Lisa Mae Brunson is the founder of the Wonder Women Tech conference. Based in Long Beach, California, Lisa Mae is committed to impacting humanity on a global scale.
Wonder Women Tech celebrates, educates and highlights women and diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEAM) and innovation. The organization recently received a three year commitment from the City of Long Beach to host the conference from 2016 – 2018 at the Long Beach Convention Center. This year’s Wonder Women Tech Conference takes place from July 15–17, 2016, with notable speakers including Almas Jiwani, President Emeritus of UN Women Canada and Rochelle Briscoe, Special Assistant to President Obama in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.
Lisa Mae is also the producer and co-host of The Wonder Women Tech Show, a talk show web series that highlights pioneering women in STEAM, innovation and entrepreneurship. She organizes socially innovative projects, including the global “I Am Equality” photographic campaign, which launched in 17 cities and 5 countries around the world. She produced the Junior Innovation Camp and Wonder Girls Camp, teaching underprivileged kids how to code, build games and film. Lisa Mae also created EqualityTV, a digital media start-up highlighting marginalized and underrepresented communities. She is a member of the Advisory Board for Innovate LA and volunteers with the Long Beach Code for America Brigade.
Lisa Mae shares how she found her calling while pursuing an entirely different career path and what inspires her to keep pushing boundaries.
Wonder Women Tech was born out of a series of initiatives that I created along the way. I call myself a social innovator. I love creating ideas, solutions, projects, companies and conferences. I create solutions out of a need, specifically pertaining to issues facing humanity, equality, human rights, diversity and inclusion, women and the LGBT community. I’m very focused on how we can innovate for underserved demographics and for social good. On my journey I have created initiatives like a global photographic campaign called the I Am Equality campaign that was featured in seventeen cities and five countries. I was really honored to have launched that project and look forward to doing it again.
I ended up going to school to be a psychologist and I ran a psychiatrist’s office for seven years while I was studying. I learned that I wanted to make an impact on the world. I always knew that, and I thought the way to do that was by being a psychiatrist or psychologist and helping people fix their lives.
While I was in the office environment and seeing the same patients come in week after week, I realized this was not what I want to do. I sort of leaned on faith at that moment. After going to school for a certain thing and then realizing you don’t want to do that anymore, I literally was left floundering. I was trying to figure out “Well what am I supposed to do now? I know I want to change the world. I know I want to make an impact and I’m meant for bigger things. What does that look like?”
So, I left my job and I traveled the world by myself. It was one of the scariest things I have done. I learned a lot about myself, and about different cultures, and I learned about blurred lines. It was there that I developed the idea that we are all in this together. This is our planet. Planet Earth is our home. The lines that we draw, the invisible lines around racism, around gender issues, around gender roles, all of that is an illusion and those ideas came through my travels. When I returned to the States, I moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and I embarked on a whole new journey with my career. I started figuring out how I can make an impact through using media and technology because that’s the world we live in and that’s where I needed to be.
Before running the psychiatrist office, I was an Assistant Regional Director of a mobile pet vaccination clinic. I was 19 years old and the CEO of the company hired me because he said he was impressed by my maturity and my inherent leadership skills. I am the oldest of five kids so I was born a leader; I was born giving guidance. I was in charge of people three times older than me, and managing teams at clinics between Fresno to the very top of Northern California. It was very exciting actually!
FIRST BIG CAREER BREAK
My first big career break that has brought me to where I am now was when I launched the “I Am Equality” photographic campaign. That led me to doing work with Arizona State University which has spiraled into the work that I am doing with other schools and organizations. I have worked with the U.S. Department of State and I have worked with the City of Los Angeles and the City of Long Beach. I now have a three-year commitment from Long Beach Mayor, Robert Garcia, to support the Wonder Women Tech vision, which is an unprecedented victory.
The photographic campaign that went largely unnoticed, showed me that sometimes when we think we are a failure or that somebody didn’t recognize our efforts, that that is not the end of our story. I remember feeling super defeated because, even though the campaign was a success in its own right nobody in the press or social media knew about it. I had one of Lady Gaga’s photographers do an event for me in Toronto, and I had Australian Marriage Equality do an event for me in the Members of Parliament office in Sydney, Australia. I had all these people jump on board. I had no budget, I just had an idea. I called all these folks and I had 17 cities participate to do this campaign. But I viewed it as a failure because nobody talked about it. It was before things were going viral the way that they do now. So I felt like it was a big failure because it didn’t make the impact I was hoping for. But that work has led me onto this road where I am able to build my platform. I can pinpoint that campaign as a big career break.
MY TYPICAL WORK DAY
This is my favorite question because there is no typical work day. I’m not just a social innovator, or a conference organizer; I am building a legacy. I often tell my team that. We are reminded every day through our challenges building this concept, that we are building a legacy. This is something new in terms of taking a holistic approach to tech and building conferences and programming. We are constantly researching how to innovate our ideas. We are finding organizations and companies and individuals to collaborate with. We are constantly bargaining and building proposals. We spend our days negotiating. I am on the phones, and sending thousands of emails–literally thousands of emails. We are pitching ourselves and our vision every single day and then trying to figure out where we can all play together and create win/win situations.
On the other end of that, there is battling the emotional ups and downs and the hardships. We navigate the challenges, the closed doors and having to constantly fuel ourselves every single day. Our typical day right now is trying to get people to care about the work we are doing, to care about women, to care about people of color beyond it just being a buzzword or trendy topic.
You know, I can say that what we are building now with our Wonder Women Tech vision is my biggest achievement. No matter what comes out of this event or any future event, the fact that we are bringing demographics to a table where Google, Microsoft, Adobe and Pandora exists is amazing. These are people who are going to be able to come together and share ideas and learn from some of the greatest innovators around who work at places like Virgin Galactic and NASA. That to me is an achievement.
I would say the people who are in my corner inspire me the most – my team. What we have been through in the last two years to build this vision, to keep moving forward, to endure some of life’s greatest tragedies and to lean in teaches us about resilience and perseverance. It has taught us about what it takes to pioneer in a world that is male dominated; largely Caucasian and where people are apathetic to other’s needs and even rights. It is disheartening that at times, even the demographics that we are fighting for are apathetic about change. Collectively that is where we are. We are on the cusp of breakthrough but we are not there yet. My team inspires me to keep going forward. So I would have to say there isn’t an outside idol that I have, although I have many that I admire and look up to, but my team is what keeps me going every single day. They are my inspiration.
The best career advice for me has been, when you are walking in the extraordinary nothing else matters. When you are connected to your life’s purpose, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the world doesn’t understand how you are getting there. Walk your purpose anyway. Live extraordinary anyway. Be who you are going to be. Make the decisions that feel right for you anyway.
My biggest goal is to create an ecosystem that is as recognized, like TED and has room for growth, where people want to share ideas and people want to create solutions. I want to see solutions. I want to see great mobile apps be incubated from the work that we are doing. I want to see young innovators, young kids who are being taught how to code for the first time, grow up to be the next generation of engineers and thought leaders. My greatest goal is to build the Wonder Women Tech platform over these next three years and beyond to be the strongest that it could possibly be.
I LOVE WHAT I DO BECAUSE…
One of the greatest things that I love the most is that I’m pushing the boundaries. I’m pushing my boundaries. I’m expanding my horizons. I’m building beautiful relationships with people who are changing the world. I’m talking to people from some of the greatest companies with amazing ideas. I’m working with people who are making a difference and making an impact on the planet. This kind of experience is priceless.
Interview by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema