C-Suite Moms: “I never have my phone out at dinner” With Dani Dudeck of Instacart & Jessica Abo

As a parent, it can be tough to shift gears — especially after work. First, I’ve decided to protect 6:30 to 8:30 pm every night — I calendar it, block the time and no one can schedule on top of it (unless it’s incredibly urgent). It’s rare that something can’t wait two hours so I try to be religious […]

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As a parent, it can be tough to shift gears — especially after work. First, I’ve decided to protect 6:30 to 8:30 pm every night — I calendar it, block the time and no one can schedule on top of it (unless it’s incredibly urgent). It’s rare that something can’t wait two hours so I try to be religious about that time as our family’s wind down. Second, I never have my phone out at dinner — whether we’re eating at home or out at a restaurant — I don’t want my daughter to think that anything is more important than our meal and conversation. Third, if I have a call, I leave the house or take it from my car. We have a loud house and I like to be focused and present when I’m home. Before becoming a mom, I used to be absolutely glued to my phone and I’ve really tried to create boundaries that feel doable and practical even with a busy job.

As a part of my series about “C-Suite Moms” I had the pleasure to interview Dani Dudeck, Chief Communications Officer at Instacart. When Dani isn’t chasing her 2-year-old daughter Annabelle around Crissy Field in San Francisco’s Marina district, she serves as Instacart’s Chief Communications Officer where she oversees the company’s global communications practice. Since joining Instacart in July 2018, she has built Instacart’s communications department from a team of one to a team of twelve, and has led the company through many major announcements. A 15-year communications veteran, Dani’s resume is a who’s-who of “it” companies. She served as the first-ever head of communications at MySpace, Zynga and now Instacart. What you don’t see on paper, but can feel the moment you meet Dani, is her ability to see the promise and potential in the seemingly impossible and turn each opportunity into a win. While Dani’s professional experience is nothing short of impressive, it’s her ability to effortlessly integrate quality time with her daughter, husband, and King Charles Spaniel into her daily routine that makes her truly remarkable. She loves making breakfast for her family (blueberry waffles are a staple), leads Annabelle’s bedtime routine and attends school recitals even on the busiest work days… not to mention, she’s due with her second (a boy!) in July.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?

Luckily, I’ve known exactly what I wanted to do since my freshman year at USC. In college, I pursued a double major, one with the Annenberg School of Communications in Print Journalism and another in French language. I loved the news and realized quickly that could leverage that enthusiasm if I focused my expertise on Communications and Public Relations. At 19, I started interning at Cohn & Wolfe — an LA-based PR agency — and ended up stacking my classes to fit in as much time at the firm as possible. After graduation, I worked at Cohn & Wolfe full-time before leaving to work at several other agencies including Hill & Knowlton and Edelman. I pitched the MySpace business while at Edelman and eventually ended up going in-house to build out their Communications team. I was only 25 years-old, but I truly loved and understood the product — I was the target demographic and could see clearly the cultural phenomenon swirling around the brand. After 4 years, my passion for pop-culture and technology led me to San Francisco to work more squarely in the consumer internet space. I joined Zynga, another fast-growing start-up upending an industry and challenging traditional business and technology models. With its focus on casual games like FarmVille and Words With Friends, I again found myself as the product’s target demographic which made storytelling for me fun and authentic. This past July, I joined the talented team at Instacart to build out their Communications function and help make the brand a household name. We’ve been an Instacart family since 2013 and as a mom, I had an unflinching loyalty to the product because of how it helped me manage our household rhythm over the years. After talking to CEO and Founder Apoorva Mehta about the role and his inspiring vision, it felt like an exciting time to leverage Communications to amplify the team’s ambitious growth plans. I’m fiercely loyal to the companies and teams that I work with and the timing felt right for me to pursue a next chapter in my career here at Instacart.

Can you share with us how many children do you have?

I currently have an almost-three-year-old daughter, Annabelle and a son due in July.

Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?

