The interview you all wanted. Aleisha McCall responds to adland’s ‘worst’ job ad of 2020

Aleisha McCall has attracted criticism this week for her 'demanding', 'demeaning', 'diabolical' job ad - but she is defiant. Is she sorry? No. Does she accept the criticisms? No. Will she back down? No.

She is, she says, being bullied, and won't stand for it.

In this Q&A with Mumbrella's editor Vivienne Kelly the evening after she attracted headlines for all the wrong reasons, McCall doubles down. Strap in though, it's a long one.


Aleisha McCall, founder and CEO (and author of that job ad), Ultimate Edge Communications (AM)
Vivienne Kelly, editor, Mumbrella (VK)

VK: Now obviously you want to tell your side of the story, for want of a better phrase, about this job ad that’s attracted some attention online. I’m sure you would have seen and read some of the criticisms on Twitter and whatnot. What is your response to people who have been critical of how thorough the demands of this job are?

AM: Look. I’m speaking up like this, because I feel like someone has to. I’m a working mum with two beautiful daughters. I’ve got a six-month baby girl and an almost three-year-old girl as well, Millie, and a loving husband, a wonderful family, and they’re obviously all worried about the online bullying I guess of people quick to criticise and put others down, just like what’s happened with this ad.

I’m strong, and I’m a strong woman, I’ve been running my business now for the last five-and-a-half, six years with obviously lots of ups and downs, lots of challenges, and also lots of highlights as well. And I guess I’m just disappointed in people’s perspective to just jump all over me because, you know, ironically we’ve had a record number of great candidates that have resonated with the job ad. They’re genuinely looking forward to the opportunity and the opportunity to earn $100,000 to $150,000 in their salary.

I understand that it’s not a normal job ad, but I’m looking for someone really specific to help me achieve outcomes in all areas of my life. And I know that’s probably uncommon and unique but, I’m the type of person, the type of woman that’s wanting to wear multiple hats, wanting to be a great wife, a great mum, a great businesswoman, team member and so on, and be there for my clients, and I need to make it work.

So, being committed to all of those elements in my life equally, I don’t, and as a woman, I guess, I don’t want to be making apologies or excuses for that. It’s 2020. And I want to continue to be the woman that my daughters can look up to, and someone who stands for their principles and isn’t afraid to ask for this type of person. Call it whoever you want, but I know there’s someone really special out there that’s going to want to join me, and come out the other side of COVID with me and help me achieve those outcomes.

And I guess secondly, I just hope I can provide some hope for all those other hard-working mums, I guess, who can maybe sympathise and empathise with the challenges involved in making it all work and being everything to everyone. My fundamental core principle is to commit to producing those results for our clients. And those clients, especially in COVID, have really come to count on us to be able to deliver for them.

We have been working. I’ve been working non-stop, seven days a week through this period to make sure that our clients get through, we get through and we come out the other side. And, you know, I guess I’m not afraid to admit that I do need help. I need to know that a Trudy or a Jasmine or a frickin’ Katie, or a whoever, who have already sent some amazing YouTube videos through, will be one that will be successful and one special person that I’ll be able to bring on the next phase of the journey with me as I come out the other side of COVID and who’s really right for the role.

McCall is not sorry

So I guess my fundamental challenge is just, after everything we’ve been through, after COVID, after everything that’s happened, and I see the backlash on Twitter, I see the backlash on Mumbrella and so forth, I kind of ask myself, like ‘My God. Seriously? We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’ve got to be better than this’. And I guess that’s what I’m sort of struggling with as I, obviously not reading the comments too much, doing my best to rise above it, and move on and hire the people for the roles I’ve got out in market. Focus on my clients. Focus on my team. Focus on my family. And just remember through all of this that they’re the reason that I get out of bed in the morning, and they’re the reason that I go through all of this to get their outcomes. And I’ve just got to remind myself of that.

