Keeping it real
Feminist, mother, author, broadcaster, and creator of a hugely successful digital women’s network, Mia Freedman is a force to be reckoned with. But it’s her real raw and honest approach to women’s issues that has seen her become an icon among Australian women.
Chatting with Mia Freedman is like having coffee with a long lost friend. Warm, personable, incredibly quick witted and totally relatable, she is the epitome of today’s modern working woman. The brainchild behind Australia’s largest women’s digital media empire, Mamamia, Mia’s honesty and no-holds-barred approach to women’s issues have made her a household name. I was delighted to catch up with the Australian icon recently, to discover what makes her tick and as a working mother-of-three myself, let’s just say we had lots in common!
profile: Why did you become a journalist?
mia: I really wanted to work in a job that overlapped with what I loved. In hindsight, I realise now that throughout my career I have worked in whatever area of the media I have been a consumer of. In the ‘90s it was all about women’s magazines in the 2000s it’s all about the internet. So I just wanted to be where I felt the action was and I have been driven and drawn towards women’s media my whole life.
profile: What has been the most memorable moment in your career?
mia: The first time Julia Gillard came into the Mamamia office when she was Prime Minister. She came in to do a live blog, before there was Facebook Live. She sat at my desk and she was delightful. That was a pinch me moment. Malcolm Turnbull launching my most recent book, Work Strife Balance, was another highlight.
I want to reassure women we are all in it together and no matter how mainstream social media makes you feel, you are normal and you are amazing.”
profile: Do you ever stop and realise just how successful you have become?
mia: No! I am always shocked that anyone would want to listen to anything I had to say or that they would come to my events or buy my books. I am amazed. But I’ve discovered that although it’s a risk, by telling my stories and revealing my failings as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, it reassures other women it’s not just them. And when I speak at events and see all the other women nodding their heads in agreement, they reassure me I’m normal too!
profile: You are so accomplished Mia, is there anything you are not good at?
mia: When you come to see me speak, you see my sweet spot – all dressed up, make-up on, talking about a subject I know really, really well. But I’m also the person that only learnt a couple of years ago that Argentina wasn’t in Europe. I crash my car pretty much on a daily basis, there are bits falling off it all the time. There are lots of things I don’t know and can’t do and am hopeless at.
profile: What would you like to be better at?
mia: How long have you got? I’m not good at time management. I always think it’s going to take me 10 minutes to get anywhere, which of course it’s not. I wish I was less addicted to my phone. I wish I could cook. I wish I had a filter. I wish I was more consistent. I wish I had a longer concentration span.
profile: What is a typical day for you?
mia: I get up at about six am. I can’t really communicate with anyone until I’ve had my first cup of tea, my children know that! I always try to be the first one up so I can drink my tea and catch up on the news and look at my phone. But inevitably my kids will hear me and they will get up as well. I usually chat with them then I go and exercise and my husband does the morning shift with the kids, getting them breakfast and so forth. We have a treadmill and I go for a run every morning. I have to do that for my mental health. It’s my time, that’s not negotiable. After that I get ready to go to work.
profile: You are known for your unorthodox dress sense Mia, tell us about that.
mia: I’m well aware I often look ridiculous. But I dress to give myself joy. Wearing bright colours and clashing prints and sparkly things is the four-year-old in me. I think I’ve always had that. My mum tells me when I was in preschool the teachers would tell her I kept disappearing to change, so my mum would have to check my bag in the morning. I’ve always been into clothes. I’m not a label girl either, the cheaper the better for me. It doesn’t matter where it came from, I have no hierarchy. I love choosing what I am going to wear to work. I lay it all out on the bed the night before and often my husband will say, ‘Are you serious’?
The idea that if you have a high profile job that somehow that means you never see your kids is not true. I choose not to go to lunches and launches because I enjoy being home with my family more.”
profile: Who is on your bucket list to interview?
mia: Sheryl Sandberg and Lena Dunham. Although a lot of my high profile journo friends say don’t interview your heroes, it spoils it sometimes. I did interview Liz Gilbert and my gosh she didn’t disappoint. It was one of the highlights of my career.
profile: Who are your mentors?
mia: I have a really close circle of girlfriends. Most of them are in the industry and some of them have super high profiles like Leigh Sales, Annabel Crabb, Jane Kennedy and Lisa Wilkinson, and others who are less well known but just as influential to me such as Rebecca Sparrow, Paula Joye, Wendy Squires and Amelia Lester. These are women who do similar things to what I do. We all support each other because sometimes being in the public eye can be lonely, but hard for other people to understand because you are complaining about things that sound so indulgent. Like, ‘Oh the Daily Mail published a really mean story about me’, cry me a river! They hold me up. Part of the success of having a good marriage is having a strong network of women who provide me with a huge amount of emotional support and comfort. A partner can’t be expected to do all that. It takes a village to stand behind a woman!
profile: What do you want to be remembered for?
mia: Helping women feel better about themselves. That is what I try to do every day. That’s why I wrote the book, that’s why I launched Mamamia. I want to reassure women we are all in it together and no matter how mainstream social media makes you feel, you are normal and you are amazing.
profile: As a mother-of-three yourself, what is your advice for parents of teens dealing with the pressures of social media these days?
mia: I think it’s crucial to be able to talk to your kids in their language and about the things they are into. Learning about Snapchat, watching what is trending, if it’s huge among your child’s peer group, you can’t dismiss it and you can’t ignore it. We have to help them navigate the world they live in, if you don’t you will alienate your kids from you.
profile: How do you unwind?
mia: By doing absolutely nothing. I like mooching around, listening to podcasts while I’m rearranging my wardrobe. I also spend a ridiculous amount of time with my family. I work with my son and husband and I am at home every night and all weekend. There might be one night a week when I go out with a girlfriend, otherwise we are all home. They are among my favourite people in the world to hang with.
profile: How do you find a happy balance between your career and family?
mia: I’ve always spent a lot of time with my kids. The idea that if you have a high profile job that somehow that means you never see your kids is not true. I choose not to go to lunches and launches because I enjoy being home with my family more.
It takes a village to stand behind a woman!”
profile: What are you most proud of?
mia: If I’m really honest, one of the most proud moments I had was last year when Mamamia dedicated a week to pregnancy loss awareness. I lost a baby girl myself at 27, halfway through my second pregnancy. It was the most awful thing and so many women have been through it. It was before the internet, so I couldn’t just Google it and I couldn’t find other stories about other women. That’s all I wanted to know. I withdrew from everyone in my life because I felt so alone, I felt like a failure. It started the seed for Mamamia all those years ago. It was about wanting women to feel normal, wanting to reassure women, wanting to make the world a better place for women and you can do that many ways, one of which is by publishing a story from someone who is experiencing something really personal. All the things we experience as women are incredibly common, such as pregnancy loss, yet I knew no one who had gone through it. For me I had come full circle.
profile: What is the toughest part of your job?
mia: It used to be meetings. Meetings destroy my soul. They are exhausting. I behave very badly in meetings and I can be quite disruptive. The business is better and I am better when I’m not involved in management. Of course when you start in business, you can’t afford to delegate to anyone because you can’t afford to hire anyone. Now we have a fantastic management team and a leadership team and a managing director, so I spend my days immersed in the creative side of the business, making podcasts, meeting with clients, coming up with ideas and being the creative driver of the business, rather than a manager.