Welcome to Women Who Innovate, a podcast series presented by Randstad Canada as part of their Women Transforming The Workplace program. We explore winning strategies for navigating the ever-evolving labour market through a series of thought-provoking inspiring interviews with bold and passionate women who are shaping the workplaces off tomorrow. Hi, I’m your host Marie-Noelle Morency, and today it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Mitsou. We hope you enjoy this episode.
Marie-Noëlle: Good morning! Mitsou, you started your career at a very young age. First on TV at the age of five, then as a singer at 17. How did you experience being propelled so quickly into the public eye?
Mitsou: At the beginning I was very happy because that's all I wanted. My father was an actor. We lived in the countryside in the Eastern Townships, in Saint-Georges de Windsor and he would go to Montreal to record shows and do auditions. And, at one point I said to him: “I would like to be like you, daddy.” I wanted to be an actress and that’s how I started when I was 5 years old.
Marie-Noëlle: Were you concerned about how others perceived you?
I imagine that can affect your development as a woman? I don't know if that was the case with you, if you felt like you became a woman faster? That you thought you were more mature than other girls your age?
Mitsou: Yes absolutely, always, always, always. I was always precocious in everything I did because, well, I had my own bank account when I was eight, because I was part of Terre Humaine. After that, I was very individualistic and very mature. At 16, I went to make contacts to be able to start my singing career, then I took care of my acting career at the same time. I think I was always a young entrepreneur at heart.
Marie-Noëlle: Tell me about that. In ‘97, you founded Dazmo, with your partner.
Your business is well-known, specializing in the production of sound effects, in commercials, films and television soundtracks. Was it a natural way for you to go into business, or was it the opposite?
Mitsou: There was something natural for me about being an entrepreneur. But from realizing that to actually becoming one - that is another story. And, mine is unique, in the sense that I had been singing for 10 years. It had been a good run, but at some point things started spiralling downwards. The public wasn’t interested in me anymore and then I really had to redefine myself. But from there, when you're a public figure and you have to change course, it's very difficult, you know. I asked myself all the questions, am I going to end up working in a restaurant, what am I doing?
Marie-Noëlle: You had reached that point.
Mitsou: Yes, yes, I was at that point. There was a certain need and then, at the same time, I met my boyfriend. I believe on some level he had come to rescue me. He was a production manager at the Cinélande advertising agency. At the time we fell in love, my business was not going well, he was a musician and we thought: at least make music. Then it became, we can make music together and instead of just producing albums, we were producing something that was a little more stable, soundtracks for movies, commercials, TV series and all that.
Marie-Noëlle: And what was your role?
Mitsou: I was really the marketing coordinator. I was the one doing the paperwork. When you are in production, there are a lot of contracts: musician’s contracts, ADA contracts and all that management—studio management and production management too. I started like all young entrepreneurs. My boyfriend was 27-28 and I was 26 years old. We started with $6,000 dollars in scholarship funds from SAJE—the services for young entrepreneurs. We started the business at my kitchen table and after that we graduated to our first office, 23 years ago now.
Marie-Noëlle: Did you feel like you had it harder because you were going from singer to businesswoman? Was it a card you could play?
Mitsou: It's not a card that I could play, but I had some benefits. I had a lot of connections that I had made... I had contacts. I could use those contacts. Even after that, it took us about four years for the company to be able to prove itself, to stand out in a new market. What we were doing was very different. Now everyone is doing this. The production houses would call us and within our same company, we could make different pitches with our different musicians, so we brought them different avenues and interpretations and they got inspired from that. It was very rare at the time, but now there are a lot more music companies like that.
Marie-Noëlle: That's exactly it. It's like I said, you hear a lot about Dazmo, it has become like a reference within the industry... you have truly established yourself.
Mitsou: Yes, and after that there are other challenges such as remaining in the market, staying up to date with the sounds, with our service and our offerings.
Marie-Noëlle: Do you also take care of the creative side, are you engaged in that?
Mitsou: Not anymore. Because what happened with all this is that my career picked up in a funny way. We had been in business for a couple of years, and things were good because I have other companies: MTL videos, Assist videos, and Grandé as well. During our early years, I got a call to go work at Énergie for a fall show that hadn't performed well and they wanted to rebuild the team. I had never done radio as a host or co-host, and I decided to try it. Life does that, my karma is to keep trying new things. It’s always a crash course in something new! After that I got a call from Claire Cyrille who was working at Clin d'Oeil at the time and she asked me to become editor-in-chief of women's magazine Clin d'Oeil, because she said that if I can lead a team at Dazmo, I might be able to run a magazine. So, I jumped on board! But you know, I’ve had impostor syndrome my whole life. But at the same time, what do you want me to tell you? That's why I bring something original to the table, I imagine. I add my touch to everything that I do and yet, that originality still causes lack of confidence at my age. I can finish a radio show and ask ‘Was that okay?’ because I might not have the clearest vision.
