NEAR TRUTHS: WE WISH WE HAD BETTER NEWS


Women’s History Month has brought the expected huzzahs and de rigueur tributes on the socials, but the women in the music biz we’ve been talking to, for the most part, don’t feel much like celebrating. Despite growing representation in the wider ranks of the biz, they told us, the situation at and near the top of the pyramid is troubling.

In the wake of #MeToo, several female execs have expressed to us, the situation has only become more fraught, with male circles getting tighter for fear of some kind of “incident” rather than becoming more inclusive. “It’s worse than it’s ever been,” despairs one highly placed player, who refers to the “Pence effect” (men fearing the repercussions of being alone with women) and believes the backlash after #MeToo has actually limited opportunities for women professionals. “In certain meetings I can see them looking at me and thinking, 'I wish she weren’t in here,'" she says.

“It’s as bad as ever at the labels,” agrees another. “If anything, it’s degenerating. You have all these women who are SVPs, EVPs, even presidents, and they come to work and find decisions have been made without them. Because the decisions are being made on the golf course and the racquetball court and in the locker room. It’s just Game of Thrones, male culture and when all the courtiers are currying favor with the big boss, the women are going to be kept out of it. And the disparity in salary is outrageous; it’s not uncommon for a woman EVP to be paid 40% of what a male EVP is making even if she’s got 10 years’ more experience.”

“Women need to shape-shift constantly to accommodate others’ perceptions, in a way men don’t,” points out a biz veteran with experience in multiple sectors. “We constantly have to think about whether we’re coming off as a bitch or making other team members uncomfortable. We can’t just focus on doing the job.”

“Nothing’s going to change until a woman is running one of the Big 3,” says another executive, echoing a common sentiment. “Just like ‘Grammys so white’ didn’t change until the Grammys had Black leadership; that changed the culture there. When a woman becomes the ultimate boss [of a label group], that will change the gender culture at the whole company. I can’t wait for the day when decisions are made at the Drybar.”

“The days of the old predators are mostly gone—nowadays, it’s just that systemic male culture making decisions,” reads one response to our Women's History month inquiry. “It’s easy nowadays to take a position of naiveté: 'We’re hiring women; we’re empowering women.' But who’s really in the inner circle? Who’s calling the shots?”

“There’s just overwhelming bias,” we were told. “I fear it’s going to take 25-50 years to get to gender parity—and right now I’m leaning toward 50.”

A few women we asked were more philosophical. “This is just the landscape,” one biz veteran commented. “Women have had to fight to get where they are and now we’re fighting to hold onto what we’ve got. But you have to acknowledge the realities and keep fighting.”

One seeming bright spot on the landscape, several respondents indicated, has been a shift away from “desk culture” and the pressure to downplay family responsibilities. “There was a time when, instead of telling your team you were going to your kid’s school play or game, you had to say, ‘I have a meeting,’ and that, happily, has changed,” explains one woman we spoke to, who insists the pandemic has forced an adjustment in “work/life integration.”

“There was a time when women in the industry actually bragged about not going to their kids’ events as a way of indicating how committed they were to their work,” this exec continues. Since the lockdowns and the emphasis on working from home, she argues, both women and men in the biz who have families have seen that they can excel in their jobs without being chained to their desks. “Women have always wanted this,” she says. “Now that men want it too, hopefully we’ll see a shift.” Even so, she says, there’s pressure from on high to get back to some semblance of desk culture.

“It’s on all of us female leaders to change the culture,” says another. “We need to be the change we want to see.”

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