Don’t apologize for being a human being. You’re allowed to have passions outside of work. I refuse to apologize for being a parent. I’ve seen so many women feel like they have to hide the fact that they have kids, or pretend like they don’t have an impact on their work schedules. I’m happy to take work calls at any time of day but if it’s before or after my childcare, then you’ll likely hear kids in the background. I’ve even had to jump in bathrooms at events to pump. This is just the reality of my life right now. I don’t apologize for it and don’t want anyone who works with me to feel that they have to either.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kylie McMullan, the Principal and Founder of Finch Media, a female-led marketing and communications agency. Kylie has a strong background in public relations and marketing, stemming from her experience both client side with companies like Johnson & Johnson and in agency. Kylie is also an Instructor of Public Relations for Simon Fraser University and the co-author of the first Canadian-based public relations textbook, Canadian PR for the Real World. Kylie is currently completing her PhD in Industrial Management and Economics from KTH Royal Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. She has been recognized by Business in Vancouver as a Top 40 under Forty recipient and was nominated as a YWCA Woman of Distinction in the Business and Professions category. Finch Media was nominated as an Outstanding Workplace by the YWCA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was having dinner with my parents at a restaurant when I was graduating from my Undergraduate program. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and was throwing out some ideas with them including potentially pursuing a career in public relations. The couple at the table next to us leaned over and said that they had overheard our conversation and that their daughter was working in public relations and had gone to a great PR school in Toronto (Humber College). That night I applied to that school and four months later, I moved across the country to start class. It felt too serendipitous to pass up on the free advice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Interesting things happen every single day! That’s the beauty of running your own company. There is always some new challenge to overcome or some new problem to get creative on. Running a company is the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, other than becoming a parent. I meet so many interesting people that I wouldn’t likely come into contact with in any other capacity. Whether it’s filmmakers or scientists, there are so many interesting people out there doing cool things. I love that my job is to help tell their stories!
Something that has facilitated lots of interesting interactions has been writing my textbook, Canadian PR for the Real World. It has provided an opportunity for me to connect with and learn from so many celebrated communicators, like Terry O’Reilly, from the CBC radio show Under the Influence, and Jeff Hamada, who runs the celebrated art blog Booooooom. It’s so wonderful and fascinating to connect with passionate people doing great work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This story might be funny in a macabre sort of way. I was a volunteer editor for the Canadian Public Relations Society’s newsletter early in my career. A very beloved member of the PR community passed away and I had to write an obituary for them in our newsletter. By accident I wrote “In Memorandum” instead of “In Memoriam”. Within about 2 minutes of the newsletter going out, I received a lot of very angry emails telling me how disrespectful I was because people assumed that I was trying make a joke. I felt awful!
It was a good lesson in several ways: First, always double check your work. Second, be humble. Mistakes happen and they will happen to you. And three, take responsibility for your mistakes and fix them. I re-ran the obituary with an apology note.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
I created Finch Media to challenge the norms of traditional agencies and working environments, and as an organization that promotes inclusivity, diversity, and the advancement of women. When I started the agency, I noticed that many of my female friends and colleagues were treated poorly when they started families, or had to downplay the challenges of being a working parent at the office. Because of this, women often had to take a step back in their careers instead of being able to keep advancing professionally while balancing their personal and family needs by having greater control over their own schedules.
In order to offer an alternative approach, Finch Media is a virtual agency that offers flexible hours, and a community of team members who are deadline-driven and results-orientated. Finch Media’s approach has resulted in our team continually growing, with many of us being parents who value flexibility because of childcare needs.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have a “no jerk” policy at Finch Media, so all of our clients are wonderful and are actively making the world better through innovative products, services and practices. We just help them share their story in a compelling way, which allows them to do more good things. It also keeps things exciting for us!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I had a friend who managed a big team and she wouldn’t let any of her female members say the word “just” because many women use this word unconsciously to devalue their contribution — for example, “I was just thinking”, or “I just wanted to”. Whenever they said “just” verbally or in an email they had to put a dollar in a “just” jar. I think as female leaders we need to be conscious of how we and our female team members might have unconscious habits and biases that impede ourselves and others, and work together to find ways to correct for this.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I think the important thing about managing a large team is to treat it like a small team. Make time for personal connections and team building. Work hard to get to know the team in the same way you would if you were only managing one person. This can be very time consuming and involves being naturally curious in the people who are reporting to you. but it can pay off in a big way.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I like this question because I really hate this mythology around the lone leader. I think it’s destructive. There are so many factors and people who contributed to where I am today, including my parents who were emotionally and financially supportive, and raised both my sister and I to honour and give back to community. My mother was a great role model for me, and she raised me to believe I could do anything and be anything. She passed away 10 years ago this year, but her confidence in my abilities continues to propel me, even through hard times.
