‘Diversity desert’: white male music execs outnumber Black women 18 to one in US

Comprehensive study finds stark disparity in representation between the charts and the boardrooms

Despite music industry organisations having pledged to improve racial representation in their ranks after last year’s Blackout Tuesday protest, a new report shows that in the US, leadership positions still overwhelmingly favour white men.

The University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that among 4,060 executives across 119 companies and six categories – music groups, labels, publishers, radio, streaming and live music promotion – white male executives outnumbered Black women by 17.7 to one.

Just 13.9% of executives were from underrepresented racial groups, and 4.2% were Black. Women accounted for 13.9% of such roles.

The report showed that the more senior a role, the less likely it was to be held by a woman, and even less so by women from underrepresented backgrounds. White women comprised 14.7% of CEO/chief/president roles compared with 2.4% for Black women.

The results mirrored recent research from UK Music showing that the number of Black people in the UK music industry falls from 12.6% at entry level to 6.4% at senior level.

The Annenberg report found that women were particularly underrepresented at radio and live music organisations. “The path to influence in music looks very different for white women and women of colour,” concluded the authors, Dr Stacy L Smith and Dr Carmen Lee.

It highlighted the disparity between inclusion behind the scenes and on the charts: nearly half of performers on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts from the past nine years were from underrepresented groups.

(L-R) Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas accept the executives of the year award during the Billboard Women in Music event, 10 December 2020.
(L-R) Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas accept the executives of the year award during the Billboard Women in Music event, 10 December 2020. Photograph: 2020 Billboard Women In Music/Getty Images for Billboard

“Underrepresented and Black artists are dominating the charts, but the C-suite [executive level] is a ‘diversity desert,’” said Smith. “The profile of top artists may give some in the industry the illusion that music is an inclusive business, but the numbers at the top tell a different story.”

A&R departments – which sign talent – showed greater representation: 34% of A&R executives across Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, as well as independent companies, were from underrepresented backgrounds: 26.7% women, 21.2% Black.

Less than 10% were women of colour, and 4.8% were Black women, despite, as the report noted, the increased presence of women of colour on the Billboard chart.

Black and underrepresented artists were likely to be surrounded by white team members – management, agents, publicists – but 80% of their cohorts featured at least one underrepresented or Black team member, compared to less than a quarter of white artists.

“This leaves underrepresented and Black artists doing the work of inclusion for the entire industry,” the report stated. “It’s time for the rest of the business, including white artists and executives, to ensure that the pool of underrepresented talent in these roles has access and opportunity across the entire ecosystem.”

The initiative was founded by Smith and produces research “to advance quality in entertainment”, scrutinising gender, sexuality, disability, age, race and ethnicity in the entertainment industry.

In June 2020, two Black female music executives, Jamila Thomas of Atlantic Records and Brianna Agyemang of Platoon, established Blackout Tuesday, calling for the music industry to shut down for the day in protest following the killing of George Floyd.

“Our mission is to hold the industry at large, including major corporations [and] their partners who benefit from the efforts, struggles and successes of Black people accountable,” they wrote at the time. Sony, Warner and Universal donated millions to racial justice funds and established new roles and taskforces to monitor diversity.

  • Join a Guardian Live discussion looking at the global impact one year on from the killing of George Floyd. With Oliver Laughland and a panel of global activists including Rokhaya Diallo, Gacheke Gachihi and Rina Odula. On Wednesday 30 June, 7pm BST | 8pm CEST | 11am PDT | 2pm EDT. Book tickets here


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Odds are against you’: the problem with the music streaming boom
As dust from the gold rush settles, big record companies and elite artists emerge firmly on top

Mark Sweney

02, Oct, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
UK music industry study: diversity increase stalls at senior levels
Report finds that Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees account for fewer than 20% of executive roles, with women making up about 40%

Laura Snapes

29, Oct, 2020 @12:01 AM

Article image
Universal Music chief predicts billions of dollars of growth from digital listening
Record firm’s €40bn flotation is just beginning of new wave of music consumption, says Sir Lucian Grainge

Mark Sweney

21, Sep, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
'Urban' no more: black British music execs call for industry reforms
Open letter from new group seeks action on racism and better career development

Laura Snapes

09, Jun, 2020 @6:41 PM

Article image
MPs and music industry bodies criticise pay of Universal head Lucian Grainge
After a bonus payment, Grainge will earn more this year than all UK songwriters did from streaming and sales in 2019

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

10, Nov, 2021 @1:34 PM

Article image
‘Record companies have me on a dartboard’: the man making millions buying classic hits
Hit songs can be a better investment than gold – and by snapping up the rights, Merck Mercuriadis has become the most disruptive force in music

Dorian Lynskey

27, Feb, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Upper reaches of music industry 'a man's world', diversity study finds
UK Music taskforce finds that women make up 59% of entry-level business roles, but only 30% of senior executives

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

09, Jan, 2017 @9:28 PM

Article image
Bob Dylan sued by estate of Desire co-writer over catalogue sale
Jacques Levy’s wife and publishing company seek $7.25m (£5.25m) from recent sale of Dylan’s publishing rights to Universal Music Publishing

Laura Snapes

21, Jan, 2021 @9:38 AM

Article image
Universal Music Group shares surge in £110m bonus for Lucian Grainge
Listing puts record label’s British-born boss in line for one of biggest corporate payouts in history

Mark Sweney

21, Sep, 2021 @12:06 PM

Article image
Bob Dylan sells entire publishing catalogue to Universal Music
Deal covers 600 songs including Blowin’ in the Wind and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Mark Sweney media business correspondent

07, Dec, 2020 @4:01 PM