Cinema has the unique potential to inspire, boost dialogue and empower its audiences. It is therefore crucial for the industry to reflect its diverse cinema-going community both on- and off-screen, in the interest of promoting engagement and inclusiveness and leading by example. Boardrooms that drive change need diversity of thought and experiences and much has been said about the business and social value of having more women in leadership roles.
In addressing the above, the “why” is clear but the “how” is somewhat more challenging. The idea behind the UNIC Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme came about during CineEurope 2016, when UNIC organised a workshop entitled “Equity and Growth: Towards Gender Balance in Cinema” that brought together senior executives from leading cinema companies, heads of national associations and representatives from the European Commission to exchange views on the challenges the industry faces in achieving more gender-balanced leadership. One of the key issues discussed in the meeting was the need for greater support for women making their way in the sector, both through mentoring and the identification of key role models. To build on this, UNIC pledged to continue the discussion and take things a step further and, a year later at CineEurope 2017, the pilot of the UNIC Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme was launched. This was a decisive moment for UNIC and it firmly marked our commitment to a more gender-balanced, inclusive and diverse cinema industry.
Designed as a one-year programme, we aim to provide an opportunity for talented women from the sector to receive one-to-one career advice, network and learn from outstanding female executives from across the cinema landscape. The scheme is currently in its second edition, with hopefully many more to come.
Since its launch, we have expanded and adjusted the programme together with our mentors and mentees to best respond to their needs and feedback. We are extremely grateful to all of those who have taken part over the past two years for their support and dedication towards moving this cause forward. Through frequent calls and surveys with each mentee and mentor, along with regular get-togethers, we have been able to gain a sense of what works and what could be improved.
So far, all involved have indicated that they appreciate the flexibility of the programme – we want to give each pair enough room to tailor things to their own needs and avoid the risk of it becoming a burden. On our side, we provide guidance, assistance and recommendations, such as monthly mentoring calls between each mentor and mentee, along with other potential activities to undertake over the year.
On a practical note, at the beginning of the mentoring process each pair identifies their own goals for their 12-month journey. Some of these objectives are project-based, while others are more individually-focused, such as building self-confidence or tackling professional challenges. Through both our mid-term and final evaluations of the programme, we monitor how the mentor/mentee relationship evolves and how close they are towards achieving their set objectives.
One of the most popular parts of the programme is its networking opportunities and workshops organised at CineEurope and the UNIC Cinema Days, when the whole group get together to share their experiences so far and learn from each other. At these meetings, we also involve inspirational speakers from across or outside the industry to share their thoughts and expertise on the path to leadership. These have proven to be truly empowering, sometimes emotional, exercises that boost a sense of togetherness, which will certainly continue in future editions.
Our mentors and mentees are our main guides in terms of how we can improve the programme. According to their suggestions, we have also elaborated a library with topics and articles they can use as inspiration for their sessions, created a Linkedin group to facilitate communication between each other, organised additional group calls to share best practice and gained some fascinating ideas for our third edition.
It has been an inspiring and insightful journey so far, and enthusiasm surrounding the scheme is growing. Although the second edition is still in progress, results from the pilot are already plain to see. It has been great to monitor how each mentoring relationship evolved over the year and has continued to do so. In the short time since, our pioneering mentees have reported gaining more visibility within the industry, confidence in their skills, professional growth and readiness to take on new challenges and greater recognition from their own peers and companies, with some of them already being promoted or joining other companies in executive roles. It is also important to mention the feedback we have received from our mentors, reiterating the value of giving something back and sharing and learning from each other, sometimes even through reverse-mentoring. And, of course, the response from UNIC members and partners has been fantastic – both in terms of their suggestions for the programme and overall support for the issue at hand.
CineEurope 2019 will mark another milestone for us with the launch the third edition of the scheme, involving new mentors and mentees. As was the case for the first two editions, we will maintain the cross-company, cross-sector and international dimensions of the scheme and – although we are still in the process of putting the finishing touches to the specifics – we can already reveal that it will offer some nice surprises both in terms of the programme itself and its new participants. We have been fortunate enough to secure a group of outstanding female leaders from across the industry as mentors in the programme and a selection of equally inspiring mentees.
It is truly fascinating to witness how the pool of role models is steadily growing. We have already received applicants who indicate a preference of being mentored by former mentees of the programme and we have current mentees who have already indicated that they would like to become mentors in 2020, which serves to illustrate the success of the scheme. Above all, this was the aim from the very beginning: to attract and retain female talent in the sector and build a community that supports each other, shares expertise and transforms the industry through inclusive leadership.
Change starts small and mentoring is one such small step with a long-term impact for the whole industry. It helps women overcome the barriers they face in their professional growth and, in the long run – with more gender-balanced boardrooms – it can definitely break the cycle of exclusion and glass walls for the next generation of female leaders. So, let’s continue this vital work together!