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Gender Equality In Music: The Next Steps

Gender Equality In Music

Last year, I was delighted to be asked to speak on a panel at Brighton Music Conference. However, I was a whole lot less happy to find out that I was one of only two women speakers in the whole 2-day programme. So, I decided to do something about it, and put myself forward to be a member of the 2016 BMC Advisory Board – in large part to improve the gender equality of this year’s conference, and get more fantastic female speakers involved. I am privileged to know many, and determined that their talents be seen, heard and showcased. In the months leading up to BMC 2016 (which took place on 14th-15th April 2016), I worked alongside conference director Shino Allen to help get as many talented speakers on board as possible, both male and female – with the result being that women were represented in 90% of the conference’s panels. We still have some work to do – but it was a huge improvement on last year’s event, and I’m really proud of the changes that we achieved. 

As part of the BMC 2016 conference programme, Shino asked me to speak on a panel entitled ‘Gender Equality In Music: The Next Steps‘. My fellow speakers were moderator Carly Wilford (DJ and presenter), Alison Wenham (chairman and CEO of AIM), Ralf Kollmann (co-founder of Mobilee Records) and Halina Wielogorska (music and entertainment lawyer at Clintons Solicitors). The panel was aimed not only at analysing what the issues surrounding gender in music and beyond are, but also at what actions we can take in order to implement solutions, what more can still be done, and what a more gender-balanced future might look like. Given that this particular panel was included in the programme because the under-representation of women is still such a big problem at music industry events, I wanted to highlight some of the issues that were discussed, and shine more of a spotlight on some possible solutions for achieving gender equality in music. Issues such as:

1) Does the music industry still suffer from a lack of gender equality? What exactly are the problems that need to be solved? 

Unfortunately, yes, it does – even the fact that we still need to have the conversation is proof that we still have a problem. Of course, gender inequality and bias, sexism, misogyny and other intertwined issues aren’t just confined to the music industry – they are still ingrained in our society and our culture at an implicit, subconscious level, and rooted in their very foundations (more on that later). However, being an industry that’s still very male-dominated, music has more than its fair share of gender issues. You only have to look at the outpouring of stories about sexism in music sparked by Jessica Hopper of Pitchfork last August, the allegations of sexual assault by multiple women against music PR Heathcliff Berru in January this year, or the Girls Against campaign to end sexual harassment at gigs to see that sexism and violence against women in the industry is still a huge problem.

However, although it’s a hugely positive development that a spotlight is being shone on sexism and how to address it, it’s very far from being the only gender-related problem in music. Intertwined are several critical gaps between men and women that impact negatively on women’s careers, in music and in every industry:

1) The gap in the number of men and women at executive-level positions. McKinsey & Company’s 2015 Women in the Workplace study showed that women are still under-represented at every level of the career ladder — with the biggest disparity occurring in senior leadership roles.
2) The gender pay gap. In the US, women earn 76 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In the UK, women are likely to earn £300,000 less than men over their working lives, and the gap in average full-time annual salaries between men and women is 24% – more than four decades after the Equal Pay Act of 1970 was introduced. Worse still, the gender pay gap widens significantly as women get older, and can become a lifetime penalty for women who have children.
3) The credibility gap. While there’s no shortage of brilliant women entering the music industry, there’s still a lack of them in certain fields, such as engineering, production and label management. The problem isn’t a lack of interested, talented, technically-skilled women; it’s how women are viewed and treated at every stage of their careers. Where women take on more technical, or more traditionally male roles, there is still a credibility gap that comes from deeply-entrenched gender bias.

2) What does progress look like, and what initiatives are being implemented to effect change?

