15 women music executives address how the industry can achieve gender equality
Despite many obstacles, leading ladies in the music industry are opening the gates for gender equality. For Women’s History Month, REVOLT spoke to 15 music executives, who gave their take on how this can fairly be accomplished.
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For years, women have increasingly made major tides in the male-dominated music industry. Despite many obstacles, leading ladies in every creative space are opening the gates for gender equality. From Gabrielle Peluso, Co-President of Asylum Records; to Tina Davis, VP of A&R at EMPIRE; we have seen these senior leaders doing just that.
In 2019, Forbes reported that women make up 21.7 percent of artists, 12.3 percent of songwriters, and 2.1 percent of producers. Although there’s still a long road toward reaching an leveled playing field, we can still uplift those in their respective positions now while they continuing to open the door for more.
In honor of National Women’s Month, we spoke with fifteen music industry executives about collectively push for gender equality, as well as amplify the voices of women in their field. Check out their inputs below.
1. Onyi Kokelu, A&R, CMG Records
“As a whole, I think the way the music industry can uplift and amplify the voices of women is by putting women in positions of opportunity that they deserve, and are more than qualified to hold without making them co-executives. I see a common theme of women having a male counterpart; it’s not needed. Also, as women, we need to uplift each other and understand that women empowerment is not a PR buzzword, but something that needs to be actively practiced.”
2. Gabrielle Peluso, Co-President, Asylum Records
“The music industry can push for gender equality by first understanding that a woman’s role in the workplace looks completely different than a man’s when they have a family. The responsibilities in our homes as moms are more demanding than our male counterparts, which makes juggling both worlds very difficult at times. As more women take on leadership roles in the music industry, I think that you will see a shift in gender equality happen naturally.”
3. Sammye Scott, Director of A&R, Atlantic Records
“I believe the music industry can push for more gender equality by ensuring that more women identify the music industry as a viable career opportunity, and receptacle for their ideas and influence upon our culture. Currently, the general face of the music industry is the writing, performance, producing. Women in our industry must begin nurturing young women through mentoring programs to help them understand the industry and the preparation needed: Its history, its culture; it’s reality — the opportunities, as well as the challenges. Who better to lead them than the trailblazing women already breaking those glass ceilings in this industry? While desire, preparation, and determination can become defining characteristics for entry, developing a system of support, acknowledgement, and understanding create equity between genders.”
4. Julissa “Trophy” Bartholomew, Senior Director of A&R, Interscope Records
“As an A&R in this day and age, I am lucky to be welcomed in by other women in my field, as opposed to those before me who had to duke it out in male-driven environments. However, I have found that women’s presence is still scarce when it comes to roles like engineering, mixing, producing, and so.
When I was entering the business, I was lucky enough to have the option of joining groups and attending panels that catered to who I was trying to be in the music business. There needs to be more support, resources and mentorship for those that want to gain knowledge and exposure in these skills.
Like all advancement in this world, everything starts with representation. Once we bring an abundance of talented women in these positions, there will be an ecosystem of people ready to embrace it; just like the new abundance of female rap artists currently in the industry. Women need to know that they can do it too, and it will start and continue with us sending down the ladder.”
5. Marguerite Jones, Manager of A&R, RCA Records
“Everyone has a role in the pursuit of gender equality. Executives at the top must understand women bring value to the process from the business to the creative. Women dually communicate in a powerful, yet nurturing way that delivers information thoughtfully. The gender gap in producing and engineering is unacceptable. There must be more initiatives focused on women in the recording process. Beyond high level executives, we must all work in conjunction, not competitiveness. When we help one another navigate tough decisions, we all learn.
At RCA, empowering strong women has collectively made us more diverse. It’s more than just having a woman in the meeting; women are running the meetings. We are curating the room. Our departments are led by women, often minorities. As a company with artists like SZA, Mulatto, Doja Cat, Flo Milli, H.E.R, Sasha Sloan, Jazmine Sullivan, the list goes on, we are advancing the next crop. Pushing for gender equality and inclusion happens through education and participation. Consider women for positions of power offered to their male counterparts. Finally, we need accountability. Give five minutes to the student at the intern table. In meetings, it’s your responsibility to participate and be vocal, treating gender never as a weakness but an asset.”
6. Ashley Calhoun, Head of Creative, Pulse Music Group
“First and foremost, more opportunities, especially those higher up, must be created for women. Women of all races. We’ve made progress hiring women for entry level opportunities, but those hirings must extend to women chair-people, presidents, executives, board members, etc. This is also true on the creative side of the music industry, where more women should be hired for executive producer roles on projects. No one knows what women want to listen to more than other women. More representation needs to be reflected in all areas of the business.
I can’t believe this still needs to be said, but it is also extremely important that women feel safe both in the office, and in studio and other creative settings. If you notice something, be an ally.”
