This series shares personal accounts of trailblazing women on why it is so important to gather in sisterhood and what they did to create it for themselves. Meet Nancy Paton, Director, Screenwriter, and Producer, President of Women in Film & TV – GCC.
What does sisterhood mean to you, and why is it important in empowering women?
Growing up in Australia, I experienced a strong culture of camaraderie among men, where they support and promote each other, forming a ‘boys club’ and climbing the ladder faster. However, I noticed that this kind of unity didn’t exist among women. While women relied on their girlfriends for support in times of crisis, it lacked the empowering network that men have. I was attending Cannes this year and I realized, that even there, some successful women didn’t support each other, which was unexpected. That’s why I believe in promoting and mentoring women in film, to create balance and normalize their presence in the industry.
How have female mentors and role models influenced your personal and professional growth? What role do mentors and role models play in inspiring and supporting young women in pursuing their dreams and aspirations?
I have been fortunate to have supportive sisters who have served as great mentors, although not necessarily from different industries. It’s important to note that the film industry encompasses various fields such as finance, investment, and PR communications, making it a diverse blend of industries. In this regard, I have had fantastic experiences with forward-thinking women who have opened many doors for me, and I am truly grateful for their guidance. Now, I feel it’s my responsibility to do the same for others. If a woman seeks opportunities, it is my duty to offer assistance and open doors for her. This doesn’t mean excluding men; it’s about finding ways to facilitate greater female representation across all aspects of the industry. This will lead to more unified and diverse storytelling, allowing for authentic and realistic narratives, instead of perpetuating the Hollywood stereotype of the Damsel in Distress. We, as women, are driven, entrepreneurial, and hardworking, and these stories deserve to be told. Unfortunately, they often go untold in male-dominated environments.
What are some challenges faced by women in finding or accessing female mentors and role models, and how can we overcome these barriers?
Currently, there is still a lack of opportunities and investment for women, and those who have succeeded in the past, often resist change and don’t want to be seen as part of a girl’s club. It’s crucial for women to feel comfortable acknowledging each other’s greatness and achievements, without the fear of being put down. By empowering and celebrating women, we can break free from the competitiveness and insecurity that has been ingrained in us. It’s time for women to embrace sisterhood and recognize our own worth, and also encourage men to see and appreciate the talent and hard work of women.
How can we encourage more women to take on mentorship roles and actively support other women in their journey?
I’ve had moments where I haven’t been able to mentor, even though I’ve wanted to. That’s a fact. I have a family and I do get really busy with my business. But, I try to do my best by connecting my mentees with the right people. It can get a little too overwhelming which is why I’ve brought the international network of Women in Film & TV to GCC. If we, as mentors, are unable to allocate time, the new generation must be understanding and appreciative, while persistently seeking opportunities in a respectful manner. When we do have time, please be patient. Sooner or later, those of us who are busy will make time to mentor and guide. Fortunately, there are numerous women worldwide who are actively engaged in mentoring across various professions. If you’re in the film industry, for example, you can connect with organizations like Women in Film & TV. While the CEO of such an organization may not be available for a meeting, there are many other individuals who have interacted with her and can offer valuable insights. I suggest young ladies start by reaching out to them.
In what ways can sisterhood and mentorship help break down gender stereotypes and foster a more inclusive society?
I believe there are a couple of things, I experienced recently at Cannes. Embracing the sisterhood and feeling proud of it is something we need to foster more. Women should feel comfortable being part of a sisterhood and supporting each other, celebrating the achievements of those we admire. This applies to both men and women. We should not hesitate to empower others and provide opportunities. However, it’s particularly important for women to embrace the sisterhood because it will boost confidence and discourage judgmental behavior. Instead of focusing on negativity or making snide comments, we should highlight the positive contributions women are making. This mindset applies to everyone, not just women. We should always focus on the positive aspects of individuals we encounter, and how we can support and celebrate them. This will enhance women’s confidence, inspire them, and allow them to appreciate and admire other women, which is not yet deeply ingrained in our culture as it is for men. As a result, men tend to excel more than women.
Are there any specific industries or fields where the presence of female mentors and role models is lacking? How can we address this issue and promote diversity in those areas?
I can’t speak for other industries, but I believe that the push for change happening in the film industry is also influencing other industries. Being in the media spotlight, the film industry draws attention to topics like women's empowerment, inspiring change in other sectors as well. Perhaps some industries are even ahead of us. For example, I look at the UAE government, where we have numerous women in powerful positions, which is phenomenal and amazing to witness. They hold ministerial and government jobs, highlighting the importance of having more women in leadership roles. It’s crucial to have mentors in these positions as they play a role in bringing about global change. This is where the world transforms. While I can’t speak in depth about other industries, I’ve noticed positive changes in sports here in the Middle East. More women are participating in sports, which is inspiring young girls to explore different fields and believe that they can excel, even earning gold medals like their male counterparts in this region. Overall, the concept of sisterhood is essential across the board. We need to promote mentorship and empowerment through sisterhood, even on social media, where positive examples of established athletes supporting emerging talents can counteract the negativity that often prevails. It would be beneficial for influential figures to recognize and uplift promising individuals, helping them rise higher in their chosen paths. This kind of push could make a significant impact as well.
This piece was first published in Communicate's Women to Watch Issue 2023.