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I know my values now - Interview with Kate Gerova, Mustard Studio

For this month’s interview, we are delighted to be joined by Kate Gerova, Co-founder and Creative Director, Mustard Studio.

UNIC: Tell us about your daily habits that keep you inspired and motivated

Kate: I'm British, so tea is central to my daily motivation. Now that I co-run Mustard Studio and don't commute to an office in central London daily, I have been able to foster a more creative environment which suits me more. That's probably been the biggest shift in my daily working life; I am not sure open-plan offices really keep anyone inspired and motivated, so the pandemic bringing about a hybrid shift is welcome. I usually take a lunch break and eat at a table rather than at my desk, which has definitely benefited my keyboard and, presumably, my well-being. 

UNIC: What is great leadership in your opinion?

Kate: Not pulling the ladder up behind you. The film and cinema industry can be competitive, so making time and opportunities for others, especially if you have influence, is a wonderful thing.

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

Kate: That you can't be everybody's friend. That you won't like everyone, and not everyone will like you. That's just human, but how you handle it is the key. Being kind, courteous and fair should be available to everyone regardless of personal feelings. So I try to stand by that (and have, no doubt, failed sometimes), but I'm still learning. The film industry is small; your intern might quickly become the CEO of a new company, so don't make assumptions about people.

UNIC: What are the key insights you know now that you wished you knew at the beginning of your career?

Kate: How much race, gender and class influence positions. Thank goodness that is changing. 

I know my values now; I wish I'd had a firmer handle on them earlier. There are plenty of online exercises to help define your personal values. Knowing what they are can help you navigate more complex situations and understand your position or why you react a certain way.

I also think negotiation is more important than being right or 'winning'. Earlier in my career, I wanted to make my case and be 'proven right', but now I believe it's more important to bring a team with you and that you are all pointing in the same direction. Acknowledging you don't have all the answers is powerful. That's why teams exist!

UNIC: What are the current challenges for companies when it comes to ensuring an inclusive culture and an inclusive leadership?

Kate: Many companies still have a very hierarchical structure, so they can be slow to change. At Mustard, we work with companies on their values and internal culture; it takes time to embed new working methods. It’s not a quick fix. I think Millennials and Gen Z have different ways of thinking about leadership and creating more of a flat structure that fosters inclusivity. They recognise the value of having diverse voices at the table and aren't scared to be challenged. One of the simplest things people can do is to ask questions at an interview: 'what is the culture here like'? and 'what are the company's inclusivity and diversity aims?'. Of course, asking questions like this is tough, especially if you are going for your dream job. But if inclusivity is important and if they can't answer the question, then maybe it isn't the dream job! If you're a business leader, a starting point can be looking at your values and mission statement. It's surprising how many companies don't have them, and if used properly can be the blueprint of what you stand for and how you conduct business, and it keeps your actions accountable.

UNIC: You were a mentor in the fourth edition of the UNIC Women's Cinema Leadership Programme. How was that experience for you?

Kate: I was lucky as my mentee was Laura Mancilla at Fox Searchlight, UK, who was a dream to collaborate with. It’s about developing a relationship, not so much mentor and mentee because there is so much value in hearing from people in the industry who are at a different stage in their career. I’ve only mentored women, and there is a common theme; how often we are in our own heads. It's unwise to generalise, but I'm struck by the number of times we make assumptions rather than directly asking a question. I'm guilty of that too. So the experience was great; it's an opportunity to connect with women in the industry. There is nothing not to like.

UNIC: What advice do you have for current mentors and mentees?

Kate: Stay in touch! The UNIC network is unique and supportive, and it’s good to belong to a network where everyone has the same goals - to empower women and become better leaders.

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