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One lesson I have learned the hard way though is that not everyone will share your passion, but that’s OK.


For this month's interview, we're delighted to have Claire Beswick, Founder & CEO, The Living Room Cinema, UK. Claire was a mentor in the sixth edition of the UNIC Women's Cinema Leadership programme.

Here she reflects on her successes and challenges of opening and managing her own cinema while being a single mum.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR DAILY HABITS THAT KEEP YOU INSPIRED AND MOTIVATED.

I would love to say that I meditate or do yoga here, but my reality is that I am juggling CEO life with being a single mum to a toddler, and have multiple animals, so my routine is somewhat dictated by their needs. I do however find the daily tasks of taking the dog for a walk and doing the stables first thing are the time that I mentally prepare for the day ahead - a monotonous physical activity can clear the mind, much as a run does (and I do try to do a 20 minute peloton run class at least twice a week in the evenings).

LOOKING BACK AT YOUR CAREER JOURNEY, WHAT ARE YOU THE PROUDEST OF?

The obvious achievement is the opening of the first cinema, which was 6 years in the making and at times very unlikely to happen. But I’m proudest of making the decision to do it in the first place. I had left a company and was a little bit broken, and to pick yourself up after such circumstances takes a lot of courage. 

WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU ENCOUNTERED THROUGHOUT YOUR LEADERSHIP JOURNEY?

For the most part, I was working alone. As a start up company (if managed properly!) you are not overloaded with expensive consultants and don’t have a high head count. So I had to learn quickly, and not be afraid to ask others for help. It was very daunting and at times lonely - it still is. But the result of this is that you are so engrained in the DNA of the company, the vision and everything that it stands for, and your team and everyone that you deal with can see that. They invest (either physically or emotionally) in you and your vision, and you inspire others to want to be on the journey with you. You got ‘stuck in’ at the start, weren’t afraid to roll your sleeves up and set that example. I’m a great believer in leading by example, inspiring others to follow their dreams and creating a culture which feels like a family. One lesson I have learned the hard way though is that not everyone will share your passion, but that’s OK.

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR YOU AS A WOMAN LEADER IN THE SECTOR?

I was very fortunate in that early on, people believed in and supported me because of my ambition, drive and hard work - nothing at all to do with being a woman. My results and reputation spoke for themselves. That being said, when I found out that I was pregnant (shortly after our fundraising had concluded and the first cinema was under construction) I kept it quiet until the very last moment. I feared people would make assumptions on my commitment to my own project based on the fact that I was going to have a baby. I didn’t want to be taken advantage of or give anyone an inkling that they had “backed the wrong horse” so to speak. I’m pretty cross I did that, if I’m honest! When my daughter came along, I took less than 2 weeks off work entirely and then got straight back to it - I wish it hadn’t had to be that way but the cinema wouldn’t have opened if I had any semblance of a normal maternity leave. 

HAVING A DEMANDING ROLE, HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR WORK AND PERSONAL LIFE?

By building a cinema within walking distance that has a well-stocked bar!

Serious answer now - my daughter has been in 40+ hours a week childcare since she was 7 weeks old, which is a bitter pill to swallow but probably the norm for a CEO of their own company. I haven’t really had much of a personal life outside of the animals and my daughter if I’m honest - but that’s probably the same as any toddler mum, working or not! I’ve worked 60+ hour weeks for 3 years now, getting two cinemas open, but finally the balance is starting to shift. We are in a position to afford more staff to ease the pressure, and also the realisation that the never ending to do list won’t get any shorter if you work until 11pm each night. All that happens is that you burn out and live off wine. Much better to call it a day an hour or two earlier, have a bit of an evening and start again the next day. 

I’m actually writing this from The Bahamas - the first time I’ve had more than 5 consecutive days away from the cinema/work in 15 months. See - it is happening!

FROM YOUR CAREER OF NEARLY 20 YEARS IN CINEMA, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS HOLDING WOMEN BACK? WHY SO THEY STILL REMAIN UNDERREPRESENTED IN SENIOR POSITIONS IN THE CINEMA INDUSTRY?

So many things! Trepidation about joining a male-dominated profession. besides the marketing and PR side of things it’s still very much a job for the boys - just take a look at any social gathering at any cinema convention or workshop. A lack of self confidence in your own ability. And the family issue is significant - it’s probably less about the finances when you’re a senior exec - but more that the pressure is unsustainable - even with help at home as a mum you’re doing two full-time jobs. The panic you experience when you’re late to nursery pickup is huge, and price you pay for being home for bedtime and therefore not at the social drinks gathering after a conference is equally as huge. 

For women who do not have families, as you get more senior a shift also takes place. The days of your young 20’s having social drinks after work disappear as inevitably colleagues around you choose to leave to raise children. So your peer network shifts. 

AS AN EXPERIENCED MENTOR, WHY DO YOU THINK MENTORING IS IMPORTANT? DID YOU HAVE MENTORS ALONG THE WAY?

For some unknown reason, women generally feel like they have a lot more to prove and can’t show vulnerability/weakness in the workplace. A mentor can be that outlet - to not only provide support but someone who just “gets” it. Being in a senior position is very lonely - people are always coming to you with problems. It’s very draining and you need to feel like you have an outlet instead of just taking on board every problem out there and storing it up. Female mentors in particular have been through similar struggles - whether it be family juggling related (mum guilt) or understanding a women's perspective in a predominantly male environment. 

I didn’t have a mentor per se, but I’ve had some very supportive female friends and colleagues. I also have had along the way some inspiring and supportive male peers including a former boss, who have coached me to be the executive I’ve become. 

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO CURRENT MENTORS AND MENTEES?

Use your mentor. The mentor gets as much out of it as the mentee. This programme is rare and it’s a privilege to have access to these senior level women. 


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