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Gender: The power of equality

For a creative industry that prides itself on being forward thinking, there’s still a long way to go on equality. But things are changing, as Rhian Jones finds out

By Rhian Jones on 01 Mar 2018

Gender equality graphic

Does the live music industry have a gender problem?

The brutal truth is: yes, it does. But we suspect most people already knew that.

We interviewed a number of women for this article and all of them report an industry wide culture that can be sexist, predatory and unequal. However, things are changing for the better, and there are a number of industry initiatives that set out to tackle inequality. Let’s look at the stats.

While there are a handful of women excelling in the modern live music business, that number pales in comparison to men at the top. In Billboard’s Power 100 list for 2018, there are over five times as many men (33) who work in live music as there are women (six).

In the UK live industry, men in senior leadership roles far outnumber women. The UK Music diversity survey in 2016, which included responses from those working in the live sector, revealed that between the ages of 25 and 34, women account for 54.5% of the overall music industry workforce. However, that number dropped to 41.4% in the 35–44 age range and to 32.7% between 45 and 64.

French music venue federation FEDELIMA will publish a report in May that shows women count for just 10% of music club directors, 12% of artist managers and 3% of technicians.

Achieving equality in the workplace isn’t simply a case of doing the right thing for its own sake – there are business advantages to such an approach

Why are there so few women in charge?

According to those interviewed, there are a number of reasons, including the late nights and demanding nature of a job in live music making it difficult to manage with children; a lack of female role models who inspire and encourage young women to believe they can become a promoter or an agent; and last but not least, a boys’-club mentality that is not inclusive and respectful of women – and which can result in sexual harassment and sexist attitudes.

These issues aren’t unique to the music business, of course. But, as seen in Hollywood, any close-knit industry that is social in nature – especially one with fierce competition to advance careers – can make it easy for bad behaviour to continue without repercussions.

The recent #MeToo movement on social media highlighted multiple reports of a situation where men in senior positions are repeatedly protected – while those lower on the ladder who are brave enough to raise a complaint are silenced.

Achieving equality in the workplace isn’t simply a case of doing the right thing for its own sake – there are business advantages to such an approach. A study in 2015 by McKinsey consultants surveyed more than 350 large public companies in North America, Latin America and the UK. It found that those with the most gender-diverse staff were 15% more likely to produce better returns than other local companies.

“Male promoters are seen as the gods of the company. If you’re bringing in money, no one can touch you”

Firms that were racially and ethnically diverse performed even better, while less diverse companies were less likely to do well.

McKinsey’s UK managing partner, Vivian Hunt, told the FT: “For every 10% improvement in gender diversity, you’d see a 2–4% increase in profits.” Considering half of music ticket buyers are female, it makes business sense to have equality among the people who are booking the bands, and promoting and marketing the shows, to ensure that all tastes are catered for – and that includes making sure the environments they’re working in are safe and respectful.

Gender isn’t the only sticking point, of course, and there’s an equally strong case for having a workforce that represents different backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities in the world at large. However, it’s gender that’s on the agenda at ILMC on Wednesday 7 March, when Coda Agency’s Natasha Bent leads a discussion with senior industry figures on some of the hot-button issues currently dominating headlines.

It’s reigning men
Women across the live music business have told us their experiences for this article. We’ve heard multiple reports from women who feel they have been ignored while male colleagues are listened to and consulted; instances of people assuming they are their firm’s secretary; and women who have been explicitly told to keep quiet in meetings, excluded from staff days out and even accused of “knowing nothing” when suggesting that sexual harassment at festivals is an issue worthy of attention.

Considering half of music ticket buyers are female, it makes business sense to have equality among the people who are booking the bands

Says one female agent working in Europe: “Our office meetings are often quite chaotic, in which the men tend to shout to say something and most women just don’t say anything at all.

“I’m the kind of woman who always voices her opinion but at one point my boss told me he didn’t like how I behave. So I did an experiment where over a month I didn’t say anything in meetings. He called me into his office after the month and told me that he liked my behaviour in meetings much more now.

“So, as a woman, you’re supposed to shut up or not voice your opinion because no one wants to hear it, but it’s totally fine if the men are loud?”

At one UK live music company, a female employee says: “The majority of promoters in my company are male. I’ve seen them display sexist behaviour in the way they talk about women, which is demoralising to hear. They’ve openly mocked female promoters in the industry who are doing well and said it was because they’ve slept their way through the business and not got there on their own merit.

“We also have a senior male staff member who has groped a younger female colleague and is known as a bit of a creep. The culture is very ‘laddy’ and it’s all about protecting the promoters; if anyone did have a bad experience with one of them I don’t think they’d be comfortable going to HR or our CEO because they [male promoters] are seen as the gods of the company. If you’re bringing in money, no one can touch you.”


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 76, or subscribe to the magazine here

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