STEM industries are driving the future, and Lisa Mae Brunson is hellbent on making sure that women have a seat at the table. The social innovator is the founder of Wonder Women Tech, a platform, community, and conference series for women and underrepresented groups in STEM fields. The non-profit offers coding classes, workshops, hackathons, diversity career fairs, STEAM camps, community inclusion activities, thought leadership, and other dynamic programming geared towards empowering women, girls, people of color, LGBTQ, the underrepresented, and other diverse communities.
Lisa is quick to call out her industry, noting that while women constitute half of the total population, only about 20 percent of executive roles at tech companies are occupied by women. Her mission is to change that statistic, and that begins with fostering relationships, prompting a societal dialogue around inclusivity, working with Fortune 500 companies, and empowering a new generation of STEM talent.
Lisa is a modern day Wonder Woman ready to make a global impact, and she’s working diligently behind the scenes to ensure a diverse future where everyone feels a sense of belonging.
When did you discover a need for something like Wonder Women Tech and what inspired you to pursue it?
There has always been a need for diversity and inclusion to be a focal point for governments, companies, and businesses to develop strategies and solid initiatives. It became really clear to me that women and the underrepresented needed another platform that provided opportunities that went beyond the stage, and included mentorship, career development, and access to job opportunities when I developed my first Wonder Women Tech Conference in 2015. So many people got behind my vision and wanted to see WWT come to life and support in meaningful ways, from providing venue space, to raising their hand to speak, to sponsoring with funding and partnerships.
What separates Wonder Women Tech from any other women in tech conference?
From day one, Wonder Women Tech has forged partnerships with mayors, governments, schools, Fortune 500s, organizations, and individuals to create a dynamic ecosystem where policy, empowerment, and exploring the cross-sectionality of industries is accomplished. Working directly with those who make policy, and who educate our future and current generations, as well as with the companies that drive the global market, provides us the opportunity to scale globally, create dynamic solutions, and bridge the gap across industries. We also build our foundation on collaboration. Working together within an aligned partnership is what will create the greatest impact. We are not an “event,” we are creating change.
What is your advice on getting the next generations further involved in the technology industry?
Reach out and provide opportunities for youth to be exposed to STEAM fields and activities. Mentor where you can so that these students can feel empowered and see living examples of the generation who are innovating before them. Teach our youth to be leaders and watch them develop into powerful forces within the tech industry. Where possible, providing funding, education, and access to programs so there are no economic or other barriers to entry.
You’re also the founder of the I Am Equality Campaign. What do you see for the future of equality and representation in the field of technology?
I am thrilled to see more companies and organizations creating initiatives that provide visibility for the underrepresented, as well as education and community building. My focus in 2019 is to inspire people to think about how they build a “Culture of Belonging,” beyond “diversity and inclusion,” and provide the foundation for cultivating equality and a safe space for representation within workspaces and communities. The powerful movements we have seen over the last few years have provided a fertile ground for these kinds of initiatives to bloom and blossom. Companies are not only becoming more aware of the importance of equality and representation within the tech industry, but they are also putting money and support behind these projects.
What is one app you can’t live without and why?
Right now the best app I am using is WhatsApp. It allows me to keep in communication with my team which is spread across Hawaii, California, Texas, Florida, D.C., Canada, Brazil and London, as well as my international partners. This free app is a lifesaver!
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?
I like to think of myself as the “Pivot Queen.” One thing I have learned as a visionary is that you have to take the concept of “failure” in stride. I’ve come to understand that everything I do is R&D (research and development) and it provides me the opportunity to innovate again and again. Early in my career, I used to get really upset and sad when I met with “failure,” but I have since learned to pick myself up, celebrate the small and large victories, and commit to learning what I need to let go of and what I need to improve for the next iteration. I have taught myself and my team to focus on celebrating the fact that we are still here, and we are taking steps forward.
What are you most excited for in 2019?
I am very excited to finally have our 501(c)(3) status which will allow us access to grant funding, which will allow us to create an even greater impact and hire staff! And I am excited to host our first LatinX Summit in Brazil and explore climate change and conservation, a new program focus.
What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?
Whenever I feel like giving up, I go to my inbox, find my folder marked “Testimonials,” and read the hundreds that I have filed away over the years. The lives that have been impacted by the work we do are what keeps me inspired and committed to this work. I am grateful that every single day I am not only doing what I love, but we are creating real change that is becoming its own legacy. That is definitely fulfilling.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I had the honor of interviewing Rev. Jesse Jackson on my stage in 2017, and at the time I was feeling really defeated with burnout. I asked him how he continued to move forward when there are so many doors slammed and it feels like the civil rights movement and efforts towards equality are taking a step backwards. Rev. Jackson told me something so basic that it was also profoundly powerful—he said, “You just have to show up.” Those two words are something I carry with me every day when I feel like giving up. I get out of bed, and I show up!
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
I hope I am wonderfully surprised all the time. To date, receiving the multi-year commitment from Mayor Garcia and the City of Long Beach continues to be the catalyst that sparked the success and growth of Wonder Women Tech. That investment in my vision is what fuels the magic that my team and I will continue to create in the years ahead. #WeAreFuture
Photography by Annie McElwain Photography
Photoshoot skincare provided by Dermalogica