‘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.

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Contributor

Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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