacles, we can find as much fun and joy in our paths as Rosandra Silveira.