Meet Ladybadass: Elisa Camahort Page - Professional & Political
I have a vivid memory of having lunch with today’s ladybadass Elisa Camahort Page a summer or two ago. We were having one of our usual mutual supportive but ass-kicking conversations. You know, those conversations that bounce between opening your mind to other possibilities and firm shoves forward to make you manifest your best self. Yes, I’m an ECP fan. Towards the end of our lunch, a young woman gently came over to our table. “I didn’t mean to listen in,” she said, “but I couldn’t help but be inspired by your conversation.” She went on to tell us that she’s stopped what she was working on and sat at the table for another 30 minutes just so she could listen. Time had run out, and she had to leave, but she wanted to say thank you. This is also why I make time for lunches with Elisa. They’re always this good, and like the young woman at lunch, I’m grateful and inspired by our conversations. You’ll read more about Elisa in today’s deep dive. I hope she inspires you too. - Joanna
PROFESSIONAL AND POLITICAL
Elisa Camahort Page doesn’t hesitate when asked about her ‘and’ words. Ladybadasses live in the world of ‘and.’
What I came to realize is that it is the combination of the two words “lady” AND “badass” manifested by women I highlight as Ladybaddasses. They are strong AND gentle; bold AND cautious; harsh AND empathetic; unbreakable AND delicate; hard AND soft; fearless AND afraid; steadfast AND inclusionary; and so on. -Joanna Bloor
Elisa’s “I’m professional and political,” is precise and pitch-perfect.
On the political side is Roadmap for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All, slated for publication September 18th (you can pre-order it on Amazon now) and co-written by Elisa, Carolyn Gerin, and Jamia Wilson. It features a prominent blurb by Gloria Steinem. And Elisa’s professional journey features ever-present themes of empowerment through the written word, living one’s values, and making a difference in one’s community.
It’s also not surprising to hear a Ladybadass use “and” to define her career.
Elisa describes herself as a writer and a strategic advisor. She helps people and organizations understand the value of their stories and how to complete their narrative. She also helps individuals effect change on a personal, community, or national level, often by providing them with publishing or writing resources and communications coaching.
“My career path has been fluid...I like to use the word peripatetic because I love that word. Nobody uses it.” (Indeed, enough people don’t use it that we linked to the definition! LBAs are committed to expanding our vocabularies.)
Elisa, after majoring in theater at San Jose State University and moving to New York to work as a creative artist, found she missed the San Francisco Bay Area. She also felt the need for a job that guaranteed a consistent paycheck. Through a family friend she found a job in the commodities industry, where she worked for next seven years. The dot-com boom began around the time she realized a career in commodities would limit her ability to stay in the Bay Area and have any real job mobility or advancement.
In the late 90s Elisa began working as an administrative assistant in the marketing department of a technology company to see if she had the aptitude for it.
She describes her experiences at two different companies during the dot-com boom and bust as empowering and disempowering.
“In my first technology job one colleague was my technology mentor and he taught me about the technology I needed to know to succeed. I had a different colleague who was more of a business mentor; he let me sit in on some meetings and conference calls so I could see him in action. Technology and negotiating and talking and selling...neither of those guys could do what the other one did. And I needed to learn all of those things.”
Common experiences involving sexism and ageism (Elisa points out that ageism can often apply to the time one spends in a particular position versus the age of an executive) resulted in limited advancement opportunities.
“You can go up one or two levels at a company but people just can't stop thinking of you at the level at which you started.”
She is direct about sexism and her preferred style of working.
“I was always the only woman in the room. I was always validating my existence and I was always having to put on a sort of chest-beating, aggressive mode of communication to be on an equal footing with the engineers with whom I was trying to work.”
She adds, “I don't understand a workplace culture where people enjoy yelling and cursing at each other. I thought, it doesn't really have to be this way.”
Elisa’s career choices are a LadyBadassery jackpot. Each is a clear example of one or more of the LadyBadass credo: BE BRAVE, BE CURIOUS, BE KIND, BE YOU.
When asked about how she got to where she is today, Elisa says, “It's actually a story,” with emphasis on the last word.
Toward the end of her role at a second tech company the dot-com bust was in full slump.
“Our company had gone through so many layoffs. I thought, 'I don't see how I don't get laid off in this next round.' And then I didn't get laid off. I spent all weekend super depressed that I had to go back and then I thought to myself, why do you have to?”
Her skill at saving (she had a year’s take-home pay in the bank) meant she felt safe leaving her job without having a new one. She didn’t have much of a plan, she just knew that she didn’t want to be at that company anymore.
