Leadership and Gender

Leadership and Gender

Maxie Gedge, M Magazine’s International Women’s Day Guest Editor, is best known for her work as a PRS Foundation and Keychange Project Manager, a drummer and the founder of Gravy Records. Here, Maxie explores what it means to be a leader, the link between power and accountability and how Keychange is working to challenge stereotypes.

Maxie Gedge
  • By Maxie Gedge
  • 3 Mar 2021
  • min read

Entering the pandemic, the Keychange team were feeling increasingly worried about the impact this virus might have on our participants from Europe and Canada (as I’m sure everyone who works with underrepresented groups were). Back in March 2020, we knew that:

  • 75 percent of unpaid work, including childcare, is done by women (McKinsey Global Institute)
  • There is a 31.4 percent pay gap (World Economic Forum)
  • 70 percent of health and social service providers are women (World Health Organisation)

Keychange focuses on gender, but we work with individuals from all over the world who inform our work; the nuanced intersections of identities mean that all protected characteristics and socio-economic factors and politics have had a huge impact on the barriers that people have faced over the last year.

When articles started coming out in April 2020 about the women leaders who were ‘bossing’ COVID, it made me both ecstatic and depressed. Yes, representation is important, and if women and gender minorities are considered meaningfully in important decision-making processes, then some of the data gaps that Caroline Criado Perez explores in ‘Invisible Women’ might start to shift towards more accurate representation. If women and gender minority leaders are on our TVs then more girls and gender nonconforming young people will know that they too can lead countries and corporations, including CMOs,record labels and publishers.

But as more articles came out and eventually criticism (The Times - Female leaders found to be no better in Covid crisis), it got me thinking – is it harmful or helpful to talk about women leaders as inherently different from the men in charge? Isn’t that othering them even more? Isn’t that grossly ignoring nuance and experience? And why now, when COVID happens, do we suddenly notice the women leaders in the world? We should champion them, but we should champion all of their work in all arenas; finance, culture, foreign policy and beyond.

Writing in Forbes, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox said: ‘These leaders are gifting us an attractive alternative way of wielding power.’ Providing a perfectly gendered way to recognise women in power as ‘attractive’ rather than, say ‘forceful’, ‘dynamic’ or even competent - why is the adjective here about appearance?

So, I decided to turn to my network to explore and celebrate the awesome leaders in the music industry and what it is that makes them so rad. How do they ‘wield power’ and is it any differently from the *uhum* Bojos of the world?

‘Feeling empowered is an indescribable feeling, but it most certainly can be a catalyst to achieving one's purpose in life.'

Challenging assumptions and stereotypes associated with gender and making sure that women and gender minorities in music have the opportunity to forge career paths that suit them is an important ambition of my work at Keychange. This is often difficult. Daily, we challenge the sometimes-crushing pressures that dictate what people should sound like, look like, be like in the music industry. Although our work at Keychange is focused on women and gender minorities, who are vastly underrepresented in the music industry (visit the Keychange website if you’re still one of those people who think it’s not a problem), it’s important for us all to realise that gendered roles and/or stereotypes are harmful to everyone. Increased diversity impacts everyone positively, so it benefits us all to challenge norms and ask questions about how things are done and why.

This may sound ‘disruptive’ - and in my opinion, being a ‘disruptor’ is one of those horrifying millennial ideas - but I’m interested in how individuals can really challenge and disrupt expectations within the music industry in 2021. There are many people  I look up to as leaders who do this so well, who prioritise diversity and inclusion, who disrupt, and who are therefore changing what contemporary leadership looks like: Vanessa Reed and Joe Frankland are of course beacons for me; Kanya King, Helen Sildna, Yvette Griffith, Laura Lewis-Paul, Carla Marie Williams, Charlie Wall-Andrews, Lorna Clarke, Alexandra Archetti Stølen, Ragnar Berthling, Nitin Sawhney, Janine Irons, Crispin Hunt, Lucie Caswell, Ben Wynter, Bengi Unsal, Becky Ayres, Hannah Kendall and so many more.

What traits are typically associated with leadership?

Based on some brilliant insights from some Irish Keychange participants in music, the same things that make someone good at their job for one gender, can be used against another gender. Being ‘assertive’ or ‘in control’ might be manipulated to ‘bossy’ or ‘intimidating’. But in 2021, especially with the social-justice oriented organisations I work with, it has struck me that there is a new, more collaborative leader at the top. In conversations with some (mixed gender) leaders in the Keychange network a few of the words that kept coming up were ‘engaged’, ‘empathy’, ‘integrity’, ‘commitment’, ‘accountability’. These struck me as less charged with gender than the traditional ‘hard-working’, ‘confident’, ‘strength’, ‘ambitious’.

Markers of success also seem to be based less on individual achievement and more on ‘spreading the love’. Yvette Griffiths, co-chief executive and executive director of Jazz re:freshed is inspired by ‘those around me really following their passion, people who effect significant change for underserved communities’. Trudeau Scholar and executive director of SOCAN Foundation Charlie-Wall Andrews said, ‘Feeling empowered is an indescribable feeling, but it most certainly can be a catalyst to achieving one's purpose in life. There is also something incredible about empowering others: this makes feeling empowered tenfold.’

‘I believe the relationship between accountability and leadership is about reconciling actions and values.’

So when power and accountability are so inextricably linked, solidarity is not enough. Chief executive of PRS Foundation Joe Frankland explains, ‘In the context of PRS Foundation’s work, we talk a lot about ‘powering up’ or empowering underrepresented talent – those who are very deserving of opportunities but are being held back by inequity. So, our work combines questioning and changing power dynamics at a macro level, while empowering individuals to be in a position to progress and to do things on their own terms.’

The wonderful idea, that the key to socially just power is to give it away, is not a new one but I think the disrupting element here is the focus on accountability. Not just having values but acting on them – or as Charlie Wall-Andrews says: ‘I believe the relationship between accountability and leadership is about reconciling actions and values.’

Vanessa Reed, chief executive of New Music USA spoke of responsibility: ‘In a just society, everyone should take responsibility for their actions. Leaders create the culture in which that can happen.’

In the often murky world of power and privilege within the music industry, I have been lucky to witness a new collaborative, kind, inclusive type of leadership start to take flight. For those in positions of power and influence, acknowledging your own privilege and making space should be the new normal – as Yvette says, ‘the white patriarchy has hindered all manner of progressions over the decades’. It is time for leaders to listen.