Casting the future w/ Shawneil Bailey-Gordon

Shawneil Bailey-Gordon is currently the Chief Executive Officer at Zarabelle Limited, a production support services provider for film and media production sets. She co-founded Zarabelle Limited, a modelling agency at the time, with her then business partners in 2012 when she was only 18. She is a proud Wolmerian and current director at the Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA). Shawneil was president of Club Billionaire while at the University of Technology, Jamaica which led to her participation in the first cohort of the Sagicor Future Leaders programme. She has served as director and mentor at the Wolmer’s Girls’ Alumnae and most recently completed the Scotiabank Vision Achiever programme in 2019.

Shawneil is a YLAI (Young Leaders of Americas Initiative) Fellow 2018. She had the opportunity to briefly meet the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, at the Youth Townhall Meeting held at the University of the West Indies, Mona, in 2015. She was also a finalist on The Innovators Show, Season 5, and received the 2018 Prime Minister Youth Award for Entrepreneurship. Shawneil is an inducted Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) member that understands the importance of balance and motivation.


What industry are you a part of, and would you say it is inclusive to women? 

My industry is the creative industry, specifically TV and film. My company, Zarabelle Limited, provides production support services to our clients on their film and media production sets. When I first entered the industry back in 2012, I already had the view that this was a male-dominated space. Nonetheless, I was excited, young, and motivated. Fast forward a few years later, it is [still] predominantly male, especially for certain roles like assistant camera, director of photography, etc., but I have seen growth. We have a lot more fierce women doing their thing in this space, so it doesn’t matter if it’s inclusive – we are here to knock down doors!


What inspired you to start Zarabelle? 

Zarabelle was a collaborative idea of three friends initially. It started when I was visiting a past co-founder’s home way back in college. The idea came up to form a modelling agency. Many years later, we pivoted, added a few services, and went in different directions. I am now the only original founder still on this Zarabelle journey, and I wouldn’t change a thing.


What action, if any, is needed to level the playing field in your industry? 

As the years go by, I’ve seen more women level up in this industry in different roles. For example, Gabrielle Blackwood, a great director and cinematographer, is kicking butt in the industry – a role not held by many women. This comes from pure hard work and talent, and I believe if more women are given the chance, we’ll see more badasses emerging. I am also a strong believer in taking the reins of your own destiny. Do you have an idea? Collaborate and make it happen. Dayna Wallace, Nadean Rawlins, Maxine Walters, to name a few, are all making it happen by creating their own path with or without support. I am so grateful to see these great examples of women doing great things.


How do you #BreaktheBias? How can one show support for women? 

How I #BreaktheBias is simply by supporting other women and correcting biased comments and behaviours in society. Biases, I believe, are often taught and passed down from generations, and women were oppressed for many years, so there is a lot still being relearned. A little enlightenment goes a long way. Showing support for women all comes down to literally supporting women. She has an idea, listen. She has a plan, assist. Women can be vocal and creative but let’s not let their ideas fall on deaf (gatekeeping) ears. I do think our industry is improving where that is concerned, as a good chunk of productions is women-led. It is also important for women to support women and lead by example, and not just see each other as competition. This will encourage the next generation of women to be leaders and have the right knowledge as they move along their journey. We just all need to remember to send the ladder down for the next woman.


How can we help forge a gender-equal world? What are some gender biases – both conscious and unconscious – that you would say are engrained in Jamaican society and culture? 

By creating safe places for women to thrive and learn. As a woman, there are so many barriers to success that simply do not greatly impact men, for example, pregnancy. Bearing these barriers in mind as we plan for society will ensure a better-balanced world instead of a generalised approach. What works for one won’t work for all. I think Jamaica has a good representation of strong, hard-working women. However, an unconscious bias engrained in Jamaican society and culture is the expectation that women being emotional is a weakness. I disagree entirely. Emotions mean, for example, empathy, and often a hard and fast emotionless approach is just not the solution. We are all human; humans have emotions, so one gender shouldn’t be disadvantaged for showing their human side.


What’s your advice to any woman interested in tapping into your industry? How easy would you say it is to break into this industry as a woman? 

I would not say it is particularly hard to break into this industry as a woman, as there are many women in the industry currently. Where the difficulty lies, I believe, is in women attaining certain roles, such as director or director of photography, and getting support. Over the years, however, I have seen this support for women in these predominantly male roles grow, and I am hopeful that with time, this will increase. My advice to women that are interested in this industry is to be open to learning every day. A lot of persons started out as production assistants or even just an intern on set. They then developed their skills and network as they grew within the industry and blossomed in the role they were meant for. It is OK to start at the bottom and grow and learn.

To find out more about Zarabelle, follow them on Instagram @zarabellemgmt.

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