I was about six years into my career at Zynga when Annabelle was born. I was the executive sponsor of Women at Zynga and the only woman on the management team — being an advocate for a strong and supportive culture for women was very important to me. When I became pregnant with Annabelle, I took a more passionate stance on changing our policies at the company to create an even more supportive and inclusive environment for our women and parents. I worked closely with Zynga’s CEO Frank Gibeau to significantly upgrade Zynga’s parental leave from 6 weeks to 6 months full-pay and grandfathered in all the women already out on leave as a part of the debut. It was incredible to see how passion and dedication for something you believe can change the lives of so many women and parents.

Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?

Yes — I always wanted to be a mother. People often fixate on the clock or what time is right to have kids, but I just tried to be patient and thoughtful about what felt right for me. I knew early in my career that my job would always be demanding. The hours can be unpredictable and the projects are intense in nature. Because of that, I understood that the further I could get in my leadership path, the better it would be for my family. I tried not to overthink this in my twenties — I just focused on working as hard as possible and over-delivering for my team. When I met my husband at 29, I knew it was time to reshape my priorities and make time for someone important in my life. I was raised by a hard-working single mother who was home for me every night by 5:30 pm. She taught me how important it is to be reliable for your family and make time for the things that matter. I knew I wanted to model the same behavior and it’s been easier to make those trade-offs being further in my career and leading by example in my role at Instacart.

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?

My advice for women looking to pursue their career ambitions while building out their family is to stay focused on what’s in front of you and stop weighing yourself down with doubt and what-ifs. If I could roll back the clock and give advice to the 28 or 30 year-old version of myself, I would tell her to calm down and let it play out. In my twenties, I knew that I just needed to work hard, stay focused and deliver great results to move forward fast in my career. But I wasn’t sure about my personal life. I worked a lot and traveled a ton and never really made time to prioritize other people. I was always asking myself the same questions — Will I ever meet someone worth reprioritizing my life for? When am I going to have time to raise kids? What happens if I don’t find someone to build a family with? What’s my Plan B? I’m an overachiever that loves to have a plan, but sometimes you have to be comfortable with things unfolding when and how they should. You can’t force it — you just have to stay focused on being your best authentic self and doing what makes you happy. Then, you’ll be in the best possible headspace to meet someone wonderful and start a family if that’s what you want. If it takes you longer, then it takes you longer — I really do believe that everything happens as it should.

Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?

My day starts before 6 am because my daughter is an early bird. She and I are both morning people, so we spend the first part of the day playing and having breakfast together. It also gives me a calm, early window to check email quickly and text with my team to see how the day is starting. I’m usually at work by 9 am and then typically back-to-back in meetings and calls. Any free time I have is usually spent reading the news on Techmeme or Twitter. We have four key teams within Communications — Corporate Comms, Consumer PR, Employer Brand and Shopper Engagement. I’m always toggling between all of them to help lift roadblocks, problem solve or plan ahead for upcoming news and initiatives. Because we’re a fast-growing company in a very dynamic industry, no two days are the same and everyone has to stay light on their feet. I’m lucky that we have a tremendously talented Communications team — it’s made up of women who are busy, know how to multitask, love the product and also use it to make their lives easier. I try to lead by example so I really do prioritize my family and leave the office no later than 6pm to have dinner as a family. The most important part of my day is bedtime with my daughter at 8 pm. Every night, I cherish our little routine which helps us wind down the day and refocus. I do one last email check at about 9 pm and — unless something urgent pops up — I’m usually off to bed (especially pregnant, I need more sleep than usual!) to recharge for the next day.

Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?

My career path has not changed since becoming a mother but my priorities have shifted and I feel a strong responsibility to set the right example and “walk the walk” for other women across the company. As soon as I became a mom, I realized how important policies like parental leave and the tone at the top matters. I have often found myself as the first and only woman or mom in the room so it’s on me to set my own boundaries and prioritize my life to make it work for my family. Because I have been a leader in companies, I have had more freedom to do this and I realized I have a responsibility to lift up other women and encourage them to do the same. When I pop out of work to attend a preschool event or leave before 6pm for our family dinners, I realize that other women in the company are watching and my actions give them permission to prioritize their families too.

Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve become a better multi-tasker and a better listener. I also delegate more than I used to, which is beneficial to both me and my broader team. I’ve always seen myself as empathetic and a champion for other women, but it wasn’t until becoming a mom that I realized how loud and productive my voice could be within a company or community to lift up other women or advocate on their behalf. Again, at Instacart, I find myself as the target demographic for our product — 80% of our consumers are women, and 50% of those women are moms — which means I’m always bringing the customer point of view into meetings with me and anchoring myself on who she is and why she loves to shop with us.

What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?

One of the biggest challenges for me is mom guilt. I want to be awesome at being a mom, wife, daughter, friend and leader at work but it’s impossible to be nails at all of it, all of the time. For me it’s about finding a balance that I’m doing it all pretty good and giving it my best. I try not to miss the biggest, most important moments that matter like a big moment at school or paying more attention to transitions as they happen at home like potty training or moving my daughter to a big girl bed. I care about being reliable and try to be there when people really need me. I’m lucky that my husband is a fantastic dad who works hard but also loves to spend time with his family. We each have our game plans on how we support our family rhythm which has really helped us scale and be better at work and as parents.

Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?

The early days of parenthood were so intense because I was so sleep deprived and shocked by our new reality. Everyone tells you to “get your sleep now” because it’s going to be so hard but I couldn’t possibly imagine before kids what they actually meant. Our daughter didn’t sleep reliably for the first 4 or 5 months — it was so hard on me and my husband. I was thankful I took 4 ½ months of parental leave because I really needed it for my family and my own health. I was shocked by how sleepy I felt and how foggy my brain seemed. It took me 6 to 8 months to even feel normal again. I thought that because I was a planner or good at my job, that I would be naturally good at being a mom but it’s a completely different type of work. It’s emotional and sometimes there are no right answers, just the best you can do which was very new and overwhelming to me at times. I’ve learned so much about what I can control and how to be strong as a family — now I can apply all of those lessons to baby #2 this July!

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?

The most meaningful activity we do as a family is cook together. My husband owns dinnertime, and winds down at night by cooking for our family. When we met, he couldn’t scramble an egg, but he signed up for Blue Apron and taught himself. This week alone he did a pork pozole soup, chicken parm and carnitas tacos in our Instant Pot (lucky us!). Our tradition is a Sunday meal planning session together where we organize our dinners. It takes us about an hour and then I Instacart our groceries to stock the fridge and pantry for the week. I order about 3 times a week because we eat a lot of fresh food — it’s important to us to have shared meals together so we make time for it. I love owning breakfast every day — I go big on the weekends when we have more time. Annabelle loves to help cook too — our staples are blueberry waffles or banana pancakes. It’s fun when we have more time on Saturdays and Sundays to get creative and have fun in the kitchen.

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?

As a parent, it can be tough to shift gears — especially after work. First, I’ve decided to protect 6:30 to 8:30 pm every night — I calendar it, block the time and no one can schedule on top of it (unless it’s incredibly urgent). It’s rare that something can’t wait two hours so I try to be religious about that time as our family’s wind down. Second, I never have my phone out at dinner — whether we’re eating at home or out at a restaurant — I don’t want my daughter to think that anything is more important than our meal and conversation. Third, if I have a call, I leave the house or take it from my car. We have a loud house and I like to be focused and present when I’m home. Before becoming a mom, I used to be absolutely glued to my phone and I’ve really tried to create boundaries that feel doable and practical even with a busy job.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

Growing up, my mom always gave me incredible confidence and constant encouragement. In her eyes, I could do anything and she was my best advocate for anything that I wanted to explore or try. I think that giving my daughter confidence and positive reinforcement is critical to helping her develop a strong sense of self which I was lucky enough to have growing up. I love how conversational and fearless her communication style is. Every day at preschool, she shakes hands with her teachers and says “Good Morning!” If we’re out at a museum or activity as a family, she always introduces herself and says “Hi, I’m Annabelle, I’m two and a half,” and when we’re at a restaurant she always orders her own food and drink. I love hearing her assert an idea — even at this young age — I think it helps her strengthen her confident spirit and belief in herself.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of downtime to read books or look to parenting resources. My approach is a little more DIY — I find a lot of support through the community of other moms — especially my mommy text threads which I find are more real-time and reassuring in the moment. I did recently read Valerie Jarrett’s “Finding My Voice” which I loved and would recommend to any mom, anywhere. I had the opportunity to interview her at an Instacart All-Hands and was transfixed by her story. In the book, she talks about her personal and professional journey of being open to life not happening linearly, hustling to create the best possible path for herself while being a single working mother and trying to lead by example to the moms and busy parents on her teams throughout her career. It was very inspiring and a good reminder that no one has it all figured out but we’re all using what we have to be the best parents and partners we can be for our families.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?

