We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Mae Brunson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa Mae, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I personally feel that taking risks is vital for creating success. There are so many instances along my career where I have taken great risks. I’ve turned left when everyone said to turn right. I have learned to follow my own instinct, even when it went against the grain and didn’t necessarily “make sense.” I have practiced what I call the “Art of Fearless Asking” because as a risk taker, you have to adapt to the challenges you come across and the unknown. I followed my passions and what I felt a strong calling to do vs. being in a more stable job, or in a position where guaranteed income or outcomes were made. I’ve made bold declarations in the past where I announced publicly that we would be in a city or country, without having made any connections or plans, and then suddenly connections and state-of-the-art venues or outstanding partnerships were created seemingly out of thin air. I’ve charted into unknown territory and have often felt “ahead of my time” launching initiatives and companies that wouldn’t catch its wind because no one was willing to invest in my ideas. Ahead of the #TimesUp movement and the focus on inclusion and diversity within media, tech, and the arts, I was building an internet TV network focused on diverse representation. After five years, I had to give that dream up, but it would later spawn the foundation for what is now Wonder Women Tech. If I hadn’t taken risks to go after what I felt needed to be in the world, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now. Even in the midst of a pandemic, where my industry has been decimated, I am taking risks and adapting to the challenges, while carving out every opportunity to shine.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
When you think of an organization, you often think of an “entity”–a company that is its own beast. It isn’t a living organism–it is an institution, an intangible structure. But Wonder Women Tech is something beyond an establishment. It is a nurtured being that has a collective pulse, made up of a group of passionate individuals who breathe life into it every single day. Whether rain, shine, hail or pandemic–Wonder Women Tech survives because the people who build and pour sweat equity and human capital into it, keep her alive. I feel incredibly lucky that early on when I conceived of my original vision to tackle human rights, equity, and diversity, that I had a small group of people who co-signed onto my “hairbrained crazy ideas.” I had/have such big dreams and goals, and I didn’t have a dollar or “proof of concept” when I set out to make my dreams a reality. What I did have was four other people who jumped on board, rolled up their sleeves, and got to work with me. The challenges we faced over the years are the stuff books are made of. From having a major city attorney threaten us and steal the money we raised, to our first event planner not showing up to run our first major conference, to being bullied, harassed, receiving death threats, and being unable to raise enough money to make everything we wanted to make happen–we still poured all we had into making sure Wonder Women Tech saw the light of day. I have witnessed first hand what it is like to be a woman of color leading a tech conference and platform. My white female and male counterparts were receiving six and seven figure checks from Fortune 500 companies, while we received pennies on the dollar. Often we were made to jump through hoops and show “proof of concept” before people invested in us. And even then, we were under a harsh lens, which contributed to my team and I feeling despair and wanting to give up over and over. We have endured deaths, major illnesses, thefts, home displacement, head injuries, hospital visits, hurricanes, Covid, and the harsh reality of having to pivot during a global pandemic that decimated the in-person events industry. Nevertheless–we have persisted. What people do not know behind the stage is that we have poured our hearts and our soul into this work, often receiving little in return. We thrive because each of us who are connected to WWT feel called to do so. We live our mission because we are our mission. We overcome because at the end of the day, we are here to make an impact and create an ecosystem that is for us and by us. And while we face systemic racism, continued financial challenges, and the pains of having to pivot and venture into the unknown, I know that somehow we will survive–I will survive. And every day that we innovate, the world is that much better because of our legacy we are building together.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The perfect Los Angeles vacation would look like this: First, find an Airbnb or Hotel either by the beach or in the Hollywood hills, so you can overlook the city or ocean. Make sure you are walking distance to a few eateries because you are going to want to eat as much as you can. The food in LA and surrounding areas are delicious! Every LA visit must include a walk on Hollywood Blvd where you can peep your favorite past and present celebrities’ stars on the Walk of Fame. If the LACMA Museum is open, you must visit. During the Summer months, Jazz concerts are a must attend there or at the Hollywood Bowl with a picnic. If you’re adventurous, take a hike to the Hollywood sign or journey to Griffith Park where you can enjoy great views and visit the Observatory. For the beach trips, you must visit Santa Monica and walk the promenade and pier, followed by Venice Beach to people watch and eat food that isn’t so good for you, while watching folks work out at Muscle Beach. If you’re feeling extra fancy, make a reservation at Maestro’s or try the tasting menu at Nobu in Malibu–you will not be disappointed. Mosey on down to Long Beach for a visit to the historic Queen Mary, followed by watching the fascinating marine life at the Long Beach Aquarium. Most importantly, have fun, discover new places to eat, and breathe in the magic of the city that brought us the Golden Era, Rodeo Drive, and the entertainment capital of the world!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to dedicate my shoutout to the people who believed in me when no one else did. The people who stood beside me to till the soil and plant the seeds and replant the seeds again and again to bloom and prosper. The people who picked me up every single time I wanted to give up–and I have wanted to give up a million times. This shoutout is dedicated to the Beginning: Brianna Machado Rush, Stefanie Cronin (RIP), Bethany Guajardo, and Kenneth Sarino — The original Fab Five. And to those who rolled up their sleeves to jump in and out to contribute for a reason, season, and lifetime. Also, a special shoutout to The City of Long Beach, who gave Wonder Women Tech a home at the Long Beach Convention Center. Our global ecosystem would not be possible if it weren’t for the thousands of speakers, partners, groups, and individuals who have gotten behind my team and my vision to build an organization that highlights, celebrates, educates, and amplifies women, BIPOC, and underrepresented voices. To those who continue to build with me, I love you to the moon and back–You know who you are.
Instagram: @wonderwomentech @lisamaebrunson
Twitter: @wonderwomentech @misslisamae
Other: The Wonder Women Tech Show Podcast: Instagram: @wonderwomentechshow
Photo credit to Wonder Women Tech