Being in the music industry is difficult enough, but add to that being female, and your job just got even tougher. It is no secret right now that women are underrepresented across the board in the music and other entertainment industries. In an article for USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, it is noted that “the report, titled “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” is the second annual report from Professor Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to investigate the music industry. The study examines gender and race/ethnicity of artists and content creators across 700 popular songs on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts from 2012 to 2018” (para 2). The study concluded that “Across all seven years examined, 21.7% of artists were female (para 4). And that, “Female songwriters and producers are vastly outnumbered. Across seven years, 12.3% of songwriters of the songs were female” (para 7). “Turning to producers, the percentage of women working in this role remained stagnant in 2018, and only 2% of producers across 400 songs were female. For producers, this translates into a gender ratio of 47 males to every one female” (para 8).
The big question, then is why these numbers are so low? Women are talented and capable, so why are women being shut out of creative and business roles in the music industry? If you’ve spent any time at all working in the music industry, like many other industries, it is still a “boys club.” Bands, studios, publishing companies, and record labels are mostly run by men. My personal experience mirrors what other women have said in interviews that female opinions are dismissed, not heard, and not taken seriously. Equally damaging is trying to present yourself as a female artist in the sexualized way fans want you to appear and then trying to be taken seriously in the board room. This is a feat that is next to impossible. The only tool women have to step forward and be very assertive and persistent in business meetings. Unfortunately, this makes women less liked and viewed as confrontational, aggressive, and cold.
In a study conducted at Columbia Business School, a successful venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, Heidi Roizen, whose name was changed on the case study to Howard Roizen, was intended to study who was more likely to be hired for a job. Taking all of Heidi’s qualification and just changing the name on the case. In an article for Leadership Psychology Institute, they write that “Professor Frank Flynn, presented half his class with the case study with Heidi’s name on it and gave half the class the same case study with her name changed to “Howard.” The students rated “Howard” and Heidi, equally competent, but they liked Howard, but not Heidi” (para 1). “Specifically, students felt Heidi was significantly less likable and worthy of being hired than Howard and perceived her as more “selfish” than Howard” (para 2). The problem is that attitudes associated with leadership and power and not desirable attributes society ascribes to women. Where men are decisive, women are self-centered and domineering. Where men are competitive and confident, women are viewed as unreasonable and smug.
Years ago, a friend of mine was thinking of becoming a bandleader asked me for advice. I had been in a leadership position for years with many bands, and I said that the best thing she could do was make peace with the fact that the guys in the band weren’t going to like her as much anymore. As a female, you go from being everyone’s little sister to becoming the “B-word” as soon as you ask someone to do something they don’t want to do. In an article for Inc.com, Dustin McKissen writes, “doing whatever it takes to get the job done often requires saying “no”. Getting the job done often requires making unpopular decisions. Being a great boss means you are willing to be disliked” (para 13). That’s exactly what I was trying to get across to my friend. You have to first be willing to be un-liked, and second, you must learn to be okay with not being liked. I know that like me, she wanted everyone to like her and in a position of leadership, that is just never going to happen. Women have to get over the need to be liked by everyone. Famously in her 1985 acceptance speech, actress Sally Field told the world, “I haven’t had an orthodox career and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it. And I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!” Many times, women, go about trying to get that approval by being overly nice, sweet, and friendly. These qualities can be viewed as weakness and be thought to indicate the inability to make the tough call. Being excessively nice is another tendency we need to learn to curb and use judiciously.
In her book, “Lean In” Sheryl Sandberg quoted a 2011 McKinsey report as saying, “men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments” (pg. 8). Women are always being judged on their last project or accomplishment. Did your previous gig go well, did you get a lot of people out to your show? If you did, you’re okay, but if not, you are a failure and people shouldn’t work with you. And let’s not forget that for women, part of your past accomplishments might be that the male in charge of booking you thinks if he keeps booking you, he will have a chance to date you. Once you close that door on him, you may not get re-booked; no matter how good a fit you are for that venue. Most women value being nice, but it is often mistaken as a desire to have more than a business relationship. In part, women are nice because they want to be liked. It often surprises me how men don’t place the same regard on being liked as women. They just want to get the job done, no matter the cost. Sandberg quotes Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan as using a style she calls, “relentlessly pleasant” (pg. 48). Sandberg says that this method includes, “smiling frequently, expressing appreciation and concern, invoking common interests, emphasizing larger goals and approaching the negotiation as solving a problem as opposed to taking a critical stance.” (pg.48).
Leadership is changing from the traditional hierarchical roles to more of a heterarchy. Britannica.com describes a heterarchy as system or organizational structure that, “possesses a flexible structure made up of interdependent units, and the relationships between those units are characterized by multiple intricate linkages that create circular paths rather than hierarchical ones. Heterarchies are best described as networks of actors” (para 1). This bodes well for women because we tend to look at things more as a network, or a village if-you-will, that requires relationships and flexibility. As we move away from traditional power structures in business, it may invite more women to the table. However, we are definitely not there yet, and women need to keep stepping up and being willing to stand in the uncomfortable boardroom that it continues to be. My advice to all the young women in the music industry is to step up and do what you need to do. Don’t do less than you are capable because someone will think you’re pushy or controlling. It is your life and your career. You must run it as you see fit, or someone else will take control of your life for you. Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay. Your friends and family, those closest to you in your inner circle know who you are. They know the true you, and most importantly, you can look yourself in the mirror every day and be proud of who you are and your accomplishments. Be willing, be bold, be relentlessly pleasant, and be
Katsarou, Maria. Women & the Leadership Labyrinth Howard vs Heidi. Retrieved From: https://www.leadershippsychologyinstitute.com/women-the-leadership-labyrinth-howard-vs-heidi/
McKissen, Dustin. (June 2016). Why a Good Boss Doesn’t Care About Being Liked. Retrieved from: https://www.inc.com/dustin-mckissen/why-a-good-boss-doesnt-care-about-being-liked.html
Sandberg, Sheryl. (2016) Lean In. New York. Alfred A. Knopf.