VK: You mentioned that you’re a working mum and the various challenges that are associated with the logistics of that. So what about the criticism that the job ad seems to skirt around the fact that you want someone who – it almost reads like you’re trying to get around saying ‘I want somebody without children’. Now, obviously, legally you can’t say that, but there’s heavy implications in the job ad about short breaks, long hours, you require full dedication, and some people have read that as you want somebody without kids…

AM: Yeah, look. That’s definitely not the case. Actually a lot of the applicants have got young kids. So two of the YouTube ladies that have sent a video through, Trudy and I think Katy, have both got kids, both got young families. And what I was trying to do there is, we’re getting, for our roles right now, we’re getting 150 to 200 applicants. So I want to speak directly to people who do have a commitment.

Now, as a working mum, I know I’ve got girlfriends as well that are crazy through the day, short breaks, making it happen, being dynamic, logging off for a few hours, and then once the kids are down, jumping back on at night. And that type of flexibility is key. But they’re still doing big days. We’re still working 12, 14, and sometimes during COVID, I don’t know about everybody else, but for me sometimes 16 hours a day. And I’m not, from my point of view, I just need to know that I can count on someone to help out if there are things that pop up.

A current offer from Ultimate Edge Communications

And some of the ladies that have been applying for the role have been going ‘Yeah, cool. Like if I’m logging off for a few hours to get my kids fed, down to bed, all that kind of thing, I’m normally sort of back on at night sort of available if anything does pop up’. Because it’s just the sheer pace of the way I’m working, and the outcomes that need to be achieved and the things that need to be done. I think that’s probably where, unfortunately, it was misinterpreted.

I’m also trying to speak to that person who does know that they can totally do it, along with the other things that they’ve got going on – and they can make that the priority.

VK: And why is it such an extensive recruitment process? What would you say to people who think that that’s a bit extreme?

AM: Look, we’ve trialled so many different things to get to a place where we can get the recruitment strategy right, and I honestly think this is one of the most challenging aspects of business. It certainly has been in my journey. And what I’m aiming to do here is I need to be able to get people to self-select in. And a lot of the time, you can end up with 150, 200 applications, but a lot of them are wasting their time and wasting our time, because they’re just not the right fit.

If I can speak to people directly, and if I can draw at some of those strings and either get people really like ‘Hey that’s totally not for me’ – which we’ve said multiple times in the ad – or ‘You know what? She’s full on, but I like her, and I reckon I could really benefit or add a lot of value there’. They’re the people that I want to select-in to then be able to consider joining the team.

Because it’s got to be, I understand that the ad is very direct, but I’ve got to be confident in them, and they’ve got to be just as confident in me. And that’s why I took the time to put the video, to support the ad, to talk to these ladies, and men, directly to say, ‘This is how it is. This is where I’m at. This is what I need. I’m willing to pay $100,000, $150,000 to get this person. If this sounds like you, then let’s chat’.

VK: It does appear though that the ad has changed, or been removed. Is that because of the blowback, or is it because you’re further down the recruitment process now?

An excerpt from the amended job ad [Click to enlarge]

AM: Look, two parts. Last night it was quite overwhelming, obviously the feedback on Twitter and the feedback across Mumbrella and so on. So we took a pause, because on top of that, the applications were overwhelming, and we were already bringing about five or six people through to the next round. And then obviously reposted this morning.

So that was really a matter of regrouping because I didn’t anticipate, or could have ever expected the level of interest this got, but also the level of hate, and that was obviously quite challenging to take. So we took a breath overnight and then reposted this morning.

VK: And some people have also pointed to an old job ad where it was looking for a ‘Donna from Suits’. Was that you as well? Or was that somebody else?

AM: No, that was somebody else. That’s not from me. This is the first time, obviously with the focus in the business of when I first started, it was all about me and just my sheer force. And I was just going out with a small team. I then went into a ‘systemise and scale’ phase for the last two years, which has been incredibly challenging and now I’m coming out the other side of that, obviously also coming out of having my two kids and working full time to go ‘Okay, for the first time now, I need a PA’. So this is the first time that I have gone out to market for me to get that assistant.

