The Women In Music event demonstrated how far we have progressed in tackling gender inequality within the industry, but highlights that we still have a long way to go.
Having just heard through the Twitter grapevine about the sad demise of NME’s print edition on my journey to Rescue Rooms, and with International Women’s Day fresh in our memory, I was very much in the mood for an evening that showcased badass musical women. After being efficiently ticked off the guestlist at 6pm, I was welcomed to the familiar fluorescent glow of the main hall, a table laden with complimentary G+Ts or bottles of premium lager and an atmospheric all-female playlist featuring Courtney Barnett, Adele and Sia. Not a bad start.
“Two women, both leading their respective industries, coming together to discuss the future of them”
After a brief settling in period and some housekeeping, the evening commenced with some sad news – Kate Nicholls, chief executive of ALMR, who had been due to introduce proceedings, was summoned for an emergency meeting in Downing Street at the last minute. Julie Tippins, DHP Family’s Head of Compliance, spoke instead, and highlighted the ironic cultural significance of this misfortune; two women, both leading their respective industries, coming together to discuss the future of them. 30 or so years ago, it would have been laughable to imagine such a scenario without a man present to mediate the women through such a complicated discussion. The tone for the night had been established: women worldwide have more opportunities available to them than ever.
The first talk was from Sarah Claudine of Safe Gigs For Women, an organisation that started as an anonymous online platform to share stories and collect statistics on sexual harassment and has blossomed into so much more.
“The movement is more committed to female safety at gigs than ever”
According to Rape Crisis UK, in 2015, 85,000 women and 12,000 men were sexually assaulted; of these, 1 in 5 women aged 16-59 had been assaulted multiple times from the age of 16 and somewhat shockingly, only 12% of victims reported their assault to the police. SGFW began in 2015 after its founder, Tracey, was assaulted whilst watching the Manic Street Preachers play a 20th anniversary set in honour of their seminal album, The Holy Bible. Although it wasn’t the worst incident, or the last, it spurred her to commence work on revolutionising music’s inadequate concern for the harassment of women in every facet, from audience member to sound technician.
“They strive to emphasise the importance of teaching proper consent”
At present, the movement is more committed to female safety at gigs than ever, with a manifesto of three main priorities; consent, intervention and prevention. Liaising with festivals, gig venues, promoters and, most importantly, attendees, they strive to emphasise the importance of teaching proper consent, an end to victim blaming and the importance of calling out inappropriate behaviour, even amongst our friends and family. Looking to the future, SGFW is in the process of being registered as an official UK Charity and hopes to achieve a nationwide coverage by 2019.
“Equation works to raise awareness of domestic abuse and gender inequality”
Sam Billington of Equation, the Nottinghamshire based domestic violence charity to which the evening’s proceeds are being donated, spoke next. Equation works to raise awareness of domestic abuse and gender inequality, whether it be supporting survivors or as part of their programme to educate 9-15 year olds on healthy relationships and their rights as people. She highlights the particular importance of eradicating the stigma surrounding domestic violence, stating “changing attitudes is not supplementary to our work; it is in our belief that it plays a major part in prevention”. Her informative speech finished by posing an important point to think over: instead of asking a victim of abuse “why don’t you leave them”, should we not instead be asking “why does their partner continue to hurt them?”.
“As a woman in the 80’s, executives would presume she was there to make them a cup of tea”
Then came the exciting bit: the evening’s first panel, focusing primarily on working in the live music sector, wherein the women in charge, whether running venues or working as a tour, are vastly outshadowed by their male counterparts. It is chaired by Laura Baker, Marketing & Events Director for Association of Independent Music, who described the music industry as generally renowned for being ‘pale, male and stale’: in other words, run predominantly by middle aged white men. She is in conversation with a panel of five hugely successful women working in the field who were there to discuss the challenges faced by women, and the intersectional struggles of women of colour.
“’Everyone thinks you’re a girlfriend!’”
