‘Woman of the Year’ Scripps Executive Kathleen Finch Offers Advice for Aspiring Women Leaders in Cable
In less than two weeks, the annual WICT Leadership Conference will kick off Diversity Week in New York City and recognize women leaders who are not only achieving professional success in the cable industry, but who also lend themselves as mentors and role models to aspiring professionals in the business. This year, WICT’s highest honor, the Woman of the Year award, goes to Kathleen Finch, chief programming, content and brand officer at Scripps Networks Interactive.
As we await to celebrate Finch’s award during the WICT Touchstones Luncheon, along with the Woman to Watch honorees Laura Gentile of espnW and Mary McLaughlin of Comcast Cable, we caught up with Finch to learn more about her accomplishments at Scripps and how she’s navigated her career path.
Finch, formerly the President of HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country at Scripps, now oversees all six of Scripps Networks Interactive U.S. brands, including the Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, and Food Network. While she was promoted to her current role in the summer of 2015, she’s actually been working her way up at Scripps over the past 17 years.
Check out our Q&A session below to hear more about her insights on cable’s role in helping women achieve success in their professional and personal lives.
Kathleen Finch, Chief Programming, Content and Brand Officer, Scripps Networks Interactive
What do you attribute your career success to?
Every bit of my success at Scripps is because of my team. We work really well together. I’ve got incredibly smart programmers, marketers, digital content creators. They love to win. Part of what’s so great about working at Scripps is that we’re all major consumers of our product. We’re not making icky programming. We make programming we are proud to put our name on. It gives us a passion about what we do that’s very different. I walk through an airport with a bag that says Food Network and I’m stopped five different times and it’s because women want to tell me how great the programming is. That’s a luxury in the world of television, to be in a place where everybody loves what you do. Michelle Obama talks about her favorite shows on HGTV. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Why is it important to have an organization like WICT in the cable industry?
In the media landscape, I think cable is doing a really good job with women. I spent a lot of years in broadcast television and much of the reason why I left was because it was an old boys club. There were not a lot of women in leadership roles, not a lot of women mentors, no formal mentoring process. When I came to cable it was so refreshing to know that something like WICT even existed. We as women leaders owe it to the next generation to help other women as much as we can, whether through mentorship or just giving people advice. I am a mother of three daughters and one of the things I love to do is talk to young women and reassure them that ‘Yes, you can have a family AND a career.’ It is very possible to do it if that’s what you want. I would hate for people to give up one because they think they can’t do both.
And I can honestly say I would not be in the role that I am in if it weren’t for WICT. Years ago I was fortunate enough to attend WICT’s Betsy Magness Leadership Institute. It’s a yearlong program, and during the program I was offered the opportunity by Scripps to move from New York to Knoxville, Tenn., to assume the General Manager role. I told my WICT classmates at one of the events I was going to turn it down because I was afraid to take that kind of a risk. And they did an intervention on me and insisted that I take the job, and they convinced me over a couple of days to accept it.
Did you have mentors over the course of your career whom you’ve looked up to?
There have been three people in my career who have always been my mentors. They may not know it. Judy Girard [a retired executive of Scripps] hired me at Scripps, and she was the first person who ever brought me to a WICT event. She’s a believer in promoting women and being a role model for women. But frankly, at Scripps, it all starts with [Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer] Ken Lowe. He is the biggest proponent of female leadership you could ever imagine. And next to him is [COO] Burton Jablin who is my direct boss who is the same way. The two of them are very supportive of women and diversity and making sure our staff and decision makers reflect our viewership.
What is your take on how women are portrayed in the media and on television today?
I think the way women are portrayed in things like the women-in-peril TV movies and investigative crime docs, or women on competitive dating shows who think they aren’t whole without a man, those types of programs are backwards. There are too many women on TV who are portrayed as victims, and who measure their self-worth on their ability to snag a husband. There aren’t nearly enough women characters like Madam Secretary or The Good Wife. Those are the kind of female characters I want my three daughters to emulate.
What piece of advice would you give to young women who aspire to be leaders?
Just like my Betsy Magness classmates gave me a shove and told me to be brave, I think we all need someone like that. I encourage women to be up for anything, to not put a limit on yourself. I’d hate to think that at the age of 28 a woman decides she can’t have both a family and a career and steps away from her career. Choose a spouse who is going to step up, and when you can, choose a work environment that works for you. I feel like I’m in the luckiest place I can be. Scripps is so supportive, the culture at our company is so inclusive. That really matters. You need to be at a place where from the top, they understand that smart people should be given a chance and there should be programs supported like WICT or NAMIC where we’re going to mentor people and put people in opportunities where they can learn and grow and stretch themselves. So when choosing a place to work, be very careful about the culture you choose. I think that can make or break your career.