Even the fact that conversations about improving gender equality are so much more frequent and visible than just a few years ago is a measure of how far we’ve come, as women and men find their voices on the subject, and the confidence to address it publicly. There are also some fantastic initiatives for women in music, which are providing opportunities for networking, training and highlighting the achievements of women in the industry. For example, SheSaid.So, Music Week’s Women In Music AwardsAIM’s Women In Music initiativesPRS’ Women Make Music funding scheme – to name just a few. With women still so badly under-represented on DJ lineups and at festivals, there are now a multitude of schemes which provide training and support for women in electronic music, while feminist DJ groups like Discwoman are putting on their own festivals to showcase female talent.

Sometimes, these initiatives can seem like a double-edged sword, highlighting gender as an identifier, and seeming to provide women with special treatment. However, it’s crucial that they exist if we are to work towards achieving gender equality. Why? Because they provide opportunities for women to build their networks, their confidence and their skills, and because connecting with other skilled and successful women can open up a plethora of new opportunities. They also provide a safe space for women to grow and develop without fear of judgment, or the intimidation of being within a male-dominated environment. And the more examples we have of skilled women being successful in every field and at every career stage, the more we will inspire and help the next generation of women to follow in their footsteps. Plus, by bringing together and growing the community of women in music, one day, we will no longer be a minority. And when that happens, we will achieve the goal that AIM’s Alison Wenham stated on the BMC panel is the aim (no pun intended!) of all of the women in music initiatives that she organises – to make themselves redundant.

It’s also encouraging to see some of the big players in both tech and music taking action to close the gender pay gap, and provide more balanced parental leave and support for families. In 2015, Spotify announced that it will offer all staff globally up to six months’ parental leave with 100% pay, in recognition of the importance of a healthy work-family balance. Perhaps most importantly, Spotify said it will guarantee that a culture in which parents can take advantage of generous parental leave without negative consequences at work. Flexible working is also key to providing better support for parents, and enabling them to balance work and family commitments. On our BMC panel, Ralf Kollmann gave an example of having hired a single mother to join the Mobilee team, and then ensuring that the company provided her with flexible working conditions so that she was able to do her best both as a mother and as an employee.

Outside of the music industry, initiatives such as HeForSheWomen Not Objects and the Everyday Sexism Project are doing great work in bringing men and women together to fight against sexism, misogyny and gender inequality. In addition, the (male) bosses of companies such as Facebook, Salesforce and MasterCard have all publicly implemented initiatives aimed at achieving gender equality. At the end of last year, Facebook announced that it would be introducing four-month parental leave for every full-time employee of the company, regardless of gender or location. It has also gone on record as saying that it doesn’t have a gender pay gap, and that male and female employees doing the same work earn the same. MasterCard not only practises pay equity and provides generous parental leave – it also aims to accommodate new parents’ transition back to work. Just a couple of weeks ago, MasterCard’s president and CEO, Ajay Banga, proposed allowing employees to come back for half days at first, and to be able to bring their children to the office as they re-adjust to a work routine. Quite rightly, he also said that “both genders have to take ownership” of childcare and parenting.

Meanwhile, to get women on an equal playing field, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff directed the company to perform a comprehensive assessment of salaries to determine if men and women were being paid equally for comparable work. After finding that 6% of employees required a salary adjustment, Salesforce has since spent nearly $3 million to eliminate significant differences in pay; and reported that this adjustment has led to a 33% increase in the number of women promoted at the company in the last year.

And when Google increased paid leave from 12 to 18 weeks, the rate at which new mothers left fell by 50%.

3) Beyond the progress that has been made to date, what more can be done to achieve gender equality? 

While change is in effect in many areas, we mustn’t get complacent. There is still so much more work to do in order to close the gender pay gap, the credibility gap and the gap between men and women at every career stage. And in order to do so, we need to work together. Just as gender inequality isn’t a women’s problem, nor are the benefits of a more gender-balanced world limited to women. This is about achieving equal rights for everybody, and benefiting not just men and women, but our economy and society as a whole. Research has shown time and again that diversity is good for business and the economy. Closing the gender pay gap in the UK would not only boost female earnings in the UK by £80bn; if the UK could match Sweden’s 60% female employment rate, it could boost GDP by 9%, or £170bn.

