…Being a mother has also given me a second sense of responsibility to my team. I try to do better for my employees than what was done for me. Given the fact that I’m a mother and went through this myself, my perspective is always to just be supportive. It goes beyond being a parent and may just be about getting through life, whether it’s a medical issue, a death in the family, or someone who has to move out of their apartment last minute — things are always coming up whether people have kids or not. What’s better than to work somewhere that when life happens, your employer says, “don’t worry about your job right now — take care of your life and then come back”? Because in the grand scheme of things, a day or a week isn’t really going to matter. I really believe that. And it’s inspired me to set this tone for my employees.
As a part of my series about “C-Suite Moms” I had the pleasure to interview Elizabeth Douglas. Elizabeth Douglas is the CEO of wikiHow.com, the world’s leading how-to website. Driven by wikiHow’s mission to reach everyone on the planet, Elizabeth collaborates with her teams to create innovative solutions for growing and scaling wikiHow. Under Elizabeth’s leadership, wikiHow has grown over 1500%, and today is visited by more than 150 million people every month across 230 countries. Elizabeth holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Stanford, as well as an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Before business school, Elizabeth worked as a User Experience Engineer at Apple. While working at Apple, she served as the President of Women at Apple, a group dedicated to supporting women in tech. Elizabeth is a strong believer in authentic leadership. Her vulnerable, empathetic, approachable style has led to her being a successful student mentor and speaker. She currently lives in the Bay Area with her family.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?
When I was in college, I majored in Computer Science. This was a time before coding was as popular as it is today. Because I loved to code, Computer Science seemed to be a perfect major for me. But after working at Apple for four years coding every day, I began to realize that I was more passionate about the customer’s experience interacting with the products I was coding than the coding itself. I decided to go to business school to transition into a product role. My product roles (Director of Product for Yahoo! Answers and Group PM at Intuit) eventually led to me becoming the Chief Operating Officer of wikiHow. About a year and a half ago, I became the CEO of wikiHow.
Can you share with us how many children do you have?
I have two girls. One is 9 years old and one is 5 years old.
Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?
As soon as my partner and I decided it was time to start a family, I (semi-strategically) took a job at a Big Tech Company with great maternity benefits and a supportive culture around starting a family. These benefits for women were still relatively hard to find at the time, so I was content to join a company where I knew I would work on something that I was less passionate about, but would be a supportive and comfortable place to have a baby. As per my family plan, I eventually became pregnant.
One morning, while still secretly pregnant in my first trimester, I received an email from a friend asking if I’d be interested in meeting the founder of wikiHow, who was looking for a COO.
My heart dropped: I am interested. Very interested, I thought. But, being 6 weeks pregnant, I didn’t think I was actually a good candidate to run a small company. Because of the pregnancy, I was planning to stay at the Big Tech Company, and I was not looking for a job. While I didn’t want my friend, or the founder I was to meet, to know that I was pregnant, I absolutely wanted each of them to think of me for future opportunities. I spent hours agonizing over the chance in front of me, something that I’m sure many people looking to grow in their careers are forced to consider as they approach a time in their lives when they want to start a family.
While I was considering the best way to approach this, my friend emailed again. “I haven’t heard from you, so I’m introducing you to the founder of wikiHow.” No looking back now. I went to meet him, and found that my experiences aligned really, really well with what he was looking for. We talked for hours about the future of wikiHow, strategy, what it could become, and how I could be a part of it. At one point, the founder asked me if there was any reason that I couldn’t consider formally interviewing for a job with him. I looked at him and said, “Yes, actually. I’m pregnant.” He looked surprised, but before he could respond, I said, “I’m not looking for a job. You can go your way, I can go my way.” But, after thinking about it, he decided that we should keep talking.
What makes this such an important story to me is that I never assumed that my skills and dedication to my career could coexist with the possibility of starting a family. One of my biggest fears in getting pregnant was that I’d be unhirable, that I’d literally be out of a job. It turns out that even when you’re pregnant, you can get a job. The concept that pregnancy is a detriment is a preconception we need to unlearn.
I had my second child four years later while I was COO at wikiHow. The circumstances were well known since I’d already taken one maternity leave, and I felt that taking a second maternity leave was expected.
Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?
I knew once I graduated college that I wanted to get married and to be a mother. While I always knew I’d love my children deeply, I didn’t know just how deep my love for these little human beings that I created would be until I actually had them. They mean more to me more than anything else has ever meant to me.
Motherhood wasn’t a thing for me to know if I wanted or not. I just did. I didn’t think about motherhood the way younger generations do now.
Did motherhood happen when you thought it would or did it take longer? If it took longer, what advice would you have for another woman in your shoes?
Yes, motherhood happened when I thought it would. I figured out when I thought I take on the “motherhood challenge” to my career, and I timed everything as optimally as I could. (Sure enough, I ended up with a really challenging job anyway.) While the pregnancy itself was very easy and planned, taking a riskier role at a startup ended up being the unplanned part.
Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?
