Editor’s Note: This interview is part of a project in which we hope to explore the continued lack of female representation in STEM. The first installment of this series can be found here.
All her life, NY Tech Meetup executive director Jessica Lawrence aspired to be someone who advocates on behalf of others. “I think being passionate about supporting women in tech stems from that,” she says.
Her work today is influential: the NYTM now hosts supportive and widely popular events for over 40,000 members of the city’s bustling tech community (women and men alike). And the organization — which recently marked its 10th anniversary and saw a visit from Mayor Bill de Blasio during the celebration — also coordinates women-specific meetups designed to help female tech employees and entrepreneurs flourish.
On top of that, she co-founded the Work Revolution Summit last year — an advocacy group that “believes everyone deserves to love their work” — and serves as part of the brain trust for Girls Who Code — an organization that equips girls with the tech knowledge they need to fairly compete in a digitally-focused job market.
Lawrence first became interested in providing STEM-oriented educational opportunities for girls while at the helm of Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council, a role she occupied from 2008 to 2011. “I saw the light bulb go off for so many girls [while providing those programs], and saw their lives transformed through exploring something they had never had exposure to before,” she says.
Related: Creating a Supportive Space for Women in Tech
Concern for others has heavily influenced Lawrence’s path in life — starting with studying psychology as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland. “Understanding myself and other people better was intriguing to me,” she says.
She graduated cum laude in 2003, then earned a certificate in non-profit management at Duke University in 2007. And in 2010, Lawrence completed Seth Godin’s Female Entrepreneur MBA program, a short, intensive alternative MBA program organized by marketing guru Godin. She refers to it as “one of the most important experiences of my life” due to the connections she formed with her fellow participants.
After her work with the Girl Scouts, Lawrence decided to shift gears and move cross-country to New York City in the hopes of finding work as a freelancer. But fate had other plans, Lawrence says. “Two weeks after I arrived, I went to my first NYTM event. That night, they announced that NYTM was looking for its first full-time employee — an executive director who had non-profit management, fundraising and event experience.”
Her qualifications matched their requirements, and six weeks later, she assumed the role that set her on her present trajectory.
In addition to her current work, Lawrence speaks frequently on women in tech and the importance of organizational culture at events such as SXSW, and at conferences coordinated by The United Nations, The New York Times and more. She also writes about such topics for publications like the Harvard Business Review blog and the Huffington Post.
Though she has accomplished a great deal, she says her work on combating inequality in the STEM world is far from completed.
She says, “We need more young people prepared to fill technology jobs, more entrepreneurs, employees, investors, and board members of diverse backgrounds, and more technology products that solve our biggest challenges.”
For a List of All Project Posts: The Story Exchange on STEM Entrepreneurship