VK: I’m sure you’ve noticed that everybody online is very eagle-eyed and one of the things that they criticised is in the job ad, you referencing the B&T win, which some people are saying you were nominated, rather than won. Did you have any comment on that?

AM: So I won both the B&T Media 30 Under 30 in 2013. I won the B&T Women In Media in 2014. And I think I was a finalist in 2015 and 2016. So I’ve won two awards from B&T. B&T Media Rising Star in 2014, and the B&T Media in 2013. So you can look that up. B&T can look that up. And they’ll see that I’ve won those awards.

McCall (then Haslemore) winning a B&T 30 Under 30 Award

[Editor’s note: After this interview, McCall sent through the images of her wins, clarifying that she won under her unmarried name.]

VK: So, what’s your plan now? Not many people would be bold enough to want to give this more air time and to want to do the interview – I think most people probably just would have wanted this to go away. What made you want to continue to give this oxygen, I guess?

AM: I guess it’s to me, the other women that are going through this and are probably challenged by this, and are having to deal with these elements on a day-to-day basis and realising like ‘Hang on a second. We’re in 2020, we lean in, Sheryl Sandberg’s done everything for us to help us to get to a higher level, yet we’re still in a position where women are being bullied and ridiculed for trying to make a go of it and trying to make it all happen, and to be the best version of themselves for their husbands, for their families, for their businesses, for their teams.’

And for me, I guess the reason I did that was I just went, ‘You know what? I want to be, hopefully, a beacon and, hopefully, an influence for these women’. And also, hopefully they can empathise and sympathise with the challenges involved in making it all work. And not all the time you are going to get it right, but when you’ve got focus, when you’ve got spirit, when you believe in what you’re doing, when you are fiercely dedicated to delivering those client results, you’re going to make it past this hate. You’re going to make it past this stupidity of 2020 and where we are and the situation we’re in and all this hate is still happening.

And I just felt that I had to say something, someone has to say something. These haters can’t get away with this by hiding behind screens. And I’m willing to step up. I’m willing to speak up. I’m willing to put myself on the line to showcase that ‘You know what? In spite of all that, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.I’m going to keep being the person that I am, and I’m going to keep driving forward and focusing on the reasons why I get myself out of bed in the morning, which is for my family, which is for my clients and for my team.’ And all I need is, as long as they believe that, as long as they’re with me on that journey, then, you know, I’m good. Because they’re the reason I go through all of this, and if they were watching or listening or reading in future, my message would be to the clients, to my team, to my family, just thank you so much for all their continued love, understanding, and support. This level of negativity is not easy to take, but all I would want them to know is they’re the reason that I keep going and I love them and I think they’re awesome.

VK: So you’re obviously not backing down or saying sorry?

AM: Not at all. No. No. Not at all.

I stand for what I’m doing. I’ve always been someone who’s… I was a competitive figure skater before I even got into media, and I’ve always been focussed on outcomes, focussed on goals, and I know that the road I’m taking is not the easy road. It’s the path less travelled. And it does come with far more challenges, far more pushback and far more setbacks than probably what people are used to. But everyone gets the opportunity to live their own life. Everyone gets the opportunity to live their own destiny and this is the path that I’m choosing, and I want to keep at it. Because I really think that ultimately, it already is something amazing, and I really think we can be something amazing in the future as well.

VK: And with the spotlight on diversity at the moment, do you have any concerns about the job ad talking about the brand image of the applicant in terms of having no visible tattoos and body piercings and a certain type of fashion and ‘professionalism’ – do you have any fears about how that could be read in 2020?

AM: Look, I think, and as we say in the job ad, everyone is open to their own expression, and we respect everybody for what they want to do, however at Ultimate Edge what our clients expect, and also what our team needs is that personal standard of level of presentation, level of, I sometimes call it ‘Dress for success’. When I get up in the morning, I put my heels on and I am ready to rock and roll, and we’re able to present that ‘We’ve got this’ message to our clients.

