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Utah Women: Ancestry's new CEO says supporting moms with careers can benefit everyone

Utah Women: Ancestry's new CEO says supporting moms with careers can benefit everyone

(Courtesy photo)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

Editor's note: This story is the third installment of's "Utah Women" series, in which we profile individuals and examine issues facing women in the Beehive State in honor of Women's History Month.

SALT LAKE CITY — As a young girl, maybe around 4 or 5 years old, Deb Liu's parents took her on a trip to their family's ancestral village in China, an experience she says she still holds near and dear to her heart today.

"It was really amazing to see where your previous generations lived," she said. "To really have that connection to a place and have your family actually (have) been in that place for hundreds of years, it was incredible."

Today, Liu serves as the newest CEO for Ancestry and she wants to help connect people across the globe with their families.

"Continuing to deepen people's relationship with the past, being able to discover their ancestors, being able to connect with relatives — I think that continues to be really core to the mission of what we do."

Expanding that mission to different countries and more communities is an ongoing goal the company has that Liu intends to continue.

"Our mission is not limited to the U.S.; it's actually very global, and people globally care about their families and their family history, and we are one global family," she explained.

Prior to her current role as CEO, Liu worked as an executive for Facebook, where she helped create a group aimed at empowering women to pursue careers in product management fields called Women In Product.

In 2020, the United States had a record-high number of Fortune 500 CEOs that were women, but men still dominated the field with about 13 companies headed by men for every one woman-led company, according to data.

In 2019, women accounted for 40% of managers in the workforce, with white women holding the majority of positions at 32.3%. Liu is in the minority, becoming one of the 2.5% of Asian women in the country to hold a management position.

"I think women shouldn't shy away from ambition," Liu said.

Family has always been important to Liu and she appreciates the effort her parents made to emphasize family.

"Family has always been such a core part of who we are," she said.

Liu grew up in a small town in South Carolina, where less than 1% of the population was Asian. Her parents used to save up money to call their relatives living outside the country, and calls were expensive — about $1 per minute.

"I know how crazy that sounds today with free internet calling," Liu said.

Creating a family-friendly workspace is important to Liu, who feels passionate about maintaining an environment where mothers can return confidently to careers after taking time off to help their families or raise children.

"We often have this linear way of thinking about careers, and I actually think that careers come and go based on what's necessary," Liu said.

Being flexible and helping employees put family first benefits everyone, she added, saying, "I think we want this for everyone in our society for the betterment of our entire society, not just moms."

If mothers want to pursue careers, Liu believes the support structure should be there to help them achieve their goals. Creating this structure has been more difficult in the COVID-19 pandemic, where women have been disproportionately impacted in what's been labeled a "pink recession."

When the right pipelines are in place to help moms launch careers, they can end up bringing a unique perspective to the company. In fact, Liu's role as a mother helped her launch one of Facebook's most successful features: Facebook Marketplace.

"In the Facebook groups I was a part of, I had seen moms buying and selling on the platform," Liu said.

After pitching it several times, she was turned away by colleagues who dismissed the idea, saying "nobody buys anything on Facebook." But Liu knew that wasn't true — she had even bought and sold things on the platform herself.

"I could see something that other people couldn't see," she said.

Eventually, her idea was accepted and she helped launch the social media giant's buying and selling platform. The experience illustrated to Liu something she already knew: having diverse backgrounds and voices in a company helps drive better product development.

"(When) people are very different — from different backgrounds, from different experiences — it forces you to think about problems from different angles," she explained.

Companies with less diversity and more employees from similar backgrounds can unintentionally participate in groupthink, she added, leaving less opportunity for development and challenging ideas.

"Bringing different views to the table makes companies stronger," she said.

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