Diversity, equity and inclusion in music: ‘You have to look harder’


The Keychange Initiative was started to improve gender representation in the music industry. How is that mission going? A pair of sessions at the NY:LON Connect conference in London explored it.

First up, Andreea Gleeson, CEO of TuneCore and one of the key movers behind Keychange’s expansion to the US. She was interviewed by Music Biz president Portia Sabin.

Gleeson presented her latest summary of data around the experiences of women in the music industry, based on various studies including the ‘Be The Change’ research commissioned by TuneCore and parent company Believe.

“I’m not a sociologist or a researcher, but I’m simply an exec trying to make my team the best it can be, so we can drive innovation forward,” said Gleeson.

She contrasted data from a McKinsey study showing that organisations with women in leadership roles are 25% more profitable than those without and that ones with diversity are 36% more profitable, with data from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s studies showing that women are still underrepresented in the music industry.

4.2% of music execs are Black and only 14% are women, although Gleeson noted that the fact that the numbers are better lower down the ranks offers some optimism for the future. But only if barriers aren’t put in the way of those people.

For example, she cited a new study from Harvard’s Women and Public Policy programme, showing that mothers face a larger pay gap than non-mothers across business at large, and that they average lower competency ratings and are considered to be less committed to their roles – a dynamic that is reversed for fathers, who are seen as more committed.

Gleeson talked about what can help to tackle the current challenges. Based on her interviews with women executives in the music industry, the number one thing to focus on was more mentoring and coaching opportunities, and more representative role models within the industry.

“What is needed is to get more women into leadership positions,” she said, noting that the rate of women leaving their roles is the highest it has ever been – and much higher than the rate for men. Flexibility and pro-active management are key to stemming this trend.

Gleeson also sees setting targets as important. TuneCore, for example, set a target of having 42% women, and hit 40% – she noted that “we might not have hit 40 if we’d not aimed higher”.

She also talked about hiring, stressing that recruitment is still about hiring the most qualified candidate, so the work comes in making sure you fill your interviews pipeline with more women and people of colour. It may slow down your recruitment process, but that’s the choice that needs to be made.

Gleeson also talked about the importance of development: making sure people are ready to be successful when they are promoted into a new role.

“We do levelling every year for everyone and if there’s a [pay] gap we level them up,” she said. “Ultimately it makes a happier organisation.” Sabin noted that this is key, not least because if younger executives aren’t happy, they will leave a company.

TuneCore has also instituted policies including ending the working week at 1pm on Friday, and providing 16 weeks of maternity leave for all parents.

Gleeson also praised the Keychange initiative, which her company worked with on its US launch. “I love what they are doing for organisations like ours,” she said, hailing its pledge framework.

“It’s important for people to sign a pledge publicly, because it encourages others to step up,” she said, before addressing the support that men within the industry can provide for these programmes, and to forge a more representative business more generally.

“For men, allyship is so important. Some men worry about saying the wrong thing, but don’t hesitate to support women. It will encourage others to speak up,” she said. “It has a very big impact.”

The keynote was followed by a panel to discuss the progress made so far, and the work yet to do, with a focus on the work of Keychange.

Speakers included Becky Ayres, managing director of Liverpool Sound City; Ragnar Berthling, CEO of Musikcentrum Öst and co-founder of Keychange; Francine Gorman, project manager at Keychange; and Affa Alizadeh, licensing manager at Tracklib. Music Biz’s Portia Sabin was the moderator.

Berthling talked about the founding of Keychange in 2017, with its pledge for companies to make public commitments to diversity. The organisation grew and the project as it is now launched in 2019, and has more than 300 participants.

“The possibility of getting into Keychange is low as interest is so high. So everyone involved has a huge handpicked talent. I can’t wait to look back at the network in ten years. We have so many change-makers all over the world,” he said.

Gorman explained that when the project launched in the UK, it really resonated with the press and industry. Keychange now has a strong foothold in the UK – and is contacted by press, for instance, when “The BRIT Awards release Best Artist Nominations list with no women in it.” [as happened this month].

Ayres said that Sound City is the UK lead festival for Keychange and when it joined, it meant committing to the values of Keychange in terms of representation. Past festivals had been male-dominated, and Ayres, who had worked at Sound City in that time, felt like she had been blind to this, and felt a little guilty.

She noted that the conversation has expanded: it’s not just about 50-50 gender balance any more, it’s about all diverse genders: consideration of which is something that is deepening.

“Sometimes you have to look harder to find that talent. I see much bigger festivals than us not looking at that real gender diversity and I think everyone must prioritise that. Audiences are more savvy than ever,” said Ayres.

“We won Best Metropolitan Festival this year at the Festival Awards and i think that was down to our work. By being MD, it has made a big difference, because I have brought women in, and now we have a really good mix.”

One challenge, Ayres explained, was that some agents are now trying to charge higher fees for female artists “because they know they are wanted by festivals – because agents see gender as being important”.

“Female artists should be getting paid what they are worth, but it’s not right for the industry to take advantage of that – if female artists cost more because they are female,” she said. However, Ayres said that the wider story is positive.

“I see a change – there’s more women working in more visible positions but behind the scenes, in more technical roles, there is more work to be done.”

Berthling talked more about Keychange’s pledge, which is not just about training people: it’s about the exchange of ideas, and change in the wider industry.

Gorman said that she has seen progress since 2018, mentioning some of the past excuses offered by live-industry companies for male-dominated lineups. “We just book on talent, not gender,” was one of them, and “We just book who’s available”. Gorman noted that she hears these excuses much less now.

“We were good at getting big conversations started and it then became quite a big conversation in the wider industry, and other organisations came to us and said “we’d like to apply this to our organisation too’”

The pledge has now expanded to be “at least 50% women and gender expansive within a certain area of an organisation” to reflect the evolution of the challenge.

“We’re not expanding things to happen tomorrow, we’re not expecting organisations to fire 25% of their employees and replace them. It’s a huge amount of work – every corner of the industry needs to change in order to represent everybody. So one simple pledge has turned into a huge project. But the message is so simple, and easy to transmit to people.”

Alizadeh was a participant in Keychange, and said the group work was transformative, because as a woman of colour: “you always have to push yourself harder and do twice as much to be recognised for your work. Keychange offers a safe space to talk about your work without being challenged with silly questions […] and sparks so many ideas in your head from the incredible people in the group.”

Alizadeh said it was “mindblowing” how few producers and engineers feature in popular music, and spoke of the network she has built with more 200 producers. “We need to normalise having women and underrepresented genders in the studio.”

Berthling finished the session promising a determination to focus even more on the ‘how’ part of the equation. “How to create a proper plan for a just workplace in a proper manner, keeping in mind economic background, age and disabilities,” he said. “As a man I have realised how much of a part of the problem I am.”

The NY:LON Connect global music summit is run by Music Biz and Music Ally. This year’s event is held in association with Orfium and Viberate, and hosted by Reed Smith. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion track is sponsored by TuneCore. You can find all our coverage of the conference sessions here.

Written by: Joe Sparrow