Learn About This CEO's WTF Moment

5 Min Read

Rise as you raise others. That is the message driving the success of entrepreneur, Terri Brax. It has become her life's mission as she has expanded her reach from revamping child care services to empowering women across the country to pursue careers in technology.

Why Terri Brax?

As a young mother with a newly obtained master's degree under her belt, jumping back into the workforce meant first securing an exceptional childcare service that would incorporate educational and nurturing activities for her child. Unimpressed with the lackluster daycare and nanny services available, Brax embarked on an entrepreneurial journey. She created TeacherCare, a lifelong educational service that provides families with highly-qualified private teachers and educational nannies who create activities tailored to each child's specific needs and interests.

Brax's business progressively gained more traction over the course of the next two decades as it expanded its reach into major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. However, like many female entrepreneurs, Brax began noticing that the obstacles she encountered during her fundraising process were specific to female founders. During this time, Brax was invited to join a women-only think tank to better understand why there were so many obstacles in the paths of women trying to launch and scale their startups. It was at this event that Brax realized women in Chicago, as well as all around the world, were starting groundbreaking businesses and raising impressive amounts of money. Yet they still faced gender biases that held them back from taking their businesses to the next level.

According to Brax, "It was then I had my aha moment— what we like to call 'WTF Moment.' I realized there really was a community of women who were willing to help other female founders and entrepreneurs change the future with their businesses. And these women were willing to come together to share stories, shed light on industry barriers, and give advice about how to tackle them."

WTF Is Women Tech Founders

This realization inspired Brax to launch her second startup, Women Tech Founders, a nonprofit media organization that serves as a power network for women by hosting events, offering mentorship opportunities, and curating entrepreneurship and founder-focused programming. While her intention for the business was, and still remains, inspiring women to get involved in technology, she has had to first help women overcome the barrier of misinformation.

She discovered very early on that women could not see themselves in the WTF community or even as women tech founders due to preconceived notions about tech. Many women feel that tech is a field for people sitting behind computer screens all day long, plugging and playing numbers. In order to combat this belief, Brax brought women in tech to the forefront of her platform to unravel any possible misconceptions.

Courtesy of Terri Brax

"We realized we needed to build an army of role models so other women and girls could see the power they could hold, to realize their potential. They hadn't been exposed to what we saw— passionate women of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, who were leveraging technology to reach their dreams and improving the lives of millions in the process."

WTF is helping women thrive despite being the minority within the tech industry.

In order for women to excel as entrepreneurs while navigating male-dominated careers, Brax knew that they had to band together and leverage their shared resources to equalize power across gender lines. It may seem like too great a feat for one woman, even one company, to accomplish, but WTF is certainly leading the way.

Supporting Women In Tech

According to research conducted by Harvard Business Review, "women outscored men on 17 of the 19 key leadership capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders." Women bring innovation and problem-solving abilities while contributing towards the overall growth of a company. And preparing women for leadership positions in the tech field, where they will become increasingly more welcomed, has been a major priority for Brax.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com

Brax's fundraising experiences enlightened her to the deep inequality between male and female founders, so she made the decision to bootstrap WTF from the very beginning as a completely grassroots organization. And it has remained so ever since. Brax believes that unconscious bias is one of the leading drivers of the funding gap, but it is not the only problem. She knows that the lack of diverse people, voices, and experiences at the funding table are also hindering women from receiving the funds they need. But Brax is providing a opportunity to challenge the status quo for how society views women leaders.

Brax has made it the mission of WTF to create an army of diverse role models and give female founders direct access to investors. Her organization has successfully accomplished this by hosting several events such as a Founder & Funder networking night, pitch training, and their Fundher Pitch competition. Even with events that give female founders access to female-focused VC funders, Brax knows that this is enough to close the funding gap.

I believe having more female funders in the venture capital space will certainly help close the funding gap. But that's not the only way to solve this problem. It's not an either-or situation.

Closing The Funding Gap

Several studies have already shown that female-led startups have a higher ROI than male-only led startups, yet a mere 2.7% of all VC funds go to women. Brax refers back to a PwC research report that suggest not only does this reality mean missed investments for investors but also for our economies. By overlooking half the population, one that offers a particular abundance of potential, there is a direct impact on the productivity and competitiveness of the economy. With studies such as these, coupled with her lived experience as a female founder, Brax equips women with the necessary tools to become leaders in the tech space. She is building women up as leaders and skilled entrepreneurs who understand how to utilize technology to their advantage and make themselves more investable.

Courtesy of Terri Brax

As Brax continues to succeed as an entrepreneur and ally to all women, she is far from finished expanding WTF's mission and outreach. Their membership has already grown through word of mouth and community partnerships. Furthermore, online platforms have allowed more women to find empowerment through the organization. Their community that once exclusively focused on female founders is now welcoming women with positions at major corporations as well as entry-level women who show interest in careers in technology

Brax shares that she is excited to launch Women Tech Founders 2.0 at their upcoming conference on April 24th at Google in Chicago. She invites all who are interested to join the event and be inspired by these rockstar, gamechanging women who are paving the way for other women to succeed.

5 Min Read

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top

You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.