A Dialogue with Tia Breakley and Lissette Rodríguez

Voices March 29, 2023

Blue Meridian recognizes the benefits of racial and gender diversity within our staff, including among the management team. Two of these leaders share their professional insights and personal perspectives as women making a difference in social change.


What inspired you to work in the social sector?

Lissette: From an early age I became aware that people had different levels of access to opportunity. I saw my own Cuban family receive many supports as refugees while other immigrants didn’t have the same. I went to middle school in the city, and we had a sister school in the suburbs, and I saw the disparity in the level of resources made available. My recognition of these differences grew from there and helped me realize I wanted to do work that created an equitable set of opportunities for people. My undergraduate degree is in journalism. I worked in that field for the first couple of years, and then I was like: “I feel like a spectator. I want to get in and do some real stuff.” That work has taken different forms for me – different jobs and different roles – but the constant has been shifting access and creating more equity in the ways people are able to access economic and social mobility. 

Tia: It was the opportunity to join Blue Meridian Partners specifically, that brought me to this work. I was really attracted to the model. On top of meeting scale with scale – the concept that we can’t write small-sized checks and ask people to solve country-wide problems – it was the idea of aggregating capital in the way Blue Meridian does that I found appealing and inspiring. Previously, I worked in private equity and hedge funds, so I was very familiar with the concept of capital aggregation. But to use that capital in the social sector, where your returns would improve outcomes for individuals, resonated with me. It was a complete light-bulb moment. I could see that one could make a really big impact with this model.

While the business model of Blue Meridian was attractive, the organization’s mission resonated with my core. My grandfather was a civil rights activist. He and my extended family made it very clear that the battleground for Black Americans had always been political and economic power and opportunity. In my spare time while working in finance, I was on the board of an education nonprofit, I volunteered directly with Children’s Aid Society, and I’ve always worked on campaigns. Joining Blue Meridian was an opportunity for this passion-based work to become my day job.  


As part of Blue Meridian’s mission to create social and economic mobility, we’ve invested in organizations that specifically serve women. Why do you believe a focus on women is important to create change?

Tia: Women – and in particular, women of color – are more likely to live in poverty than men, according to the most recent U.S. census. Among low-income households, 40-plus percent are led by women. So, we truly couldn’t move the needle on economic mobility without a focus on women, their wages, their health, and their choices. Recognizing this, one must consider approaching philanthropy from a woman’s perspective and ask: what choices does a woman have to make – about if and when to become pregnant, about career pathways, and morethat will ultimately affect her life trajectory? And: what is it like to be a single mom? ? I think it’s great that a lot of our investments take that lens, and I think it is required.

Lissette: I think any strategy that is meant to address economic mobility should be focused on the lives of the people that it is trying to lift up. I think both Upstream USA and Nurse-Family Partnership are great examples of this. At Nurse-Family Partnership, they focus on young moms and first-time moms. It’s all about what’s happening for those women and supporting the varied experiences one has as a first-time mom. Organizations and programmatic solutions that deeply consider the lives of the folks that are at the heart of their work are critically important because those strategies are more likely to have an impact. I think both funders and organizations need to take the point of view of: what do women really need to be able to advance economically and socially and achieve their personal goals?


How has your gender influenced your career trajectory?

Lissette: Both my sister and I have had so much more education and career opportunity than a lot of the women in my family. My grandmothers on both sides did not get beyond elementary school, which is pretty common in Latin America because you have to pay to attend middle school and beyond, and a lot of people can’t afford to. For me to eventually earn a graduate degree meant that I had an opportunity to think about having a career, rather than just making money to bring a paycheck home. So, in the work I do, I always try to keep women in mind because there are so many who are heads of households and need to be the primary breadwinners for their families. How do we make sure that they have access to and can participate in education and earn jobs that actually pay a living wage? So, gender plays a role because the perspective I bring to work every day truly comes from having been able to access opportunities in ways that were unforeseen for the women in my own family who came before me. 

Tia: My worldview was very much colored by the people who I saw in front of me – the women and men in my family – and knowing and understanding their stories. I think I have always had an expectation that things would and could be hard for me as a Black woman, and that I could persevere.   

When I first started on Wall Street, it was almost a given that I was the only Black person in the room, male or female. And it was not uncommon for me to be the only woman. So, gender has played a role in my trajectory because I was forging my own path and felt it was my responsibility to leave things different from when I arrived. For example, near the end of my tenure in my last private sector role, a lot of the Black women and men who were sitting around the table in a given meeting were people who I hired or mentored.  


How have other women impacted your career – as mentors, role models, or sounding boards?

Lissette: I didn’t have a direct role model for what I was doing because my mother never had a big career, and I didn’t know many women around me who did. I had to learn to get comfortable with all of the demands on my own. But it was also really important to have a support system to get me to the other side. I have had great mentors, both men and women. That’s been impactful, and honestly essential, because sometimes you find yourself lost. It’s great to be able to go to a mentor and say, “Hey, I need to talk this through with you. I’m struggling here,” or even, “This just happened, and it’s great,” and celebrate with someone. Beyond the amazing women in my life, I also have a partner who is fully committed to my success. I know there are many women whose careers could not take off because they didn’t have a supportive partner.

Tia: I don’t know a lot of people who had roadmaps for what we many women in my generationwere trying to create, in regard to having big careers and being working moms. Having been surrounded by mentors, friends, sister circles – people who provided inspiration and advice on how to navigate the tough spaces – has been the thing that mattered the most in how I’ve been able to show up as a Black woman. These mentors have become a huge piece of what’s required to be able to take my career to another level. I have folks who were mentors, and I have people who, to this day, probably don’t know that they were an example. During my first deal at the private equity firm, the lead partner was a woman I was on the legal side – and she was amazing and inspiring. There is real power to seeing yourself in other people. So, even if you have just one example, it matters. And if you feel like you’re alone and creating your own path, know somebody is watching 


With a high-powered, decades-long career, you must keep very busy. What fun extracurricular practices provide work-life balance?

Tia: The recharge has always been super-important for me. I completely power down and then charge back up. Travel has always been a way of doing that. I love to cook. I read a lot. I often see parallels from one thing to the next, whether it’s reading a fiction novel or something in The Wall Street Journal, on BBC, or about philanthropy. Being able to bring worlds together has always been something I enjoy. Pouring into my two kids as much possible brings me joy.

Lissette: I am a big reader. I believe in taking breaks. Travel and times of respite are huge for me in regards to work-life balance. My kids have grown up, and now I’m not bound by the school calendar. It’s so liberating to be able to pick up and travel somewhere different and truly disconnect. My female support system and my own family also really feeds me.


What advice would you give to young women just beginning their professional journey?

Tia: As a woman, the world is often not ready for you to have a voice. It’s really important that you surround yourself with people who make sure you know that your voice deserves to be heard and who help you find ways to show up in this world. 

Lissette: Throughout my career, I was always very attracted to jobs where I would learn, and it has served me very well. I would recommend that orientation. As Tia mentioned, having a support system is invaluable. And finally, this work is a marathon. When we’re talking about making social change, you must have a long-term perspective and see yourself as a contributor to bending the arc of the universe toward justice. You are one more person helping lay the bricks and build the road: the pathway to justice. 



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