Our Fairygodboss of the Week is a working mother who encounters the same childcare obstacles as the rest of us. As the CEO of Sittercity, Elizabeth Harz has revolutionized the way parents find babysitters, pet sitters and other in-home caregivers. Read on to find how her 25+ years of experience has made her an industry leader and advocate for working moms.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Elizabeth Harz
New York, NY
FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
EH: I started my career in not-for-profit, but quickly sorted out that I couldn’t pay the rent unless I went for-profit! I somewhat accidentally ended up in a media company focused on the technology industry — Ziff Davis Publishing. The company also had one of the best training programs in the world at the time, and some of the most talented executives and employees in the media business. Many remain dear friends to this day.
My early days at ZD taught me many important lessons and gave me the chance to meet and hear instructive stories from legends like Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Masayoshi Son and Steve Jobs. My love of learning and constant change seemed well suited for the tech sector, and the people I met at ZD led to (almost) all the gigs I’ve had since — from Yahoo! to Electronic Arts to Chegg.
Last fall, on a business trip to Dubai, I had a babysitter cancel on me via text as I was about to go through immigration. I thought a lot on the long flight home about how easy it was to do lots of things because of data-driven on-demand marketplaces, but how hard it still was to find and manage childcare. I landed in the US, and there was a voicemail that Sittercity was looking for a CEO — it seemed like fate!
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
EH: We recently reached a huge milestone at Sittercity. This month, we released a new brand identity for the company, including a new logo and a (much needed!) new look and feel. This is just a first step in an important journey, but it’s a big step and the real story is what this change represents: a promise to reinvent the category we pioneered.
It remains very hard to find a new sitter that has the right experience and really connects with your children. But the difficulty doesn’t stop there. Even when we’re working with our regular “go-tos,” it still takes a juggling act of texts, calendars, allergy instructions and ATM runs to get things organized. Our customers consistently tell us that all these little hassles add up to a big bummer: parents do less and sitters work less than either would ideally like. The new Sittercity is on a mission to fix this.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
EH: My most recent challenge has been navigating my new role as CEO. It sounds like such a cliché, but it is a lonely job and there is no handbook for it. It’s important to have a tribe of friends and supporters who understand your daily challenges (and can celebrate your wins with you! This group can be comprised of people from all aspects of your life, but having your own “board of directors” to help you succeed in this role is essential. I’ve been very, very lucky that each time I call or text, people have answered and been very generous with their time and experience.
When I got this job, I tried to connect with every CEO I knew (and some that I didn’t!) and interview them. I also joined a group called Collaborative Gain run by the impressive Phil Terry — my council gets together on a formal basis, but the members are also available for informal chats, and that support has been invaluable. Although it’s hard to find the time, I make it a priority because of the incredible insights gained.
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
EH: There is a lot of support out there for you whether you know it or not. Make some calls today, ask five people you respect the same question that is important to you and your career today. See what advice you get. If you have taken a leap and feel overwhelmed, call, text, tweet — you will be amazed at the response when you ask for help.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
EH: As a working mother of two, I experience daily the challenges of finding, scheduling, communicating with and paying the network of caregivers that helps raise my children. As CEO of Sittercity, I love applying my passion for technology to a really important problem. I also love the team at Sittercity, it’s an awesome combination of people who have been here for years and newcomers who have joined recently — we have a world-class team focused on making childcare finally work!
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?
EH: I have been very fortunate to have had many — whether we were close or they were inspirations from afar! It’s very hard to pick one, but I have to point to Anne Dwane, who I met when I was at Chegg. She was the CEO of Zinch, a company we acquired. I worked with Anne and learned a lot from her. More recently, she acted as a reference for me as I went through the Sittercity hiring process and has been a great resource as I have navigated this first year. She recently co-founded Village Global, an early-stage venture firm focused on getting money to the right start-ups regardless of where they are located, backed by investors including Zuckerberg and Bezos. She has a very interesting life story and has been a Fairygodboss to countless people.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
EH: I enjoy time with my husband and two daughters. We are usually consumed with something — from cooking a new meal to playing battleship to exploring a new city, ski slope or beach.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be?
EH: This is nearly impossible, but I absolutely must say Susan B. Anthony. When asked the same question about 25 years ago from my first Fairygodboss, Nancy Newman at PC Magazine, I answered with Susan B. Anthony, and I obviously still haven’t met her! Nancy thought I was a little bizarre that I didn’t choose Bono or someone more contemporary at the time! I would really love to talk to her about her courage and perseverance and about how far we have/have not come.
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
EH: Random – but “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynard Skynard.
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
EH: “The Godfather.”
FGB: What book would you take with you on a desert island?
EH: Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” It’s a great book and very long!
FGB: What is your shopping vice?
EH: Cocktail rings.
What would you buy if you won the lottery?
EH: If I won a very big lottery, I would buy a plane. I love to travel and to have new experiences with people I love - so would be great to go where I want when I want with whom I want without strangers taking their shoes off next to me!
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women - so each week, we celebrate a woman who made a difference in another woman’s career. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate her and thank her by nominating her here.