Marie-Noëlle: But on the other hand, the common thread that I see in all this, in all these experiences, is your ability to make people believe in something.
Through your originality and the unique vision that you bring, you manage to make people believe in something. Your passion and vision established Dazmo, and whether it’s the radio, a tv show, or a magazine, every time you embark on something, it becomes something bigger.
Mitsou: I hope to make it into something unique. I usually try to be a trailblazer, that’s what reinvention means to me.
Marie-Noëlle: Yes, the innovation key, I think that speaks to you.
Mitsou: Yes it’s in my values. I do not know if you saw my values board, but it’s right in there.
Marie-Noëlle: And now that factor is so important for businesses in general. Everyone is trying to stand out somewhere, so when you feel that within someone’s character, you know that they are going to take you to the next level.
Mitsou: That interest, that passion. Each new year when people ask me what they could wish for me, I always say inspiration. Because if I don’t have inspiration, I'm really in trouble.
Marie-Noëlle: I can totally relate. Do you think this is something that is inherent for women? Do you think the capacity to innovate is underestimated?
Often we associate innovation with minds like Steve Job and Mark Zuckerberg. Do you find that women have this capacity for innovation and that it is underestimated?
Mitsou: I absolutely agree, because we, as women, are creators at heart. But I think it’s more than that: we created the human race with men but all the same, I would tell you more than that, as women, there is a capacity for empathy that you can develop and use to serve your clients well. You know me, my customer service is done everywhere, but it is mostly done on social networks with the people with whom I communicate who are my customers. And, when I meet someone to do an interview, because I've done enough interviews in my life, my empathy pushes me to wonder what questions they would like to ask me. I’m able to put myself in their shoes. When you call Dazmo, Grandé or at video MTL, you will never go to a voice mailbox. There’s a receptionist, a human who speaks to you, because that human contact is so important. So, we want to take all these feminine qualities and apply them to our work and elsewhere as well. But, I see enough of the women who work around me to say that they are taking quite a lot onto their plates. To see the opposite is rarer. I think that it is dangerous to do other people's jobs. Because we have empathy, because we want to do well we put a lot of it on our shoulders. It’s too much compared to how men operate.
Marie-Noëlle: And that brings me to my next question which is precisely this year’s theme, we are looking at unconscious biases and how conscious biases hinder the advancement of women.
Mitsou: That is there all the time. This is about women, but consider also when your name is Hassam, there are also all the nationalities who are affected here in Quebec. So yes to your question, but I would tell you that as an employer it is also really important to go further and open the doors of Quebec, to open the doors of our businesses to people with different names, it’s not only women, it’s everything.
Marie-Noëlle: Do you have the impression that you, or maybe your employees, have been confronted with these unconscious prejudices? Have you had to deal with unconscious biases or see others experience them?
Mitsou: It's happened to me before. I remember going to Quatre Saisons (TQS) and being in a manager's waiting room and then hearing him speak to his secretary. He said, ‘I don't want to talk to the girl, I want to talk to the guy.’ Yet I was a producer as much as my boyfriend. So yes, I’ve lived through these biases.
Marie-Noëlle: Did that experience offend you?
Mitsou: No, I think that in my career as a young singer, it was very challenging for me to be respected and accepted. It was more difficult at that time. I can tell you that I know employers who say: I almost solely employ women now, in senior positions, because I think they are more meticulous. So I think we are seeing a shift in the tides. But still, I'm very happy that my boyfriend is negotiating our contracts, because I would negotiate a price drop, there’s no doubt about that!
Marie-Noëlle: Unfortunately, we all do that.
Mitsou: So I think that's when you really have to find out about the market. Go and see, and ask questions.
Marie-Noëlle: And actually go for it. There’s always the guy who has 5% of the requirements of the job and he'll go for it anyway, and the girl, if she doesn't have 99% of the criteria, is convinced that she’s not quite at that level yet.
Mitsou: And I think that is the key.
Marie-Noëlle: Yes. And when it comes to beauty, you have to take it and turn it into a strength.
That is a key and we also need to support each other, and before asking that question: “I wonder if I’m good enough?” Go and validate ourselves with our friends, our colleagues, and strengthen ourselves a bit through our network. I imagine that you too have created a network of contacts, of allies that you have built over time, and I imagine it is sacred to you?
Mitou: Yes, I have friends who host shows and we talk to each other and compare notes.
Marie-Noëlle: You were just telling me about the importance of opening doors. Do you have the impression that things are changing, that we are becoming more open as a society or sometimes that we are backing down?
Obviously, there are populist movements of all kinds, and on the other hand with Me Too, we can see that things are evolving too, that there is room for everyone. In the worlds in which you operate, do you have the impression that we are becoming more sensitive to diversity and inclusion? Do you feel that you are doing your part in this?
Mitsou: I often have wake up calls because sometimes it feels like we crossed the finish line and then you realize we haven't. One of the biggest wake up calls was when Trump was elected and everything that happened in the United States. And to think that we are rethinking the question of abortion for example, it is incomprehensible.