In the morning, I help my kids get ready, and drive them both to school on my way to work. I find that the car time with the kids is really valuable; I think kids are able to talk about what’s on their minds as you’re driving because it’s not as intense as a face to face conversation. Plus, I get to have a lot of fun with my kids just talking about silly things while we’re driving. In fact, my younger one counted all the way to 200 this morning. It took a really long time. We loved it and bonded over it.
After school drop-off, I go to work. And work is very, very busy. I try to optimize every minute of the work day to be productive so that my full attention is on my family once I’m home. I am usually home by 6:30, which sometimes means picking up my kids at karate. We pull together dinner and eat as a family, and then get the kids ready for bed. This includes reading that I do with my little one every night, and a special talk I do with my big one every night where we reflect on the good and bad parts of our day.
It’s important to me that I spend as much time with my kids as possible, even though I’m also trying to change the world through my job.
Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?
Being a parent has changed my career because it’s made me better at everything I do. It’s made me more patient; it’s given me more empathy; it’s made me be a better listener; it’s forced me to figure out creative ways to be productive; it’s forced me to figure out ways to solve problems; and it’s forced me to reflect more deeply on what I want from my career and what I don’t. I’d say that parenthood has had a really positive impact on my career, rather than taking it in one direction or the other.
I would also say is that one of the things that surprised me the most about having kids is how deeply they experience emotions and how raw it is. In my opinion, kids experience all the same emotions as adults, and by watching my children experience the raw emotion of disappointment, such as when we cut the quesadilla the wrong way and really understanding that they’re truly, truly feeling those feelings has helped me understand how to navigate other people’s feelings in a work sense as well, and have more appreciation for people’s own views of what’s going on their world versus my view of what I think is going on in their world.
Having children has also forced me to slow down and see things from other perspectives. I think I’m better at understanding other people’s perspectives in ways that I wasn’t as mature to see pre-parenthood. Seeing the world through your children’s eyes empowers you to help and support them… especially when the seemingly most minor things anger them. But from their perspective, a sandwich with the crust on can be just as relatively devastating as a drop in traffic or a bad day at work.
I’m also super proud to be able to set such an amazing example for my daughters, not only as a C-suite mom if you will, but as someone who gets up every morning happy to go to work, excited about changing the world through her work, and who loves the fact that she’s had success in a career that not a lot of women have yet found their way to. In some ways, being a parent has actually made me better at my job.
Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?
Being a parent has forced me to reflect on what’s important. At any given moment in time, I’m balancing what my job requires from me versus being with my kids. Navigating the world with my kids, figuring out what actually matters and what doesn’t, has been really important for my growth in all aspects of my life.
The fact that my role as CEO allows me to set the culture certainly alleviates any challenges I might face in any other workplace. One piece of advice to those who want to experience parenthood would be to do it in an organization that will support you. They exist. We do.
Being a mother has also given me a second sense of responsibility to my team. I try to do better for my employees than what was done for me. Given the fact that I’m a mother and went through this myself, my perspective is always to just be supportive. It goes beyond being a parent and may just be about getting through life, whether it’s a medical issue, a death in the family, or someone who has to move out of their apartment last minute — things are always coming up whether people have kids or not. What’s better than to work somewhere that when life happens, your employer says, “don’t worry about your job right now — take care of your life and then come back”? Because in the grand scheme of things, a day or a week isn’t really going to matter. I really believe that. And it’s inspired me to set this tone for my employees.
What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?
In terms of my personal challenges, I certainly have a few.
There’s the emotional challenge that comes from a pressing thought I have almost daily: “Will I look back at the end of my life and have made the right decisions about where I spent my time?”
There’s the time management challenge of just wanting to be there for all my kids’ little things — like karate, plays, and all of the firsts — and juggling work with being a part of their lives.
And then there are the day-to-day challenges. These are the random things that come up that you’re not expecting, and that seem to throw your life into chaos, like someone getting sick or someone’s shoe breaking at school.
Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?
The help you rely on is really relevant as a new parent. Especially as a working parent, you really rely on your nanny (if you choose to have one). You cannot go to work if your nanny isn’t going to show up. Deciding who would take care of my child was a huge challenge. The idea of handing over this tiny, helpless, love of your life to a stranger with full access to your house is uncomfortable and doesn’t always work out.
For example, there was a time when we hired a nanny, and she worked for us for three days. After three days of what seemed like smooth sailing, I received a text message from her 20 minutes after she was supposed to arrive. In so many words, she quit without notice.
There is nothing like the feeling that your support system has failed you. There is nothing like those moments where you literally have no idea how you’re going to figure it out. I didn’t know if I was going to get to work that day, let alone make it to work the next day. I didn’t know if I’d find suitable childcare for the next month. But it’s getting through those experiences that make you a stronger parent and person, and more able to get through the next challenge.
Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?
Yes! I have a special night-time conversation with my 9 year old every day. We ask each other: “what is the best part of your day?”; “what was the worst part of your day?”; “what’s a mistake you made today?”; “what are you most proud of today?”; and “what are you grateful for today?”
