“I really can’t open this awards ceremony without mentioning the ‘W’ word. That’s for Weinstein, or willy-wangling… I doubt that in this country there is a single office, bank, factory, pub or club that hasn’t seen some poor behaviour towards women.”
WIN chief executive Alison Wenham addressed the elephant in the room at Music Week’s Women in Music awards early on: the last few weeks’ stories about powerful men in several industries harassing women (and worse).
“But I also think that women have been patronised, ignored, passed over for promotion. And I’m sure that in this industry, we’ve also had our share of men behaving quite badly,” she continued.
“However, I also believe that we have some really great men in our industry, and that this is a really quick industry to get with the programme. I think we have a lot of great men in this industry who are compassionate, who are caring, who are fair, and who are supportive.”
“And we ask you to continue to support all the women in your companies… so that they can work in a safe, respectful and nurturing environment.”
Wenham cited the recent UK Music diversity study, which showed that at the more junior levels of the music industry, the gender split is around 50/50, but that “as you go forward, women drop off towards the senior level”.
“When you get to be of a certain age, like I am, then you find that you are actually just one of a handful of women working full-time in this industry,” she said.
“This has effectively ruined my retirement plans. Because if I leave, the numbers drop off a cliff! So I would like to just ask those ladies going up to the age that I am to stay in there, hang on, and keep those statistics going up and not down.”
There was a common theme expressed by presenters and recipients of awards at the event: discomfort at the fact that there needs to be a separate awards ceremony for women in the music industry, but appreciation of this particular event for its celebration of people who are role models for women coming in to the industry, and working their way up.
“For me, it is a feminist event,” said artist Ray BLK. “Unfortunately the word ‘feminist’ has so much baggage and negative connotations around it, when by definition it’s simply a man or a woman who wants social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
She criticised the stereotype of “men-hating women who burn their bras and don’t shave their legs” before quoting author Chimamanda Adichie’s view that “we should all be feminist”.
“That’s why award ceremonies like this are really important, as they continue acknowledging the achievements of all the women in this very male-dominated industry,” said BLK.
“It shows young women who are coming in to this industry that they can be successful, and don’t have to be afraid of their ambitions. That we can chase our dreams without the fear of intimidating men. And that we can be a boss, without the fear of being called a bitch.”
“We need to see so many more of us at the top. One of the ways that we can have that is by women supporting women,” she added.
“Society tells us that we have to compete with each other, whether that’s for the attention of men, and if it’s not that it’s for the exclusivity of being one of the few or the only women respected in your field. But I believe that the more of us that there are as female artists or female executives, the more we can attain equality and inspire and give hope to those who are after us.”
Radio 1 and 1Xtra DJ Clara Amfo was among the award-winners, and she also talked about dispelling the myth of women competing rather than supporting one another.
“I grew up in a world that essentially told me that technically I shouldn’t be there, in a lot of ways. I’m a young black woman who is the daughter of two people who came to this country in 1969 with 50 quid between them. In theory, I shouldn’t be here according to statistics,” she said.
“I’m really proud of all the women who have pushed me through. There’s this massive cliché that women hate each other. We’re not fucking perfect: of course we’re not. But it’s women that have always been my backbone.”
Musician Sharleen Spiteri didn’t mince her words on some of the challenges that women still face.
“I’ve been sitting here today listening to the speeches and seeing everybody here. And I’m torn. Because I think why the fuck are we still fighting so hard?” she said.
“Whether it’s race or sex, why are we still fighting in this day and age? It’s a fucking disgrace. But the one thing I will say is thank you Music Week for this lovely award, and to all the people I’ve ever worked with. But I thought every woman that was getting an award here today wasn’t because she was a woman. I thought it was because she was fucking amazing!”
Former UK Music boss Jo Dipple, now working at Live Nation, won an Outstanding Achievement award.
“If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman,” she said. “I’ve been very privileged to work with strong, successful women, often who take the place behind the men in the spotlight.”
“Women are the backbone of business and public life, and the representation of women is very important. Few businesses get it right. Those that do reap the benefits: the trust of all their staff, and economic success,” she continued.
“Leaving men to chase mammoths and fight fire is great, but who’s going to build the house or get the village to work? And frankly, what if I turn out to be a good mammoth-hunter? Every report shows that better representation leads to better results. Even if you don’t care for us ladies – as if! – think of the balance sheet, and think of your bonus. We’ll make it bigger…”
Dipple summed up many of the award-winners’ calls for more respect for the work that women are doing in the music industry.
“Despite the enormous success of British female musicians. Adele, Annie Lennox, Amy Winehouse just on an ‘A’, some of the men in the music industry still ask only one question of women in their office. ‘Is she a PR or a PA?’,” she said.
“Women at the top are entrepreneurial, we are classic disrupters. Those who fear disruption won’t get it. Those who don’t fear it are the future.”
Dipple also agreed with Spiteri that the achievements of today’s award-winners should not be viewed through a prism of their gender.
“None of the women in this room, who are award-winners past or present, want to be singled out for their success because of their sex. They are good because they’re bloody good!” she said.
“The sooner our contribution is equally acknowledged, remunerated and celebrated, the less we will need this day. And when that day comes, my card is behind the bloody bar!”
You can read the full list of winners from tonight’s awards on Music Week’s website.