January 26, 2018:The “women in music” conundrum revealed in two parallel stories

The “women in music” conundrum revealed in two parallel stories

On the same day that Billboard covered a study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (a think tank within the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism) showing how massively underrepresented women are in music production/creation/performance, it also unveiled its 2018 Power List, ranking the most influential people in the music business. And, well, you can probably guess where we’re going with this.

There was only one woman in the entire Billboard top 25 in a standalone capacity (Jody Gerson of Universal Music Publishing). There were a further four women in the top 25, but they were sharing billing with male colleagues and not one of them was listed first. And, no, they can’t use the excuse of listing them alphabetically when sharing the position. It was always the male executive first, regardless of surname. Always.

It starts to get a little more diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity the further down the 100 you scroll – but it’s still overwhelmingly a list applauding old white men. Every year, it seems, this happens and every year now Billboard gets called out on it. It argues (as it undoubtedly will again this time) that this is just the reality of the business and they only reflect the power structures as they currently exist. Old white men are in charge of most of the biggest companies in music so they have to be on this list. This is true; but then it makes us wonder if the entire premise of the list is broken and increasingly unfit for purpose in 2018.

It all links to a point in the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study which found that only 16.8% of artists and 12.3% of songwriters active in 2017 were women, while a miniscule 2% of producers were female. Dr Kate Pieper, research scientist on the project, suggested a cognitive bias could be underscoring this ongoing imbalance. “Perceptions of leadership can influence who is considered for senior creative positions,” she said. “Given the significance of the producer role, artists and executives may hold a cognitive bias of producers that pulls male. Similar to our finding that when the film industry thinks director, they think male, we are proposing that the same bias may hold true for producers.”

Given that performers are the most visible members of the music business, this is sending out a message to consumers – and the next generation of creators – that this is a male pursuit and is clearly a concern for everyone working in the business and somewhere where positive action needs to take place quickly.

And this circles us back to the 2018 Power List and its fundamental problem. It explicitly sends out a message to the business that this is predominately a male industry, the subtext being that it’s still nigh on impossible for women to make their way to anywhere near the top. Plus, there is the added indignity that, in those rare instances where they do make the top 25 list, they will often have to share that ranking with male colleagues. Who will always be listed first.

By all means have a power list, but perhaps use a different starting point (e.g. The 100 Most Exciting Executives You Need To Know About; 100 Forward-Thinking Executives; 100 Industry Innovators etc.) that delivers a list that can, finally, break this “cognitive bias” that the music business is still a boys’ club.

Eamonn Forde
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