Marie-Noëlle: Yes, it's as if we’re operating in two universes at the same time. We’re going backwards and we’re going forward.
Mitsou: But it is very important to be aware of it, to take action, to talk about it and to be heard. The most recent wake up call I had was during my annual checkup. I'm lucky to be able to go to a private clinic covered by my company's insurance since this place is quite expensive and receives all the presidents and vice-presidents of Montreal, for their health check-ups. At one point I looked around the waiting room and I thought OMG, there are only 3 girls for the 25 guys that are here. The glass ceiling was right there in front of me.
Marie-Noëlle: Why does it still exist in front of you?
Mitsou: It is visible to the naked eye and then there are parts that are still hidden. We take it for granted that everything is fine, that it is better. I have the impression that we are making progress and the more women there will be in strategic positions, the more they will also hire women, and I hope that will provide some balance. But you know, I was on an administrative council recently and it was the first time that I was invited to participate. It's funny because my boyfriend has been invited to different CA’s for years. This was a first for me! You know, that was one of the goals I set for myself and now it's done! Do I want to go back? Well, that's another matter, it's a lot of work! But then again, more and more women will be there too. And from a PR perspective, things are going to change, because I don't golf!
Marie-Noëlle: It’s true.
Mitsou: Maybe it's going to be more with lunches or breakfasts rather than evening events. Because in the evenings, mothers have things to do. Very often I’ll say to my boyfriend who is vice-president of our company with me: ‘Go ahead to the event, I’ll go home and take care of the children.’ But, when it’s for my career as an artist, then I have to represent the company. But most of the time, it’s him. But the more women there are in strategic positions, the more activities will be changed so that we can do everything we want to do, so that our lives are more balanced.
Marie-Noëlle: In all of this, it’s important that men are our allies. It takes employers and CEOs who are sensitive to these issues.
Our COO even said to us recently that there were not enough women on our executive board; we had to get going on that front. We must be aware, men particularly, that noticing these trends and asking the necessary questions doesn't necessarily come naturally.
Mitsou: Yes, and the media have a role to play too. Look at Martine's book, The Boys Club. It's important that it was talked about everywhere, it's important that the information was disseminated, that she was on Tout le monde en parle. It's important because without the media, there wouldn't be this awareness, it would never have happened.
Marie-Noëlle: Yes, we have to continue along those lines.
Mitsou: Employers will often do this for a public relations reason. It looks better, and it is important. So much the better if the governments do it in turn. What is important is the presence of people of colour in politics. Currently, there are only three or five, I think, in Canada. We need to include others, but it's going to be up to us, the women, to sort this all out.
Marie-Noëlle: What advice would you give to young girls when they need to overcome their doubts, and the unconscious prejudices they face?
Mitsou: Your question is killing me! There are so many different things, so many different avenues to look at! I think that if I'm still here after 30 years, it's because people kindly gave me another chance. I think initially I wasn’t too bad, I nurtured our contacts and did a job that was really good. It’s important to be recognized by one’s attitude and to build upon that as your reputation. If it's gold, it's going to stay gold.
Marie-Noëlle: It is important what you are saying, because we also often talk about authenticity.
Despite the Instagram side of it, I think more and more people are trying to find it, they are looking for some authenticity in their worth and in their relationships. I think that too is a key to being yourself as much as possible and being real. I think this is often the comment you get. In fact from what I saw on your profile, Mitsou, you are real, you are authentic and it is often the comment that comes up.
Mitsou: But everyone is real, everyone is a real person! It's a funny compliment. You are real too! You are real, connected by your heart, and your spirit. You are connecting to others, taking an interest and then seeking the best in them. This will cause them to take an interest in you and have an emotional connection and they will remember you. They’ll be more willing to make a business connection and see where it leads. There's this human aspect that you have to continue to develop because it's not like in school, it's not just about grades.
Marie-Noëlle: No, it's true and we often forget that. As women, we are very concentrated upon concrete performance, like grades and our accomplishments.
Mitsou: But you also have to be part of the boy’s club, the business club and then hang out with the guys as well as the girls. Yes, having beautiful girl gangs is fun because we understand each other and we can complain together, but you also have to be part of the guys from the boy’s club and be with them and speak their language. I have spent my life speaking the language of men. When I started working, I had a manager I spent my life with. We were together all the time, we traveled together, we did promotions together. After that there were my musicians, I had a couple of singers I hung out with. And now, it’s my Dazmo guys at the shop, they're real guys’ guys. We have 135 employees, there are a lot of guys, there are a lot of women. And, seduction is not the way to play the game! It’s a really dangerous double-edged sword and I stay away from it. In my professional career I've never played on that aspect, since it doesn't help in the end.
Marie-Noëlle: You are so right, Mitsou! Thank you so much for this amazing conversation. Any last words?
Mitsou: Go, go girl power!