I’m also incredibly grateful to my husband, who is my rock. His steadiness, dependability and support have allowed me to try and fail and pick myself up again over and over.
Finally, my sister has always pushed me to be better and stand up for people. She’s the reason for a lot of the principles that Finch Media is based on, and directly inspired our “Finch Media Creates” grant.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
A recent On-Screen Report by the organization Women in View, found a massive under representation of women of colour and Indigenous women in Canadian TV between 2012–2017.
This is why Finch Media was really excited to introduce our grant program called “Finch Media Creates.” Through this grant, Finch Media is providing support to filmmaker Amar Wala and Scarborough Pictures’ “Scarborough Pictures Episodic Directing Program”, which offers a shadowing program on the CBC’s critically-acclaimed show In the Making. This program supports emerging Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) filmmakers in order to increase opportunities in the Canadian media landscape. Through this grant, two incredible female artists were able to gain valuable, paid experience in episodic documentary television.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Guard your time selfishly. One of the best perks about running your own business is flexibility in your schedule. However, because of that, it’s all too easy to let yourself become the person in your household who’s suddenly handling everything, from early daycare pick-ups, to sick kids and letting the plumber in. Each task might seem like small things on its own, but they all add up and can get in the way of your productivity and achieving your goals.
2) Hand-in-hand with guarding your time selfishly, is to find a spouse or significant other who is a true partner and supports you in everything you do, especially if you plan on having kids. It’s not that you can’t do it without this, but it makes it so much easier.
3) Don’t underestimate yourself. Women especially suffer from impostor syndrome. Don’t cheat yourself by downplaying your success or being too scared to take something on. You know more than you think you do. I was recently asked to sit on a panel with some other guests with impressive titles, on a subject where I wasn’t sure I’d have anything to contribute beyond the other panelists’ insights. It was a great opportunity, so I said yes but couldn’t sleep for about a week because I worried I’d embarrass myself and my company. However, once I started preparing and organizing my thoughts on the subject, I realized I knew way more, and had more experience on the topic, than I was giving myself credit for. After the panel, many people reached out to say how much they appreciated my expertise and unique perspectives on the topic.
4) Don’t apologize for being a human being. You’re allowed to have passions outside of work. I refuse to apologize for being a parent. I’ve seen so many women feel like they have to hide the fact that they have kids, or pretend like they don’t have an impact on their work schedules. I’m happy to take work calls at any time of day but if it’s before or after my childcare, then you’ll likely hear kids in the background. I’ve even had to jump in bathrooms at events to pump. This is just the reality of my life right now. I don’t apologize for it and don’t want anyone who works with me to feel that they have to either.
5) Entrepreneurs need to know what they’re not good at, and pay extra attention to it. A big mistake I made when setting up my business was not learning enough and really understanding my IT. I didn’t do enough research into what I needed and who the best suppliers were. This led to huge headaches, when after a while we had issues because I was so dependent on other people to tell me what to do, and couldn’t evaluate what was good information and what was bad information. I didn’t even know the right questions to ask in order to get things back on track! Not investing the time and energy up front cost me time, money and potentially opportunities later on.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to inspire other companies to think about how to better accommodate working parents and encourage paternity leaves. Work no longer looks like a standard 9–5pm working day. Employees are often expected to be connected around the clock, and the trade-off for that should be more flexibility. Companies are losing out on some of the best talent and keeping a lot of working parents — mostly moms — out of the workforce, and from continuing to progress in their careers while their kids are young. It’s frustrating that this is the case when the fix is so easy. It’s just tradition and old-fashioned thinking that’s keeping the workforce from making this change. Furthermore, countries with the lowest pay wage gaps are the ones where both parents take parental leave. By encouraging paternity leaves, it lessens the “mom tax” that women have to pay when starting families.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Good is the enemy of great.
I’ve heard this quote both ways — “great is the enemy of good” and “good is the enemy of great”.
I like it my way best because, especially in creative industries where there are time constraints, if you focus so much on getting something perfect, you can scare yourself into inaction. It’s better to create something and then refine it as much as you can in the time you have, and then do it again and make it better the next time, than to be too scared to try anything.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have breakfast with Ira Glass, the host of This American Life. I love his approach to art and storytelling and how he is always pushing himself creatively into new spaces. I saw him speak in Vancouver and was blown away. My baby even has an Ira Glass onesie that says “My Glass is Half Full”. We’re big fans at my house!
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.