Live on stage – a balancing act extraordinaire
The music industry thrives on a spicy brew of talent, taste,
politics and ego. Mix in the potent ingredient of gender equity
and you have a social research crucible like no other.
espite Kylie Minogue’s many
manifestations as a music
artist, she wouldn't previously
have been thought of as a
‘case study of workplace gender equity’. But
that is what happened, albeit unintentionally,
when she performed at the 2019 Glastonbury
Festival. The event came close on the heels of
the ‘50/50’ pledges led by the PRS Keychange
initiative, which calls for equal numbers of
male and female performers at high-profile
festivals and music events by 2022.
The festival was reasonably successful,
achieving a 42 per cent representation
of female artists, and Kylie Minogue was
the drawcard on promotional material;
however, she was moved to less prominent
spots on the actual festival line-up.
For Samantha Warren, Professor in
Organisation Studies and Human Resource
Management at the Faculty of Business and
Law, Kylie’s appearance showed just how hard
it is to try to use quotas to achieve equality.
“The problems begin when we look more
closely at what happens when quotas are
used to address gender inequality,” she says.
They can speed up the rate of change,
but not necessarily the substance.
High profile performer Kylie Minogue in
concert in Brighton, UK.
Professor Warren notes that quotas
can result in women’s recruitment to less
influential positions: “In countries where
gender quotas for company boards are
already mandatory, it is not uncommon
to find women mostly in non-executive
positions where their authority is limited.
It’s impression management rather than
real change. We saw this happening at
Glastonbury, and it comes with its own
complications, controversies and reverse
exclusions of male artists.”
This raises starkly the issue of merit.
Choosing people because of their gender
makes ability and talent matter less
than meeting a gender target. Professor
Warren says this ‘tick the box’ approach
becomes damaging for everyone: “Men
feel aggrieved that they may have lost out
unfairly, while women feel they have only
been chosen because of their sex, and not
their talent or ability.”
Getting the balance right means
ensuring there are sufficient numbers of
high-calibre men and women in the talent
pool. And this is where it gets interesting:
“If the pool you are drawing from isn’t
diverse enough then there’s a need to
innovate the pathways to these careers,”
Professor Warren says.
She is seeking to do just this through a
two-year research fellowship granted by the
prestigious Leverhulme Trust.
Her project, called In the Key of She:
Women, Technology and Cultural Production,
aims to investigate the lack of gender diversity
among electronic music producers.
Professor Warren wants to address the
structural reasons why women find it more
challenging than men to pursue careers
in music production – and she is taking
her own advice, learning to produce
music under the name of Dovetail
“Driven by the digital revolution, writing
and producing the music that you play – not
just performing – is a vital part of being a
credible artist,” she says.
“So even if women are great DJs and put
on an amazing show, if they are not writing
and producing their own music they will
lack the reputational capital they need to be
taken seriously, and so our pipeline of future
female talent runs dry.”
To widen the talent pool, there is a need
to break down stereotypes about the music
industry, to create access for women and girls
to the (sometimes) expensive technology,
and to provide for them positive role models,
mentors and the opportunity for trial and error.
Examples of these kinds of approaches
already exist. There is Toolroom’s
#WeAreListening project, Hospital Records’
Women in Drum and Bass Facebook group,
and the shesaid.so mentoring network
(www.shesaid.so). Then there are educational
and industry projects such as Women in Sound
on Sound and Music Production for Women.
These are all examples of programmes
that give women training and mentoring
so they can compete for top music
“Offering safe spaces to learn, to connect
with other women for support, to network
and get noticed: these are elements that
will create sustainable change for a more
inclusive music industry of the future,”
Professor Warren states.
ISSUE 1 / 2020