And that’s not through any disrespect. My family members have tattoos. I have family members that smoke and so on, but it’s just a level that our clients have come to expect from us, and that we now uphold for our clients based on their requests over the years. And that’s really just about the standards that we set for ourselves in order to achieve the outcomes that we’re going after.

McCall, then Haslemore, picked up another award in 2014

VK: Do you concede that it is a very, very long job ad though?

AM: Look, it is. Absolutely, I absolutely acknowledge that it’s a long job [ad], and I acknowledge that there’s a lot of detail in there. There’s a lot of specificity. But it’s really around trying to get people to self-select in who are drawn to this, and are drawn to – because I understand it’s not for everyone and that’s why I say multiple times throughout the ad, ‘If this is not for you, I completely respect you’.

The emails, I’m still online at 2am, because I haven’t got an EA, going through these job applications, responding to people thanking them for taking the time to go through our lengthy job process, because we’ve got to find – I know the cost to both my business and to the applicant if we don’t get this right, and I feel the weight of that. So I’m doing my best to come up with strategies and a ways in which we can allow people to self-select in or out, so that we do get it right, and we do find the right people that want to come on that journey with us.

VK: So what lesson will you take from this experience then?

AM: I think for me it’s about, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the hate and by people’s opinions that are not necessarily out doing what you’re doing and dealing with the challenges that you’re dealing with on a daily basis, and it reminds me that everyone’s dealing with their own issues. Everyone’s dealing with their own challenges, and we all just need to have a little bit more compassion for each other, because you really don’t know what’s going on in other people’s worlds. You really don’t know the full side to the story or the full situation of what the context of any given element is.

And so what I’m going to take away from this is obviously thinking, moving forward about how I can continue to hone my communication, how I can continue to hone my skills, but also how I can continue to be the example in the market for my beautiful girls, for my clients, for my team, for my family, so I can continue to achieve my outcomes and be the example that I would be proud of in years to come. And that’s not an easy path. I fully acknowledge that. It’s not a straightforward process. It comes with a lot of challenges like what I’m going through right now, but I have to believe it’s worth it. And I’m reminded every day when I’m with clients, when I’m with my team, when I’m with my family, and I have to hold onto that and shut out the hate.

VK: And what about those people who’ve gone and found old reviews of working at Ultimate Edge? Do you have any response to the criticisms that are contained in those Glassdoor reviews?

AM: Look, that’s a whole other conversation for another time. And if you guys want to write an article on that, I’m happy to respond, but you’re going to have to sit down with me for three hours and grab a bottle of wine, because the story that I’ve got for you on that one – it’s a good one, but that was a really challenging journey. I came out of the first stage of the business of, where it was all me, sheer force, making it happen, and then I realised ‘Oh, gosh’. I knew I had to, but the time came where I had to systemise scale and automate. And that’s the last two years.

So yeah, if you’ve got three hours and you’ve got a bottle of good New Zealand wine, I would love to sit down and take you through that journey.

VK: Look, it’s very hard for me to find three hours in any day, but I do love a good wine, so that sounds like a compelling offer if nothing else. Was there anything else that you wanted to add or wanted to get across in this interview?

AM: No, look, I think it’s just, you know, my advice to any woman out there that is making a go of it, and I always say I’m learning how to run the business while I’m running the business, and each day I’m showing up as a better version of myself because I’m taking constant and immediate feedback, refining my craft, refining my role and getting better and better results. And my advice is just to those women that are out there that might be in a similar position where they have had some setbacks and have had some comments like this, is just to keep at it, believe in yourself. No-one is ever going to back you as much as you back yourself. And just frickin’ go for it, because if you believe in it enough, and if you believe you’re doing it for all the right reasons, good stuff will happen.

And that’s where I’m at right now. I know that I’m turning a corner, I’m pivoting, I’m getting better at what I do. And I’m going to keep kicking on, because, you know, I know that what Ultimate Edge has become and what it’s going to be in five years from now is going to be a pretty amazing story.

VK: Alright, Aleisha, I really appreciate you being so bold as to do this interview. I’m not sure that I would have done it, but I really appreciate you taking the time out of your evening to offer up your version of events.


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