The goal is for her to see, through each of our experiences, that every day is different. Every hour and every minute of the day is different. While you can be sad about something in one hour, you can also be grateful about something two hours later. By sharing our experiences with each other, my goal is to teach her that while life will have its ups and downs, she has the power to be resilient and persevere.
Our tradition has earned me her respect and has helped me show her how to access her own power, through example. She just knows that she’s still young, but she gets to witness that I love what I do, and I’m doing something that not a lot of other people — especially other women — are doing. She sees where I’m succeeding, and she wants to succeed, too.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 3–5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
Put your phone away. No, really: put it away. The phone is such a big distraction. If you put it away, not only will your kids not play with it, but you will not play with it. Commit to putting your phone away for two hours every night.
Make sure that you schedule vacations with your kids. They don’t have to be long vacations, but they can be a day off here or there. It might be a special Saturday where you schedule a trip to the beach or go somewhere without cell service. Unplug and spend time with your family.
Create traditions. My family has a pizza and movie night every Saturday. I’ve trained myself to know that on Saturdays, I’m not going out with friends and I’m not working. On Saturdays, I’m going to be spending quality time with my kids in a way that we’ll all remember. When my kids look back, they’re remember that on Saturdays, we watched movies together and had fun.
Carve out one-on-one time. I’ve found that having time with both children together often leads to fighting. But by spending special alone time with one child at a time allows me to have deeper conversations and deeper bonding with that individual child.
In terms of creating space for more quality time, I’ve learned when to skip those certain school events. Although these are the events that I feel the guiltiest about not being able to go to, I find that every time I go there’s no actual “quality time” with my kids. I’m either at a class party, running an activity, and I end up spending only 5 minutes with my child. Or, I go to see some sort of play with hundreds of kids in it and my daughter doesn’t actually care that I’m there. I think it’s about carving out the quality time to talk and bond versus necessarily always trying to be at the things that there’s societal pressure to be at.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I try to set a good example through the work that I do and the love that I show my children. Last year, we were in line for the Snow White ride at Disneyland. My older daughter hasn’t seen the movie. As we approached the ride, she said, “Mommy, is Snow White one of those stories about those helpless princesses?” We’ve talked a lot about classic tales of princesses and princes and why that’s old fashioned. I’m am really proud that she’ll grow up with such good role models.
I also try to inspire my children to dream big by encouraging their ideas even if they’re crazy. I love seeing them get to be imaginative, and not be the realist in the room. I try to show them that anything is possible. I encourage them to try new things.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’ve followed my own path. I make my decisions based on my own thoughts, emotions, and intuition. Because of this, I haven’t quite found a favorite book or podcast to inspire my parenting. I think a lot about what nature intends for us, and for our children. I look at the different stages of childhood and babyhood and do my best to see what nature intended.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?
I have a few favorites. “Let it go” from Frozen. It’s applicable to so many situations!
I also often repeat this to my kids: “It will all work out. Minute to minute, hour by hour, life is going to be full of ups and downs. Don’t let it get you down. Keeping pushing, always push, and amazing things will happen.”
If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?
I do have a life hack. Put your kids to bed in their school clothes. It saves so much time getting ready for school and gets them out the door so much more quickly. Get them home and out of their day clothes, get them in a bath, and let them pick out their school clothes for the next day. When they wake up, they’re dressed.
The best advice I’ve received as a parent was this: “As a parent, you’re going to make a ton of mistakes and you’re going to feel really bad about every single one of them. But what matters at the end of the day is that your children know that you love them unconditionally. As long as they know you love them unconditionally, and that you love them more than anything, the mistakes don’t matter.”
Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.
About the Author:
Jessica Abo believes no matter where we are in our careers, relationships or level of activism — we are all a work in progress. Her debut book, Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media was released in August 2018 and sold out on its first day. Women’s Health Magazine named Unfiltered #1 on its list of self-love books and it was selected to be in the official GRAMMY Awards gift bag. To bring her book to life, Jessica launched a collection of statement tees and hoodies at New York Fashion Week. Jessica has spoken about her research and #liveunfiltered movement on The TODAY Show, Access Hollywood, ABC News, KTLA and in dozens of publications including Forbes, Fast Company and SHAPE.
A multi-award-winning television journalist, Jessica spent 15 years working as a television anchor and reporter. She started her own production company, JaboTV, in 2013, which profiles athletes, celebrities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and changemakers. Her videos appear weekly on Entrepreneur.com.
Jessica’s nationwide speaking tour has taken her to Facebook, Microsoft, Delta Airlines, Weight Watchers, TEDx, the United Nations and hundreds of conferences, nonprofits, universities and schools. In her spare time, Jessica is a passionate philanthropist, having raised more than a million dollars for several causes by organizing her own galas. Jessica sits on several boards and committees and contributes to their recruiting and fundraising efforts.
Jessica received both her bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. You may have spotted her, cast as herself, in several shows and movies including: House of Cards, Gossip Girl, Nurse Jackie, Girl Most Likely, Delivery Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
A New Yorker at heart, Jessica now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter.