A Playbook For Pushing The Needle On Diversity In Music
Diversity in music has been a hot-button issue in the past year, but has the conversation sparked any change? Forbes' Cherie Hu explores...This article originally appeared on Forbes
Creativity necessitates diversity.
To quote Nielsen's Chief Diversity Officer Angela Talton, some of the most creative projects in history arise from "the combination of ideas from different cultures or disciplines." As any seasoned leader would know, this art of meshing together disparate perspectives is often uneasy, but reaps high rewards in the form of a more collaborative working environment, a more holistic product, a richer user base and a stabler bottom line.
It makes sense, then, that the persistent lack of diversity in the music business across gender, racial and generational lines remains so contentious today. Year after year, industry power lists à la Billboard and Music Week give white men 80% to 100% of their space, sparking conversations about recognizing underrepresented talent, both behind and in front of the microphone.
But just how effective have these conversations become? Are music companies actually moving the needle and investing resources in a concrete diversity strategy? In truth, there remains much more difficult, reflective work to be done.
Firstly, a significant bias already pervades the music diversity statistics we choose to study, disseminate and discuss. Recently, the media has been honing in on female misrepresentation at an unprecedented rate. It may no longer be news to you, for instance, that female artists comprise only 7.9% of rosters at North America's major talent agencies; or that electronic music festival acts in 2015 skewed 82.3% male versus just 10.8% female (6.9% mixed or unidentified); or that women make up 59% of entry-level music business roles in the U.K., but only 30% of senior executive roles; or that Beyoncé will be Coachella’s first female headliner in a decade in 2017; or that over 50% of women declined or did not respond to an invitation to speak at the Association for Independent Music's latest Indie-Con, versus only 15% of men.
While these statistics have been crucial in elevating public awareness of music diversity issues, equally revealing is whom we are leaving out of the conversation. Where are the numbers about people of color in the music industry? What about LGBTQ+ representation? Without any robust research in these areas, the best the music business can do for now is take a hint from Hollywood, where such information is more readily available but no more optimistic. A recent analysis of over 400 films and TV shows found that only 33.5% of speaking characters were female, while only 28.3% hailed from non-white racial/ethnic backgrounds and only 2% identified as LGBTQ.
Secondly, by necessity, today's successful music companies are also tech companies. This renders the music industry susceptible to the same diversity and implicit-bias issues that arise in the tech and venture capital spheres, such as the tendency to associate technological aptitude with masculinity.
Aside from gender stereotypes, it has been proven multiple times that like attracts like in the tech startup world, which makes diversity even more challenging. A study published in December 2016 by The Information and Social Capital found that, while VC firms with ethnic and gender diversity among senior ranks got more diverse over the course of the year, many all-white male firms remained all-white. TechCrunch's recent study on women in venture capital found clear evidence that the small number of venture firms with female founders and/or a high percentage of female partners tend to invest at elevated levels in female entrepreneurs.
It is worth noting that Google and Apple—both influential players in the digital music space—recently made multimillion-dollar investments in diversity ($150 million and $50 million, respectively). If this financial momentum trickles down to the rest of the music industry, its stakeholders should start thinking more seriously and concretely about how to invest this money in a sustainable diversity plan, in a way that generates ripple effects beyond the corporate meeting room.
I have gathered my own observations, experiences and interviews into some potential solutions below, which, like the hard work of diversity and inclusion itself, are works in progress.
1. Hiring is neither the first nor the last step.
The blanket focus on hiring that we see in the media frames employment statistics as the end goal in achieving "diversity," and could potentially endanger the ability of music companies to focus on building a more inclusive, robust internal culture with the resources that they already have.
"The larger question not being addressed is that of inclusion and performance management within the company," says Lisa Lee, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Giving Back at Pandora. "Just because we get more underrepresented people in the room doesn't mean that the best crop of diverse talent will naturally and organically bubble to the top. That's why employee engagement and retention is just as important to our strategy as widening the applicant funnel itself.”
Using female representation as an example, increasing the number of female executives requires not just hiring more women at the senior level, but also improving and retaining female interest and inclusion at the entry level, especially considering that music companies often promote from within.
A handful of music companies are also strengthening their educational outreach, nurturing interest in younger students and enthusiasts before they enter the workforce. Last year, Spotify hosted a hip-hop hackathon with high-school nonprofit The Young Hackers. At the college level, Warner Music Group has partnered with Stanford University through the Stanford/WMG Leadership Initiative, which provides a competitive group of undergraduates each year with direct access to WMG artists and executives, as well as summer internship placements at the label. Pandora has collaborated with minority-focused organizations like Code2040 and Management Leadership for Tomorrow on workshops about music enrichment, exploration and job readiness. Such initiatives point to a wider vision of diversity that thrives beyond office walls, which others in the music industry would do well to follow.