Yes, there is more that women can do for themselves on an individual level. Women need to believe in themselves, have the confidence to advance their careers in the way that they want to, and to negotiate salaries that reflect their skills and experience accurately. But this isn’t a problem for women to solve alone; and it’s certainly not the case that women just need to ‘Lean In’ more (sorry, Sheryl Sandberg). Just as we need as many positive female role models as possible, we need more men to step up, and follow in the footsteps of Spotify’s Daniel Ek, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, MasterCard’s Ajay Banga and Mobilee’s Ralf Kollmann. These men are helping to achieve gender equality by making it a priority within their businesses, supporting male and female employees equally at every career stage, and working to be positive role models as business leaders, colleagues, fathers, partners, peers and friends.

And at a business and a government level, there needs to be further development in providing both men and women with equal pay, equal parental leave, and equal opportunities for career advancement. Because while the aforementioned companies are doing great work, they are still the exception, not the rule. And even companies committed to improving gender equality still have a long way to goat Salesforce, women still represent just one third of the company’s total staff, and fill only one in five technical roles.

Clearly, there is no blueprint for achieving gender equality. In the short-term, highlighting the issues we face as a society regarding sexism and gender equality, raising awareness of them, and encouraging both sexes to tackle them together is a good start. But discussion is not enough; we need action. We can only succeed in achieving a better gender balance if we all take it upon ourselves to be responsible for solving the problems we face, to work together in order to do so, and to make gender equality a priority. It’s down to individual people and companies to commit to fostering change and diversity; but if we come together in order to do so, we can amplify the impact that that change will have. We must inspire, educate and mentor each other, as well as future generations.

And it’s those future generations who will reap the biggest benefits; because in the long-term, if we are truly to solve the issues surrounding gender inequality, we must effect a seismic cultural shift in the gender attitudes that we instil in our children. It goes without saying that this is a huge challenge, and one that will take generations, but we must teach them from the earliest age that both boys and girls can grow up to do and achieve anything that they want to – whether that’s in music, STEM or any other discipline or industry that they choose – and that as a society, men and women are equally responsible for achieving gender equality.

Many people who are far wiser than me have spoken eloquently on this subject, but one recent speech really hit home for me. Ken Lay, former Police Commissioner of Victoria, Australia, worked as a police officer for 41 years, dedicating his career to responding to – and trying to eradicate – family violence. Speaking at the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in November 2015, he outlined how disturbing attitudes towards gender are instilled in very young children, and the cultural complacency that allows those attitudes to develop. You can read the transcript of his full speech here, and I highly recommend doing so – it’s an incredibly insightful, inspiring, disturbing, moving, passionate and sometimes painful read.

Referring to recent research that demonstrated all too shockingly the consequences that the aforementioned cultural complacency can lead to, Mr. Lay discussed our “…poisonous and deeply entrenched ideas about gender”, the “…attitudes that are so embedded that we don’t challenge them, and the fact that “…we can’t challenge them because at times we can’t see them.” He highlighted how we develop male privilege early, while simultaneously encouraging deference in girls to that behaviour; and the ways in which “…as a society, we make excuses for boys, and subtly encourage girls to do the same…we are sympathetic to boys’ behaviour and more suspicious of girls’…we ask women to define themselves relative to men…we possess double standards. Standards that are deeply ingrained, and that are a damaging outcome of our attitudes.”

4) What does the future look like?

Here’s hoping that one day, we’ll get to a point when we will have eradicated the unconscious (and conscious) bias that leads to the problems outlined above. When women will no longer be under-represented or patronised at industry events. When women in music initiatives will be redundant. When people are just people, and it’s their skills and experience which truly determine the best person for the job, as opposed to their gender, race, religion, or any other discriminatory signifier.

As Ken Lay put it, when it comes to gender equality, “We need to set the bar much higher than we are.” And whenever the issues of sexism and gender equality are raised and discussed, the most important question we need to be asking ourselves is: “What are we doing about it?”