Towards a More Balanced Cinema Industry: Celluloid Junkie’s Top 50 Women list salutes groundbreaking executives

Cinemas Features

With the publication of Celluloid Junkie’s “Top 50 Women in Global Cinema,” we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of the nominated female industry leaders. It is an honor for us to be included alongside these inspiring women.  

In many UNIC territories, women make up over half of the cinema audience, yet they are not equally represented in the boardroom. Although hardly any data is available on the subject, estimates suggest that in some territories, less than six percent of leadership positions in cinema exhibition are occupied by women. 

We strongly believe that a workforce that reflects our audience would allow our sector to realize its full potential. As a start—and on the basis that you can only manage what you can measure—together with our national associations we are looking into the representation of women at all levels in the exhibition sector, with the intention of broadening our understanding of gender diversity in the industry and gaining a fuller picture, territory by territory.  

The need to promote more women into management positions in cinema is strongly rooted in a business rationale as much as it is in equality. Numerous studies have demonstrated that companies that strive for gender-balanced leadership outperform others in terms of profitability, turnover and shareholder value.  

We as an industry need to redouble our efforts to encourage and empower emerging female professionals. For that we need more female role models and support mechanisms to be put in place for high-potential female talent.  

Last year at CineEurope, UNIC launched its Women’s Cinema Leadership programme—a groundbreaking mentoring scheme for women in cinema exhibition—aiming to provide an opportunity for six talented women from the sector to receive one-on-one career advice, network and learn from outstanding women executives across the cinema landscape. The initiative was warmly welcomed by the industry and has proved to be a great success.

It involves outstanding mentors such as Veronica Lindholm (CEO, Finnkino), Montse Gil (Vice President & General Manager, Paramount Spain), Corinne Thibaut (International Director, Cinema & Leisure, Coca-Cola), Dee Vassili, (Executive Director, Group HR, Vue Entertainment), Sarah Lewthwaite (Managing Director, Senior Vice President, EMEA Region, Movio) and the undersigned Edna Epelbaum (CEO, Cinevital, and President, Swiss Cinema Association).  

Equally inspiring are our mentees—“up-and-coming” female leaders representing cinema operators and associations from across Europe. From their passion, enthusiasm and vision for the industry, we can rest assured that the future is in good hands.

It has been fascinating to see how rewarding the process has been for both mentors and mentees alike. A number of mentees have underlined how empowering it is to be able freely to discuss their professional and personal concerns with a leader outside their company. On the other side, some mentors have indicated that the experience has involved “reverse mentoring” as well; sometimes they were the ones receiving advice and gaining new perspectives.

UNIC will launch the second edition of the programme at CineEurope in June, involving new mentors and mentees. We will work together with them to create a community of support and action within the industry, with the intention that the mentees of today become perhaps the mentors of tomorrow. Our key long-term objective is to broaden and deepen the talent pool for leadership in our sector and to further raise business awareness around the importance of more gender-balanced leadership.

We also believe that it is equally important to bring the industry together more frequently to discuss how we can stimulate change. Last year at CineEurope, we organized a panel debate focused on “Women in Cinema—The Business Case,” which explored the issue of gender-balanced leadership in the industry.

This year, we will continue the discussion and, together with the European Commission, will organize a session on the female audience. The panel will look into reaching the female audience more effectively today, when society and social attitudes are being reshaped by developments such as the #MeToo movement and when films with strong female characters, such as Wonder Woman, dominate the box office.

We believe that our industry is becoming more committed to achieving gender-balanced leadership, although there is still much work to be done. Women remain significantly underrepresented throughout the film value chain, on both sides of the camera. This historically consistent lack of equity for women in the film industry is however not inevitable and tackling its causes should be a priority. Content is also key when it comes to the perception of women—there is a clear need for more representative content and powerful portrayals of female characters.

Female-led and centered films are key to the profit-making equation, and promoting more diverse leadership is high on UNIC’s agenda. Join us on the journey!

Laura Houlgatte is CEO of the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC). Edna Epelbaum is CEO of Cinevital, President of the Swiss Cinema Association, and Vice President of UNIC.