Cat Lewis is the CEO, Joint Creative Director and Executive Producer of Nine Lives Media, a BAFTA award winning independent television production company.
With an incredibly high profile job in a creative industry, Cat has triumphed in her field and is a highly successful woman. I sat down with Cat to discuss how she got to where she is today and her experience with sexism.
“I’ve fallen in love with every film that we make, virtually, but there are ones I am particularly proud of.” Cat told me. Her production company created the TV documentary “I Am Leo” for CBBC, it being one of the first of its kind, a documentary about a transgender child aired on a tv channel aimed at children. Cat told me creating “I Am Leo” was the highlight of her career: “Leo himself and his mum are totally amazing people and we were just really lucky to be able to work with Leo.”
She told me that some of the most beautiful words he said in the documentary, are from his video diary filmed from the camera they left him with when the camera crew went home. “We had to keep asking him to record into this video camera and he told us repeatedly that none of it was worth watching, and yet some of the words he said are some of the most powerful things that have ever been said by anyone who is transgender.”
After creating such an inspiring and insightful documentary for a children’s television program, we then discussed educating children in feminism and Cat told me this is something she is keen to do.
“We are looking to break new ground, tell new stories, I really want to bring some of those historical stories about women that have been lost, and that is an ambition I have for the future.”
After discussing the lack of good female roles in theatre during the panel, in terms of television, Cat said: “I think that women’s roles in society become more complex and they end up with more power, it is also incredibly important that it is reflected on screen and I think that the one writer for me that is doing that more than everyone else is Sally Wainwright.”
Aside from “I Am Leo” Nine Lives Media have tackled many important issues on CBBC, their latest being “Marvellous Messy Minds” a program teaching children about mental health. They follow three children with three different mental health problems and three different types of treatment, Cat said: “Within the program the production values are quite complex, we have gone into quite a lot of detail and thought quite hard about the messages that we are trying to get across and how we are getting them across.”
In regards to sexism, Cat talked about her experience being discriminated against in her industry due to being a woman. Back in 1990 when Cat had her first baby she was made to re-apply for her job and did not get it, which was actually illegal. Therefore she then decided she actually wanted to work part-time and was told she couldn’t do that, she said: “Even now unfortunately employers don’t have to let you work part-time, so I created one of TV’s first job shares.” She then went back to her previous company to get her maternity grant, as in those days you received your money whilst you were on maternity leave and the other half when you returned, consequently they refused her the money.
“I had to go through the union and make an official complaint,” she eventually got the money, she said: “The lady who did all this was sacked and it was a lady, and the people that set up the job share were all men.”
“I don’t think it is about gender, equality is about whatever your gender you can make a difference if you choose to within your particular sphere of influence, treat people fairly, treat people equally.”
Cat emphasised the importance of creating versatile schedules for working parents, she said: “Organisations need to recognise that flexibility in terms of working schedules is very helpful for parents being male or female.”
Starting your own business is always a risk, Cat received multiple knock backs in her career but it only pushed her to work harder. She said: “I’ve been made redundant twice, the first time I had to reinvent myself and get a new job and I found that within that job I was effectively learning what I do now, in terms of running my own company.”
She thinks that having your own business is a great way to earn money and create your own schedule, she explained: “It is a really good idea to make your mistakes under somebody else’s money, so if you can run a department under somebody else then do it before you set up on your own.” After being made redundant she felt it gave her the “kick up the arse” she needed. It allowed her to not become “a salary slave” she told me: “You realise you have a mortgage and childcare to pay.”
She doesn’t believe she experienced much resentment except from a few men in the industry who were “high earning salary slaves” and due to being the breadwinners of their family, they couldn’t take the risk of setting up their own business. “I never didn’t earn money, I found a way that worked for me as earning money as an exec producer when I was setting up my business,” Cat said. “When you set a business up you’ve either got to have lots of savings or you’ve got to be able to not take any money out of the business because you’re earning money elsewhere for the first couple of years. You need that for your business, you can’t be top-heavy, if you’re top-heavy with your new baby business then you’ll just flatten it.”