For me, everything comes back to authenticity and follow through. Communication is one of the most important things in my personal and professional life so my life lessons center around it. I’ve always relied on a guiding principle of — Mean what you say and say what you mean. I value honest, frank communication — whether it’s a discussion with my boss, my mom or my daughter. I try to be reliable, clear and loyal and do my best in every instance — no matter how big or small — to communicate that way.

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?

My first rule I had to learn the hard way as a new parent is that there are two things that matter the most — sleep and time (in that order). In terms of must-have products, I used every sleep sack imaginable to get my daughter to relax and, in the early days (before she could roll over), she loved the Magic Merlin sleep suit and we relied completely on the Dohm white noise sleep machine. My life hacks are all time related — first, it would be inauthentic not to start with Instacart as the ultimate family time saver. Since my first Costco order in 2013, (hello, diapers, coffee beans and formula in bulk!) I’ve been obsessed with the idea that in 10 min I could reorder important things for the week while I’m in the middle of a meeting or feel like I’m two places at once on behalf of my family. Second, I’m always looking to find more time in the morning to spend with my daughter without getting up any earlier 🙂 I found that if I go to DryBar once a week — super early in the morning — I save 30 minutes every morning and am able to get ready for work in half the time. It’s an easy way for me to save more than 2 hours per week — now I’m out of the house in 25 minutes flat — I’m the most efficient I’ve ever been!

Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.

About the Author:

Jessica Abo is an award-winning TV journalist, social media navigator, author, and speaker. Her debut book, Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media, sold out on its first day when it was published late last year. Jessica spoke about her research and her #liveunfiltered movement on The TODAY Show, Access Hollywood, ABC News, KTLA, and in dozens of publications including Forbes, Fast Company and SHAPE. Women’s Health Magazine named Unfiltered #1 on its list of self-love books, and it was chosen for the official GRAMMY Awards gift bag. Jessica celebrated her book launch with an Unfiltered collection of statement tees and hoodies that she debuted on a runway at New York Fashion Week.

With her savvy insights, practical advice, and heartfelt humor, Jessica appeals to people of all ages and stages, resonating with millennials and their parents. She is sought after nationwide as an inspiring keynote speaker and thought leader, and has presented at Facebook, Microsoft, Delta Airlines, Weight Watchers, TEDx, the United Nations and hundreds of conferences, nonprofits, universities, and schools. She speaks authoritatively on career building, entrepreneurial challenges, leadership, digital transformation, living and parenting in the digital age, creating community, effective philanthropy and activism, and many other topics.

A passionate philanthropist who believes “affluence is not a requirement for influence,” Jessica has raised more than $1 million for causes by organizing her own charity events. She sits on several boards and committees and contributes to their recruiting and fundraising efforts.

A multi-award-winning television journalist, Jessica was a successful television anchor and reporter at several media outlets, including NY1 News, for 15 years. She has appeared as a social media and relationship expert on The TODAY Show, ABC News and KTLA. As a VIP contributor for Entrepreneur, her empowerment, leadership development, and employee productivity and wellness videos appear weekly on Entrepreneur.com. Through her production company, JaboTV, she creates branded content for companies and profiles athletes, celebrities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and changemakers for her YouTube channel.

Jessica received both her bachelor and master’s degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New Yorker at heart, Jessica now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter.

To hire Jessica to speak at you event, please email [email protected]. To learn more about Jessica, visit www.jessicaabo.com. Connect with Jessica online:

Instagram @jessicaabotv; Twitter @jessicaabo; and Facebook @JessicaAboTV

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