Meet Mary Bruce: the First Executive Director of the B.A. Rudolph Foundation
On January 24, we announced that Mary joined the Foundation as our first executive director. We want to give our friends and supporters an opportunity to get to know Mary and learn more about why she’s excited to lead the organization and build the bench of future women leaders in the fields of public service and STEM. Mary will be sharing regularly on topics related to the educational and professional development of women on the Foundation’s Women & blog — and she invites your queries, ideas, and insights. She can be reached directly at Mary@BARudolphFoundation.org
1. Tell us about your first internship.
When I was a senior in high school I interned at the Spanish American Committee (SAC), a social services agency that provides opportunities for low-income Hispanic/Latino communities in Cleveland, Ohio. This wasn’t typical. Though my family wasn’t wealthy, I grew up around, and with, privilege in a suburb about 45 minutes away. Unlike SAC’s neighborhood, my hometown was (and is) 98 percent white, with an average household income about a third higher than the state’s; its teenagers didn’t typically commute to neighborhoods very different than their own. At SAC, I was granted tremendous trust, independence, authority, and grace. I worked hard. I listened. I experimented. I contributed by doing work that needed to be done, and that I could do. It was hard, it was humbling, and I loved it. More so, because of it, I was better informed to make professional choices that continued to challenge me, stretch me, teach me, and where I was better prepared to make meaningful contributions.
2. Why join the B.A. Rudolph Foundation?
I have a B.A.-figure in my life who once told me to “Go Forth and Be Purple.” Like B.A., she is a strong, generous, progressive, humorous, and independent woman. And in that phrase, she invited me to be my full, authentic, and somewhat zany self. She believed in me and believes in me. And in the 15 years since I first heard that phrase, in moments of struggle, or self-doubt, risk or fear, I remind myself to Go Forth. Because she did, and she does. And she thinks I can, too. I want every woman to have a B.A. in her life — and to be a B.A. I want more women to be inspired and supported by leaders that have come before them, and to have the confidence and networks to take big risks in leadership and to do what’s right. We need more women, especially white women, to take risks, to be disruptive, and to show up, fully.
3. What drew you to the role of Executive Director of the B.A. Rudolph Foundation?
So many moments, big and small, pointed me to this role and mission. Thinking about all the times that my ideas were good enough to make a report’s final draft, but then I didn’t have the opportunity to speak (or be listened to) in the influencer’s meeting. Or all the conferences I’ve attended where the audience is mostly women, yet the panelists are mostly (or all) men. Or the fundraising events where I’d see a young person of color put on stage to earnestly share their story of struggle to a room comprised almost entirely of older, wealthy, and influential white folks. We see that organizations — from staff, to leadership, to boards of directors — are more white than the communities they serve and that women are predominantly in leadership roles in the sector… until the organization reaches a budget of $50 million or more and then the leaders are predominantly men. I’m incredibly inspired and motivated to disrupt this system. Being able to represent the incredible legacy of a leader that was committed to fostering young leaders is an exciting honor. There are so many amazing women working in public service — and I’m excited to be working with them, bringing them into the B.A. Rudolph Foundation community, and building new pathways for emerging women leaders, especially women of color, into public service and STEM fields.
4. We ask this of all scholarship finalists, so we think you should ask you too: What are you reading now and what would you recommend others read?
I’m usually reading about 10 books at once; some of which I might finish in a week and others that might linger for months in a place of honor on my bedside for years. This African American Life, written by a mentor and my former professor Hugh B. Price, is a memoir I’m reading now and am immensely enjoying because I’m gaining more insights about his path to leadership—and how I can choose to show up in the world. I thumb through Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders when looking for inspiration on how to do things differently and The Gifts of Imperfection when seeking to cultivate a greater sense of self-compassion. I’m usually reading a cookbook or two (and love to put simplified versions of the recipes to work in my kitchen) as well as some young adult fiction (typically about a dystopian society and with a strong female lead, which I say is so that I can discuss it with my 13-year old niece, whom I adore). I also just added Waking Up White and White Like Me to the stack, which were recommended by colleagues when I shared I was struggling with how to hold conversations about whiteness, privilege, and equity with my white friends.
5. You have 10 free hours, three bags of microwave popcorn, and an order of Thai food on the way. What do you watch on Netflix?
Oooh! Good one. True story: I watched the entirety of the Walking Dead in about six days and wish I could do it all over again. My husband and I really enjoy Shameless and anything Anthony Bourdain. I also think Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is some of the funniest, smartest TV I’ve seen in a while.