Elisa had started blogging for fun. After an aha! moment, realizing the business potential of blogging, she began helping companies extend their reach and customer relationships through blogs.
“At first, it was a project, a labor of love. We weren't a company yet. We used our credit cards to reserve the venue for our first conference. We were three individuals who were super interested in what we were doing. It was only after the first conference that we thought, there’s actually a business opportunity here.”
The co-founders raised $20 million over four funding rounds and turned BlogHer into an online media company with a conference franchise for women. In its final five years as a standalone company (BlogHer was acquired by SheKnows Media in 2014) the women writers on the BlogHer platform collectively made $36 million dollars.
“We were really at the forefront of getting women paid for their writing, and for the influence they had on their communities.”
She describes the revenue generated by BlogHer simply, with significance.
“It was attaching value to what women do best, which is express themselves, create connections, and help each other get through the day.”
The success of BlogHer can be attributed to the contributors too. Elisa remembers a couple of BlogHer success stories:
“Ree Drummond is one of the most successful bloggers in the BlogHer network. When she started she was getting paid for advertising on her website, but she parlayed her blog into a Food Network show and a magazine of her own. ”
“Equally meaningful success stories are the people who can send their kid to college without incurring a bunch of student loan debt. There was a woman in our network who retired several years early from teaching because she was making enough money to bridge to her retirement. A woman who was a single mom and had been working two jobs so she could afford medication for her kids: she got to quit her second job, write from home, and be there more for her kids.”
“Recently I was in Portland at the World Domination Summit, where I spent some quality time with someone I had known as an acquaintance for years. She was in our BlogHer community, she spoke at our early conferences, we're Facebook friends, but we had never sat down and spent time together. Flash forward to today: she's now written two books on her topic around her blog and she credits BlogHer as introducing her to an entire online community that drove all the changes she's made in her life since that point.”
Elisa hears accounts like these often and you can tell each one is important to her. Her co-creation, a platform that helped women successfully discover and act upon their passion and share their knowledge, enabled her to build considerable expertise in the publishing arena. It drove home how the written word can empower people to find and act in ways that propagate their values and change they want to see in the world.
“I believe in people. I want to help people do things that will authentically serve their whole life. So it’s not about me personally, it's about what we created.”
A CONVERSATION WITH MYSELF
Elisa stayed on at BlogHer after its acquisition for more than two years—longer than most founders. She consulted with the New York-based team from her home office in the Bay Area.
“A little before the two-year mark after we were acquired I had that whole should I stay or should I go conversation with myself.”
It would have been easy for her to stay and focus on a few primary work tasks while also writing a book. But transitioning from a founder of a standalone company to a high-powered executive at a larger media organization isn’t easy.
“You have freedom because it's no longer all on your shoulders. But you have frustration because it's no longer your baby, and you no longer have control.”
“Ultimately I knew myself well enough to know that I needed to strike out, separate myself from what was comfortable, and throw caution to the wind, just like I’d done multiple times before, in order to really achieve whatever my next satisfying milestones were going to be. And that meant tackling something I once thought was never going to be my particular path: writing a book.”
The book that Elisa began working on in 2017 was different from the book she had intended to write. She thought she was going to write a book encapsulating the lessons learned building BlogHer.
But the day after the 2016 Presidential election one of Elisa’s friends, Carolyn Gerin, reached out.
Carolyn was an author and fellow Bay Area entrepreneur, and during that post-election messaging exchange Carolyn helped determine Elisa’s next ‘and,’ when she described a dream.
“I had a dream last night, and I know what I need to do. I need to write a book to help people protect and engage with their democracy. And I want you to work on it with me.”
Elisa suggested they invite a third co-author to round out the author team’s perspective and experience. Jamia Wilson famed author of Young, Gifted, and Black and contributor to Together We Rise: Behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Around the World and Babe completed the triumvirate.
WISE WORDS AND PRACTICAL SUPPORT
Elisa credits her dot-com money savings with her ability to go two years without a paycheck when starting BlogHer. Being able to leave SheKnows Media to write a book was also partially due to another source of support: her partner.
“The same day the acquisition closed my partner and I signed the papers for a new house. It was my dream house in my dream neighborhood. We put down a big down payment. I wiped out my savings.”
She recalls her partner’s perspective as a combination of wise words and practical support.
“They said, ‘Just remember that for the last 9 years, you got to work every day doing something you created and you loved and you changed the world. And for the last seven of those years once you got funding and a salary you got paid really nicely to do that. That’s more than most people ever get to do.’”