7. Amaiya Davis, Vice President, Media/Cultural Impact and Engagement, Republic Records
“Women are the backbone of the music industry, and more than deserve to be treated and recognized as such. Gender equality needs to exist in every single part of the DNA of the music industry. At the label and artist levels, but also in the creative space with songwriters, engineers, producers, and more.
In order for this to happen, there needs to be peer accountability at all levels. But, emphasizing and fighting for gender equality has to start at the top. While there are a handful of amazing women who have broken the glass ceiling, the reality is that we need more. Now is the time to call for action. Yes, when it comes to hiring, but also advocating for representation at all levels. This can be done by actively putting women in the room with the right people, listening to and implementing their ideas, working to treat women as their equal in every instance, and most importantly, ensuring equal pay and titles to their male counterparts.”
8. Molly McLachlan, Head of International, 10K Projects
“Women in music, as well as across industries, have been fighting for equality and accountability for quite some time. We have long known about the systemic challenges that make it so that women have to work much harder — often for far less financial gains and recognition than men.
And while we have seen some change, such as a slight increase in female executives, the issues stem much deeper than what can be solved by simply changing a couple of women’s job titles. We continue to live and work with women’s ideas being unrecognized, and often credited to men instead with challenging work environments and underpaid, underrepresented board rooms. It is imperative, and way past time, that men in this industry take the time and efforts to truly understand why women’s voices and talents are fundamental to our success, and why we deserve more than the bare minimum.
We stand on the shoulders of all the women who came before us and allowed us the freedoms and rights that we have today, but there is still a lot of work to be done, and we all must recognize how we can contribute to it. Men in particular, need to take notice of what we have been saying, and understand the ways in which the women around them have contributed to their success, and finally recognize that in meaningful ways. At the end of the day, this industry will be a much better place for all of us when we can truly be inclusive and equitable at all levels.”
9. Isabel Quinteros, Senior Manager and A&R, TikTok
“We can push for gender equality by educating the industry about privilege and gender bias. By adding more women of diverse backgrounds to positions of power we can ensure equity for all.”
10. Tiara Hargrave, EVP and GM, Alamo Records
“So many times this question is posed and the answer is quite simple. We must empower women at every level and stage of the music industry by filling and creating roles, and positions. We must support the young women that come behind us and pass the torch. When women are in these positions, they must be included in every stage of the decision making process and their voices must be heard. Additionally, we must close the pay gap between men and women, specifically Black women, as they are a huge contribution to the music industry on multiple levels.”
11. Breon Robinson, Founder, Blueprint Incc
“The music entertainment business can give gender equality by giving female music executives the opportunities they deserve and their flowers while in position. Don’t wait until the latter of their careers to give them praise, uplift them in the now and not later. There should be more platforms that give them a voice and recognition outside of just Women’s [History] Month.”
12. Tina Davis, VP of A&R, EMPIRE
“The music business can push for gender equality and elevate the voices of women by investing in women and their causes. Labels should invest in Women in Music, SheSaid.so, Change the Conversation, Soundgirls, Digital Divas and The Show Must Be Paused.
There are very few, if any, joint ventures owned by women to this day through majors labels.
The industry could focus on trying to level the playing field for women by actually giving women the same deals/offers they’ve given men for less or even same level of work and success.”
13. Stacy Cunningham, Director of Strategic Events & Radio, EMPIRE
“To shift the culture, those that hold the higher executive positions, as well as our male counterparts, need to not only step up but put their words into action. The men and women that hold power need to keep questioning who we are including and excluding, who we are letting speak and who we are silencing. We need to keep digging deeper at the infrastructures themselves and push to evolve to put women in positions that can really make a change. If we allow more female execs, producers, engineers, A&R reps to sit at the table, the representation would be more well-rounded instead of a circle jerk of men making all the decisions especially those that, in the end, affect the lives of women and their careers.”
14. Michelle Mayumi McDevitt, Co-Founder, Audible Treats
“Anyone in a position of power should be enabling women to climb that ladder while also offering support for their mental well-being. Climbing that ladder could also mean opening doors or offering mentorship in areas where women are underrepresented — whether that be producers, A&R, tour management, artist management, etc.
Companies also need to do a better job offering support for both parents of babies. If employers of the partner granted him/her leave as well, it greatly benefits everyone because it inherently means that the responsibility of taking care of a baby doesn’t fall just on the mom.
And at its core, efforts for gender equality and amplifying voices of women need to prioritize those of BIPOC women for whom the wage-gap remains the largest.”
15. Ashley Monaé, Director of A&R, Raedio Records
“As women, our contributions to music — whether an artist, producer, or A&R — are significant. However, we’re outnumbered and underrepresented. As an A&R specifically, amplifying our voices and pushing for gender equality starts with one word: representation. We need more women holding leadership positions at the same rate as their male counterparts. And once in those positions, we can’t forget to pass the baton by helping develop and grow those young hopefuls looking to make their mark.”
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