As we roll into another International Women’s Day, I wanted to spotlight someone who’s worked behind the scenes for years to advance the opportunities for women in music. I was put in touch with Niki Evangelou four years ago when I spoke to a friend at our label about wanting to find a meaningful way to support women trying to break into the music industry. Her work and passion has inspired me ever since.
Niki is the co-founder of the not-for-profit social enterprise The Cat’s Mother, set up to facilitate free business meetings for creatives aged 18-25 trying to break into the music industry. She entered the creative industries in 2014 as a Live Events and Promotion apprentice at Small Green Shoots, a charitable organisation which trains young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and places them in entry-level music industry positions.
As time went on, Niki witnessed talented people come and go from the industry and noticed that females were more often placed in admin roles and did not get promoted as quickly as their male counterparts. Her boss at the time, Small Green Shoots founder and Director of Music Industry Engagement at PPL, Natalie Wade, had observed the same problem. Together they launched The Cat’s Mother in November 2019.
To me, the beauty of the network is the freedom it offers participants. There isn’t an ascribed ‘toolkit’ – it affords the individual the opportunity to reflect on what they feel would help them and facilitates the conversation, building relationships for change. All of the sessions I have been involved with have left me invigorated, both with a sense of my own privilege but also awe at how many driven and talented individuals there are working in this space.
‘The main challenges for women in the music industry... are to do with confidence, limited connections and having a lack of relatable role models in executive positions.'
I wanted to understand how The Cat’s Mother had come to exist and how the leap is made from a frustration at the status quo to actively setting up an organisation to create change. I certainly shared Niki’s frustrations at the nature of the music industry but struggled to find tangible solutions or vehicles for change. Importantly, these issues aren’t isolated to our industry nor to the job market in general – they are fundamentally rooted in our society and the way we bring up our girls. Niki highlighted the role confidence plays in acting as a barrier for many girls in their career. ‘The first time I asked for a pay rise, Natalie Wade (my then boss) told me to do it! There was no way I was doing that off my own back. It’s like it was instilled deep in my brain not to ask for such a thing,’ she recalled. I reflected sadly how I never asked for a payrise in my own career.
‘The main challenges for women in the music industry – particularly young women from minorities and low-income backgrounds, who we reach – are to do with confidence, limited connections, and having a lack of relatable role models in executive positions,’ said Niki. ‘Imposter syndrome – constantly believing that you're not worthy of your position or achievements, that you're a 'fraud' who might get found out at any minute – this feeling is real, and incredibly familiar to me and a lot of the young women we serve.’
Niki’s words resonated massively with me, particularly in illuminating the tacit barriers that women face. I thought back to my early experiences of the industry and can count on one hand the amount of women I got to work with. You then add to this a sense of responsibility – walking into a recording studio or onto a festival stage and knowing you are representing your gender by being there – it’s not enough to just do your job well, you also carry the weight of knowledge that you’re a novelty. The number of well-meaning people who take delight in telling me how great it is to see a woman drumming highlights this. I don’t think we can overestimate the power and importance of visibility and diversity across the sector.
This is why the Cat’s Mother is so genius – through its simplicity. As Niki explained, ‘We work to address those challenges by empowering young women – we show them that there ARE people just like them in roles they dream of and that it doesn’t take just ‘one type of woman’ to succeed. We run events that are both educational and practical, from asking for a pay rise, to knowing how to work a room. Our young women are encouraged to make the most out of each interaction.’
'We don't need an industry full of the same people. We need people who will shine because of all the things that make them who they are.'
In my own career, progress has been slow, but I have certainly seen evidence of greater diversity in the teams that surround my band. The demand is for greater diversity across the board, if we consider gender issues in a vacuum then we prevent real progress. Indeed, Niki’s advice to young women attempting to start out in the music industry could just as meaningfully be offered to anyone from any background.
‘Always remember, you deserve to be here. Don't ever let anyone tell you, or make you think any different… You'll get much further if you just stay true to yourself. We don't need an industry full of the same people. We need people who will shine because of all the things that make them who they are. Be prepared to work hard but to have a whole lot of fun. Know that the industry is VERY well-connected and people talk. Always be kind. Never underestimate the power of one conversation. You never know where it might lead you,’ she said.
From my own experience as a ‘Cat’s Mother', the conversations have run in many unexpected directions and I commonly leave feeling that I’ve gained just as much, if not more than those I’m paired with.
Finally, I was keen to as Niki how others might support their vital work.
‘Spread the word!’ She said. ‘We need our target service users to know that we exist and we know just how powerful word of mouth can be. So that's the first thing. More Cat's Mothers is always a bonus, but we're creeping up to 100 now, so the priority is getting industry women on board who fill a gap in our network. Anyone interested can get in touch with us for more info and a sign-up/expression of interest form.'
‘Sponsorship is really helpful too. We're not a charity yet, so you can't make an official charitable donation but you can sponsor our work. Whether that's sponsoring a series of Cat's Mother meetings or one of our events.’
As we march triumphantly to another week of celebrating womanhood and ask some big questions about gender and diversity across our industry and society, I would urge us all to return to the simple tool of relationships. Whether through directly supporting the work of the Cat’s Mother, spreading its message, or just having more open and honest conversations, building new relationships to facilitate change is crucial to creating a more equal music industry.