After figuring out the nuts and bolts of how it would work financially Elisa’s partner offered to contribute more financially for a few months, giving Elisa some space and time not to have that responsibility weighing on her mind. They said, “This is what I can do to make this work.” Elisa says she remembers looking at that recommendation first thinking, then saying, “You're totally right. That's what you should do.”
The realization she could rely on her partner to make up the living expenses was freeing. With support, Elisa began her next adventure.
It takes more than a wonderful personal partner’s emotional and financial support to help turn a dream into reality. Early in Elisa’s career, she benefited from mentors at the technology companies where she worked. Later on, she was exposed to more mentors and became one herself.
“I heard the term “thin slices” from Wendy Clark (current CEO of DBB, a global marketing firm) who was a senior executive at Coca-Cola. Wendy spoke to a group of influencers that we brought to Coca-Cola headquarters and told us that she operates in thin, dedicated slices of attention. We were talking about balance, of course, and she said when she's at work, she's at work and not trying to stay on top of what's happening at home. But when she's at home or with her kids, she is not looking at work. She is not distracted.”
“Her other point was that when she couldn’t do something with her kids because of work conflicts, she didn’t present it as an apology. She didn’t say, ‘Oh, I'm sorry, I have to do this work thing.’ She wanted them to know that work is important to her and that she loves her work, so she would say, ‘I get to do this thing at work which means I can't do that thing with you, but I'll get to do something with you later.’”
Elisa really likes the concept of “thin slices” and applies it to mentoring. She doesn’t believe in the concept of a single, benevolent mentor who is the only person you look to for complete support.
“So many people can mentor you about some thin slice of what you need. People can mentor you in thin slices, and you can mentor other people in thin slices. Even if you are early in your career, even if you don't think you have something to offer. You do have things to offer.”
24/7 LIFE VALUES
When asked about the future of work, life, and empowerment the phrase that she says comes to mind is you in danger, girl.
She mourns the dearth of stock options available to workers today and sees the gig economy as one of mostly unfulfilled promise for workers.
“Back in the original dot-com boom, every worker got some stock options. From the receptionist to the person on the manufacturing floor, to the executive. Everybody. I knew people making $50,000 a year who bought a really nice car or bought a house because they had stock. And they were part of the boom.”
“But today, the DoorDash deliverer or Lyft driver...they don't get upside potential from the success of those companies. These days when companies do really well only a very small number of people enjoy the fruits of that labor.”
Elisa uses and loves a few apps for the convenience they offer but wonders at the limited vision of technology today.
“I'm disappointed that the brightest minds of Silicon Valley seem to be focused just creating one more app that makes life a little more efficient or convenient for the top 1% to 10%. Is this the best we can do? Don’t we have bigger problems to solve?”
Given our societal expectation that everybody be reachable 24/7, Elisa believes that it is crucial that everything we do, including our work, is aligned with our core values.
“Our jobs ask so much of us. We're expected to be available 24/7. I'm not saying I like that phenomenon but it is a phenomenon.
And we're going to find ways to continue to bring our values and our whole self into our work and our career and who we are in our entirety. And if that's going to be the case, then the trade-off is that companies must realize their employees are people with lives; with passions and values that they need to express. We have to work to a future where everybody is allowed to do that.”
(SOME) AMOUNT OF TIME + (SOME) AMOUNT OF MONEY = ANYTHING YOU WANT
Elisa is passionate about politics and civic involvement. Her research and experience running BlogHer allowed her to have conversations with many influential voices. Giving people a voice and the ability to act upon those ideas is the basis for her book, Road Map for Revolutionaries. With her co-authors, in workbook format, Elisa guides the reader through terms to familiarize themselves with, a guide to hit the ground running, a resources section, and how to out find more. It’s designed to make it easy for people to take action.
“People think of politics as being for the elite and that's certainly true if you want to run for Congress. That costs a lot of money, and it's not simple. The thing I learned when interviewing people for this book that is applicable to life in general is this equation: some amount of time plus some amount of money gets you to your goal. If you have less of one you're going to have to spend more of the other. So if you don't have the money you're going to have to spend more time. If you don't have the time you're going to have to spend more money. That's really a very simple equation.”
Road Map for Revolutionaries comes out right before midterms (and fewer than 3 months after President Barack Obama’s strongest public comments to date about getting involved, with a special emphasis on women). Available just as the nation is collectively in a back-to-school mindset, Road Map, a textbook-like guide about how to effect change on a local, regional, or national level, is likely to be a smash success.
Is she just amazing? We at Ladybadass are eager to read her book and get involved.