The topics covered many bases, beginning with the challenges of starting up in the industry and climbing up the ranks to leadership. Whilst there was an agreement that the present day proffers a lot more for women, it was also agreed that there is still much to be done. Helen McGee, the Divisional Manager for Academy Music Group, remembers that as a woman in the 80’s, executives would presume she was there to make them a cup of tea, or that she wouldn’t know anything about the industry she worked in. Zoya Rossi, production manager of The Borderline, struggled to be taken seriously at first because of her age and appearance, which Theresa ‘Tre’ Stead, Frank Turner’s tour manager, seconded, declaring “everyone thinks you’re a girlfriend!”, recalling an occasion where a male executive walked into the room and shook hands with everyone except her.
“You should avoid niceties and wield your power regardless of your gender”
Carlina Gugliotti, tour manager for London Grammar, admits she has had a mostly positive experience and her difficulties in the industry were fuelled by its competitive nature rather than her gender. Dom Frazer, founder and director of The Boileroom, emphasised the need to “normalise the fact women can do anything”, and that whilst it is positive that so many of tonight’s audience are women, we want men to attend such events and be educated if there is to be real effective change.
“If you act confidently, you will be treated accordingly”
Top tips from the panelists for women starting out in the industry or struggling to find their place focused on confidence and standing up for yourself: Zoya spoke about an incident wherein a manager told her she had to “earn her keep” and didn’t anticipate her sharp response. Carlina thinks that it is more to do with how you present yourself: if you act confidently, you will be treated accordingly, which she argues prevents the fruition of issues in the first place. Her advice for women in senior positions who struggle with authority? “You are their boss before you are their friend”; you should avoid niceties and wield your power regardless of your gender, and women should be aware that “the more they join the industry, the more women will follow”.
“She finds ageism in the sector, especially towards women, to be a considerable factor in her fight for success”
After a brief intermission, Nina Smith – singer songwriter and current BBC Introducing Artist of the Week – and Verity Cowley from BBC Radio Nottingham took to the stage, discussing the difficulties Nina had in breaking through and how she overcame them. Nina was incredibly down to earth and very witty, and it was refreshing to hear her talk about the record label she has just started for young people, First Light; she finds ageism in the sector, especially towards women, to be a considerable factor in her fight for success. She offered some genuine advice to fellow musicians in the audience and assured them that “everything comes with time”: it is about not giving up and finding the courage to persevere in the light of adversity.
“It was invigorating to see a panel of women, advocating for change when looking to the future and how to succeed in an arduous industry, that were not all white”
The second panel was focused on being advocates for change, and was comprised of five exceptional women; Sarah Claudine from Safe Gigs for Women; Anwyn Williams, the marketing manager for DHP Family; Chanelle Newman, manager of Akala and co-founder of The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company and Michelle Kambasha, head of press for Secretly Group. The four were chaired by Geeta Pendse of BBC East Midlands Today and I have to emphasise that it was invigorating to see a panel of women, advocating for change when looking to the future and how to succeed in an arduous industry, that were not all white.
“Oftentimes an individual will blame their failures on their own personal shortcomings”
Important points were raised by Sarah, who notes that it would be “wonderful to see people in positions of power realise the responsibility that comes with that and not abuse their positions”. Oftentimes an individual will blame their failures on their own personal shortcomings, and not realise that there are people who still carry the bigoted views that men are stronger or better than women, especially when it comes to the music industry. Chanelle revealed that as a manager, she actively looks to hire women, having been in their position and knowing just how difficult it can be to get started. The panel finished by concluding that men in power need to be allies: proactive in making changes, not sitting back and doing nothing and asking when International Men’s Day is.
“The evening was choreographed to perfection”
The evening was choreographed to perfection and demonstrated that there are some really incredible women out there trying to make the world a fairer place for all genders. Ironically, many of the panel members agreed that the end goal is to one day never have to give another talk on why there aren’t enough women in music. My takeaways from this evening: is imperative that we stand up for what we believe in, and like Nina Smith, refuse to bow down and concede to stereotypes. Your gender, your ethnicity, your sexuality – anything that makes you who you are – should have no bearing on your successes in life. Unfortunately however, they still do. It is plain to see that despite the progression of the industry, which has come a significant way from the overtly misogynistic 1980s, there remains many issues, and regardless of their gender, the hegemonic powers that be must move to eradicate them.
Images courtesy of Chloe Erin and Safe Gigs For Women