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Interview with Géke Roelink, CEO at Filmhuis Den Haag


For the October issue we are delighted to welcome Géke Roelink, CEO at Filmhuis Den Haag, as our interview guest. Geke shared with us her thoughts on leadership and her great passion for cinema.

UNIC: What drives you the most in your job?

Geke: People have debated on the ideal of a harmonious society for thousands of years and I am convinced that cinemas can help bridge the gaps between different groups and ideas. Cinemas are an antidote for polarization. The philosopher Hannah Arendt thought an ‘expanded viewpoint’ is indispensable to reach this goal. Central to depolarization is an understanding of and respect for the ideas and opinions of others. Empathy is required to work towards common objectives. This remains difficult and elusive, even more so as many never interact with an asylum seeker, a lesbian, or a Kurd. Cinemas can play an important role helping people to expand their horizon and form connections between distinct individuals and cultures where they would not naturally do so. Films show different cultural perspectives, other lives and ideas that can help empathy grow. I love it when a film “opens hearts” and when people of all walks of life sit side by side in the cinema hall. It is extremely satisfying to facilitate mutual growth and understanding.

UNIC: What is great leadership in your opinion?

Geke: When you are able to motivate people to work alongside you, trying to achieve (company) goals. As a leader you have to motivate your co-workers to deliver their best possible work, while being supportive the whole way. Great leaders are good listeners, know they are not omniscient, are emphatic and authentic all the while providing space for people to grow personally.

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

Geke: Never give up, and see the problem in the right proportion; what appears an insurmountable problem now might not be over time. Never lose sight of your goals and keep working on what you want to achieve.

I have learned to carve up large problems into smaller ones. Some of these smaller problems can be solved fast, and that is an incentive to solve most, if not all, in time.

UNIC:  Did you have mentors along the way?

Geke: For me there was a dearth of mentors. That's why the UNIC Women's Leadership programme is so important.

However, I do have many role models (my favorite is Angela Merkel), and a strong network of colleagues and friends. They all have characteristics I admire. When I face a difficult situation or I have to perform in front of an audience, I imagine how my role models would do this.  I will then emulate the style of the one that fits the situation best. This approach has been tremendously helpful. Try it!

UNIC:  Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

Geke: I would not act so insecurely as a female in a male-dominated industry. I would make more jokes and try not to talk about soccer or other subjects I know little about, but instead direct small-talk towards subjects that I’m comfortable discussing.

In retrospect, I would have been more open about my working life as a mother. Dentists, school visits, sick children; these are also a big part of your life having small children. Don’t be apologetic; this busy period is only a small part of your active working years.

UNIC: Looking back at your career journey so far, what are you most proud of?

Geke: I’m proud of my ability to face all challenges thrown at me, while inspiring people with my idealistic world views and making my organization thrive.

UNIC: With such a demanding career, how do you keep the balance between work and your personal life?

Geke: This is always challenging, especially for mothers who don’t have enough hours in a day to get everything done. I have learned that nature, museum visits, concerts and dancing lift my energy levels. Dining with friends is a main source of happiness. And now and then I hug a tree. (Joke)

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

Geke: This was a very inspiring experience. I met super smart women often with a great sense of humor. It is always a pleasure to speak about the challenges for women in the film industry. I was amazed that these challenges are so universal. Observing my mentee made me realize that to achieve gender equality women need to provide mutual support.

UNIC: What advice would you give to current mentors and mentees?

Geke: To thoroughly enjoy this great program and interact with as many women as possible. I think that (international) women’s networks are of the greatest value.


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