The UNIC Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme

By Diana Stratan | June 5, 2019 9:21 am PDT

Interview with pioneering mentees Grainne Peat, Magdalena Lewicka and Lucie Morvan

The UNIC Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme was launched in 2017 as the first cross sector and cross-country mentoring scheme for up-and-coming female talent in cinema exhibition. A year since the pilot ended, we sat down with three of our pioneering mentees to touch base on where they are now in their careers and look back at their experiences of the programme.

Below are some thoughts from Grainne Peat, Managing Director, Event Cinema Association (mentored by Veronica Lindholm, Managing Director of Finnkino), Magdalena Lewicka, Finance and Reporting Director at Multikino S.A. (mentored by Edna Epelbaum, CEO of Cinevital, Cinepel, Cinemont, Quinnie; President of the Swiss Cinema Operators’ Association; Vice-President of UNIC) and Lucie Morvan, Head Of Operations at Yorck Kinogruppe (mentored by Montse Gil, Vice-President General Manager of Paramount Pictures, Spain).

UNIC: It has been a year since the end of the pilot, what has changed in your professional life?

Grainne: A great deal has certainly changed since I started on the pilot! My mentoring came at a time when I was ready to look for my next career move, which ended in me taking the Managing Director role at the Event Cinema Association. My time with my mentor, Veronica Lindholm and on the programme, certainly helped build my confidence in my professional ability and to make the leap to take on a new challenge in area of the industry I am passionate about.

Magdalena: It has been an exciting year for the cinema industry in Poland with a number of box office records and a major acquisition. Being involved in adding 13 new sites to our existing portfolio has proven to be a challenging and exciting project both for the whole organisation and for myself personally.

Lucie: I am still working at the same company but my title has changed and as the new Head of Operations I now have more responsibilities. It is a recognition for the work accomplished in the past years but it also means new challenges and stepping out of my comfort zone, which is not the easiest! The mentoring scheme definitely helped me to realise the barriers I used to put before myself in my own way. It encouraged me to better grasp the opportunities I have been offered at work, take credit for what I accomplish and use the speaking time that I have. Thus, regarding my personal development I definitely gained confidence, maturity and, consequently, more visibility.

UNIC Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme

UNIC: How was your experience as part of the programme?

Grainne: I genuinely believe the UNIC’s Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme has been a huge step forward in acknowledging talent and nurturing future female leaders. It has created an empowering network for women to share experiences, skills, knowledge and offer advice, something that has been severely lacking in the industry. I was beyond honoured to be paired with Veronica, she is certainly a leader and individual I aspire to be like. Over the course of the programme, I saw first-hand her wealth of skills, knowledge and passion for leading and the importance of professional development. Veronica is well-respected throughout the industry and known for her abilities to lead, to continue to develop and grow the sector with a strong focus on audiences and empowering employees. I learnt a great deal from Veronica, learning to speak up, trying to not overthink too much (which I have a tendency to do!) and to have confidence in my own professional ability. The experience was enriching and empowering. For example, knowing others faced similar challenges and learning how best to handle them for your own professional advantage, was refreshing and invaluable.

Magdalena: The programme turned out to be an eye-opening experience in terms of learning to set aside time to identify key goals and the most important issues to me – both professionally and personally. This is extremely difficult in our schedules that tend to vary from busy to extremely busy, but it makes it all the more important to make the effort and commit to it. I really enjoyed the forum sessions we have had throughout the year – it truly does help to realise that despite cultural and organisational differences, we face very similar challenges as professionals.

Lucie: It was a great experience to talk with an expert who understands the challenges but does not work in the same company and thus has the necessary distance to give honest feedback. Regarding the project on which we worked together during the mentoring, I can see how helpful exchanging views and opinions with my mentor, Montse Gil, was for me. She understood the situations I was facing or questions I had fully as she went through similar situations in the past.

Montse Gil Edna Epelbaum Veronika Lindholm

UNIC: What was your biggest takeaway in terms of collaborating with your mentor?

Magdalena: The programme allowed for a very flexible approach – my mentor, Edna Epelbaum, and I decided on monthly telephone sessions. We discussed decision-making processes and various aspects of team management – usually linked to real-life scenarios and business cases we were facing at the time. Our conversations helped me understand that there is no right or single way of dealing with everyday processes and challenges – there is the one that feels right for you and if it is different than everyone else’s, it is just for the better. This is the advantage one brings to the table and how one may add value. I’m extremely grateful to Edna for helping me appreciate and employ that. Throughout the mentoring programme, one tends to experience a number of work-related challenges. I personally found it extremely refreshing to be able to discuss some of them with a person with years of invaluable experience in the industry.

Grainne: I certainly felt I left the programme with a stronger mindset and a better sense of my own professional capabilities. Honesty and having a clear set of goals is fundamental to the relationship and outcomes you can achieve with a mentor. I personally feel that the relationship you establish with your mentor is vitally important to the success of these types of programmes. I felt I could talk to Veronica fairly candidly and was clear on my objectives, which makes a huge difference in your ability to learn and grow. Our sessions would discuss and explore various topics, which were followed by putting ideas and concepts into practice whilst setting out clear goals to achieve. We discussed a lot about the importance of always taking time to reflect, but taking time for yourself, focusing on what is important and striking (working towards achieving) that all-important goal of work-life balance.

Lucie: I learned to regularly take stock of the progress made by a multitude of small changes and to think about long-term impact. Changes do not have to be revolutionary. After almost two years, I can see how much has been achieved, step-by-step.

UNIC: In your experience, why do you think mentoring is so important?

Magdalena: I believe we are currently experiencing a unique moment when leadership models and the way we manage our organisations is changing at a pace we have not seen in years. It is a brave new world out there – not only for female leaders but for all that recognise the necessity to promote values-driven leadership models – thus creating different forums for those ideas to be shared, discussed and promoted will, in my opinion, become increasingly important.

Grainne: Mentors ultimately offer a different perspective on situations, helping you see the bigger picture or an entirely different picture. They nurture, challenge and offer rewards, all tailored to the individual and your own professional development.

Lucie: A one-to-one relationship offers the necessary time and supportive space to have an open and frank exchange, which could never be as deep and individual in a group discussion. I was lucky to have such a brilliant woman as a mentor who did not only share her many successes but also the doubts, difficulties and sometimes also failures she had to face in the past before reaching her current position. In difficult moments, I often think back to the exchanges I had with her during the programme and it helps to put things into perspective and stay focused. For me, it was particularly important to count on someone who provides support but also gives you honest feedback.

Besides my personal experience, mentoring schemes in general gives the unique opportunity for networking with professionals in top-management positions. In this particular case, this mentoring scheme opens-up spaces for future generations by shining a spotlight on brilliant women who represent role models for generations to come.

UNIC: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming female professionals in the sector?

Magdalena: There are more ways than one to get from point A to point B – never underestimate your intuition telling you which way to go, even when it does not seem to be the obvious choice. After all, this is the sum of the experience you gathered along the way and not drawing from it is a huge waste.

Grainne: Establish a support network of likeminded professionals. Having an independent and different perspective on things is hugely important to professional and indeed, your own, development and growth. Have confidence in your capabilities. Then have confidence in yourself.

Always keep your integrity, speak up, put yourself forward and once in a while, go out of your comfort zone.

Lucie: Do not be afraid of stepping-out of your comfort zone and taking risks.

Do not underestimate your abilities.

Stick to your values.

Diana Stratan