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Mentors' reflections: Highlights from previous interviews

For this month's interview, we’d like to reflect on previous editions and share some highlights from past interviews with former mentors of the UNIC Women's Cinema Leadership Programme.

Tell us about your daily habits that keep you inspired and motivated.
It still sometimes surprises me how unpredictable the cinema industry is. But I guess it is the ever-changing landscape of the industry that has kept me focused and engaged – and fortunately – so far I’ve found the lack of structure to be more invigorating than frustrating! At the end of the day however this is a people industry – our main job is to give those who choose to spend their time in a cinema the best experience possible and you need an exceptional level of engagement to be able to do that. I have been very fortunate to come across some of the most exceptional individuals in the business – and I am constantly amazed by the creativity and resilience which they continue to demonstrate.

Magdalena Lewicka, Management Board Member - Finance Director, Multikino

What were the biggest challenges for you as a woman leader in the exhibition sector?

The biggest challenge is to explain to politicians, the audience and industry members that equality is a serious and important issue to move forward in our development. Not only because equality is important in general, but also because in our profession we have the duty to represent our audience. And our audience consists of more than 50% women. I also strongly believe that we have to encourage young women to move on in their career and take on jobs with responsibility – for the sake of equality in our society and for the best representation of our audience.

Edna Epelbaum, President of the Swiss Cinema Association, CEO of Cinevital AG / Cinepel SA / Cinemont SA / Quinnie Ltd and Vice-President of UNIC.

What biggest challenges did you encounter throughout your leadership journey? 

When I first started, there was only a handful of women in theatrical studio distribution and some international markets that I supervised were not used to working with a woman.  It was very important for me to find a common ground, a way to work collaboratively to gain their acceptance and respect.  It’s great to see many strong, successful women in distribution and exhibition and more openness and recognition of women in our industry.

Yit-Ching Lee, Vice-President EMEA, Paramount Pictures

Having a demanding role, how do you balance your work and personal life?

A constant battle…no but on a more serious note, I think that the hardest is during the years that you have small children. At least, I had many years where I felt that I was needed somewhere else, wherever I was. And that left me trying to compensate all over and the only one really suffering in the end was me. But I did learn to carve out time for myself and do yoga, take walks, meet friends and relax. Something else that I think I learned during those years that still sticks, is that I can switch on and off pretty quickly if there is an e-mail that I need to answer or a meeting on the weekend or in the evening. I usually bounce back pretty quick into the place or mood I was when I was interrupted. I also decided very early on to always answer calls from my closest family if they called in any meeting or during my work-day. That way I knew they would always get in touch if I was needed and I could relax more and focus at work.

Another very important key for me has been my closest friends. To have friends that you have known for a long time and also outside of your professional role has been invaluable for my balance in life.

Helena Eklund, Commercial Director Northern Europe, Odeon Cinemas Group

You are wearing many professional hats as a cinema operator, President of the Swiss Cinema Association and Vice-President of UNIC. You also have a partner and children and your own interests outside work. How do you balance your professional and personal life?  How do you find time for yourself?

Each hat is inspired by another hat and therefore gives me more inspiration to continue to wear different hats. My parents always taught me to see beyond the horizon and therefore association work was part of my education. And hopefully my partner I and will also be able to teach our girls not only to keep their own garden tidy, but also to see over the fence and be inspired by, as well as inspire, others.

Edna Epelbaum, President of the Swiss Cinema Association, CEO of Cinevital AG / Cinepel SA / Cinemont SA / Quinnie Ltd and Vice-President of UNIC.

What is great leadership in your opinion?

Leadership is both a huge and complex subject.  Traditionally, leadership has been seen as a “command and control” phenomenon where the leader had all the answers and was considered better, stronger and more talented than the rest of the team; the stereotypical, superhero, powerful and authoritative leadership-figure, expected to inspire everyone by simply walking into a room.  However, in today’s world where businesses are transforming at a rapid speed, new technologies and ways of working are disrupting the status quo and static hierarchical structures are disintegrating, the expectation that a leader can have all the answers is no longer realistic.  Global, virtual and matrix teams demand very different forms of leadership.  We spend a lot of time celebrating amazing things that can appear unachievable, while possibly devaluing the things that can be done on a daily basis, but which can exert great impact.  Maybe our perception of leadership needs to be redefined by starting to recognise “everyday leadership”, which is dynamic, not status or power orientated and can exist within different levels of a modern organisation; as soon as individuals take responsibility for others at work, they shift from being an individual performer to a leader.  In a world where virtual teams come together for specific periods of time to deliver common goals and then disband, such leadership can be defined as a “moment in time”- leadership is no longer static or one-dimensional.

Dee Vassili, Chief People Officer, Vue

What were the most important leadership lessons that you learned while climbing the career ladder?

Be confident and believe in yourself.  As we take on more complex and senior roles, the ability to deal with challenges that we may not have previously come across become more regular occurrences.  This can be daunting when looking to take that significant next step in your career.  It is also when that little voice, we sometimes hear in our heads, gets louder; trying to sabotage and convince you that you do not have what it takes to make the next step. IGNORE it and focus on the qualities and strengths that got you where you are today.  Believe in them and your ability to take the next step. 

Dee Vassili, Chief People Officer, Vue

From your career of over 25 years in cinema, what do you think is holding women back? Why do they still remain underrepresented in senior positions in the cinema industry?

Women’s representation in the total workforce in the industry in Spain, and mainly in exhibition and distribution, could be considered as high. However, I would say that women’s representation is good in entry level jobs, but it drops with seniority. This is in part because exhibition is mainly a family and men thing, although some companies go for professional teams as they become bigger.

BlackRock, asset manager and one of the world's leading providers of investment, advisory, and risk management solutions, has just published a very interesting study on “Lifting financial performance by investing in women”. It shows that this trend in women’s representation is unfortunately common in many sectors.

Women sometimes, or maybe most of the time, have to choose between being a mother or growing in their professional life, and this shows that our society evolves very slowly, and must go through many changes until we see a man also take care of the family and give his wife the chance to enjoy a higher professional career.

Corporations also have a responsibility, since the drivers’ seats should foster women’s representation in higher levels by encouraging young women to take the lead, helping them grow, supporting them when they fail on the way and relying on them. 

Eva Rekettyei, Programming Director, Yelmo Cines/Cinépolis

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to be yourself and to do what you believe you should do. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do, or what you can be or cannot be, or make you small. Never lose faith in yourself, don’t be afraid to take risks or to make mistakes, and finally always find time for your family, for your friends and for yourself.

Eva Rekettyei, Programming Director, Yelmo Cines/Cinépolis

What advice would you give to current mentors and mentees? 

Be open-minded, listen, be generous with your guidance. I am sure it will be a mutually beneficial opportunity to connect and help.

Yit-Ching Lee, Vice-President EMEA, Paramount Pictures

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