Does the Treasurer of the United States think that a woman’s face will soon grace U.S. currency?
On Wednesday at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women “Evening With…” dinner in Washington, D.C., U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios spoke about the outlook for equal play, gender-wise, on U.S. money.
Rios explained to Fortune senior Washington editor Nina Easton that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew—whose signature appears along with Rios’ on the bills in your wallet—is in charge of currency design. But she added, “What I can say is…We’re engaging in a collaborative process to move the discussion forward.”
And if that discussion advances enough to get a woman to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, who would Rios choose? “I would put my mom on if I could—in a heartbeat,” she replied.
That was a fitting answer for the audience of 160 American women leaders and 19 international women leaders who are this year’s participants in the annual Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership. This public-private program, now in its 10th year, brings women from emerging markets to the U.S. each year to be hosted by senior women executives at companies such as IBM (IBM), Dow Chemical (DOW) and Accenture (ACN). At least a couple of the international mentees—from Poland and South Korea, for example—come from countries where women have appeared on national currency, way ahead of the U.S.
Welcoming the female leaders to the State Department’s Benjamin Franklin Room, Secretary of State John Kerry stressed the importance of empowering women across the globe. No nation can hope to flourish “with half your population on the bench,” he told the group. While achieving peace and prosperity requires tackling a multitude of tasks—improving health, reducing violence, strengthening community ties—he said that “if you wanted to save time, you could just draw a line on a page and write under it, ‘Empower women.'” (Read the full text of Kerry’s remarks here.)
In her remarkable rise to the U.S. Treasurer, Rios, 49, has demonstrated the undeniable value of empowerment. One of nine children, Rios was raised by a single mother who moved to California from Mexico in 1958. Rosie and her siblings picked plums and tomatoes on northern California farms, worked multiple jobs—and every one of them went on to college. Rios graduated from Harvard.
She spent her early career in the insurance industry. Then she worked in real estate and economic development until 2009, when she moved to Washington for the Treasurer post that put her in charge of the U.S. Mint and Fort Knox.
Rios credits her mother for giving her the work ethic she needed to succeed. She says she grew up with “the three Fs of immigrant families: family, food, faith”—and never doubted that she belonged at an Ivy League school or in a high-powered job.
“Be a constructive disruptor,” Rios told the audience of fellow leaders. By pushing for change positively and productively, she added, “the outcome won’t just be getting your voice heard. It’s also getting your voice listened to.”