This International Women's Day is one simultaneously marked by progress and the lack of it. In positive news, UK Music’s most recent Workforce Diversity Survey found that the percentage of women in mid-level and senior roles is increasing – up from 40.4% in 2020 to 45.1% in 2022, and from 51.2% in 2020 to 53.3% in 2022 respectively. However, the numbers still show that while women are joining the industry in their 20s and 30s, they begin to leave after the age of 45. In the 55-64 age category, the representation of women decreases to 33.3%.
There are myriad reasons why the balance begins to tip as the workforce ages. Cassie Raine, co-founder and co-CEO of Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA), notes that 68% of Workforce Diversity Survey respondents with no caring responsibilities were women, ‘pointing to a loss of female talent when they become mothers or carers.’
Additionally, gender bias persists across society at large, and despite efforts over the years to increase equality and a modicum of improvement, the music sector is no exception.
‘I didn’t come into the industry thinking that I was going to get treated any differently, or that I was walking into a really male dominated industry and job. But that was my experience,’ says AIM Chair and artist manager Nadia Khan. ‘It chipped away at me. I felt like I was getting overlooked for business deals, or I was getting treated like an assistant when I was walking in to places. Or I was always seen to be groupie. So, am I therefore not important?’
Seeing a need for greater representation of women across the board, Nadia founded Women in CTRL, a non-profit development organisation seeking to advance gender equality in the music industry. ‘I woke up one day feeling like, “I’m an invisible woman, why does this keep happening to me?” I started managing someone else and I remember people telling me that it was my artist’s artist. They didn’t think I had my own business,’ she says. ‘I just felt that I needed to do something about it, and that’s kind of where Women in CTRL was born. It was from my own frustrations and experiences, and seeing other women go through the same thing. Working with other women who were at labels, I noticed they weren’t getting the recognition, they weren’t advancing in their careers. Other peers around them were getting promoted, and they weren’t getting that shine. It kind of led me to start Women in CTRL.’
In the past, many mentoring and support programmes have focused on helping marginalised young people get into the creative industries. The organisations behind them have played a major role in tipping the balance we see today in those entry-level roles and younger age groups, but further support is needed beyond their remit to help women stay in the music business.
At charitable organisation Small Green Shoots, founder and CEO Natalie Wade runs things from a place of expectation. Since 2014, the enterprise has helped 160 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds takes their first steps into careers in arts and music. She emphasises that these are ‘careers’, not ‘jobs’ – from the beginning, the Young Shoots are expected to be a success.
‘They know it, we will know it, therefore it is going to happen,’ she says. ‘Starting from that front-loaded investment in our young women, it will reap dividends long-term, I’ve no doubt.’
What stands in the way of these ‘expectations’ are external factors, such as a lack of support from employers and the continued impact of gender bias across both the music sector and society at large. Alongside Niki Evangelou, Natalie is also co-Founder of The Cat’s Mother, a network of women offering voluntary consultancy sessions for young people looking to enter the creative industries. Natalie, Niki and the other Cat’s Mothers seek to combat the issues that stand in the way of women’s success. ‘We have over 70 incredible professional women supporting over 200 younger ones coming into the industry. That’s an important place to start,’ says Natalie. But it will take a collaborative effort from across the industry to instigate broad change.
‘If organisations truly want to help women progress into senior positions and leadership – instead of other box-ticking talking shops or exercises – maybe be a leader and don’t wait for unforthcoming legislation.'
‘Organisations have to show ambition and long-term plans for their female staff,’ she says. ‘Be open to their ideas, encourage them to get involved in things – external work events included – and facilitate when you can. This could mean having ‘period drawers’ in the office, having menopause workshops for the entire team, ensuring you are championing female staff in the board room or praising women for putting forward ideas in what are thought of as ‘male arenas’. But mainly listen, empathise and then – and this is the important bit – take action.’
It’s particularly useful for music industry organisations to be ‘forward-thinking’ especially in relation to major life changes like motherhood and menopause, she says. ‘I think some of the biggest things stopping women progressing into leadership are child-bearing, the quest of child bearing and menopause,’ she says. ‘If organisations truly want to help women progress into senior positions and leadership – instead of other box-ticking talking shops or exercises – maybe be a leader and don’t wait for unforthcoming legislation.’
‘Female talent in their 40s, women carers and specifically mothers are exiting the music industry due to lack of support and policies in place for them,’ PiPA’s Cassie Raine agrees, and says practical steps are needed to redress the balance. ‘Family friendly working practises addressing areas like pay, wellbeing support, flexibility, childcare and maternity leave, are a proven strategy for female talent retention.’
‘We go through the industry knowing and being told that if you have a kid, if you become a mum, you’re going to be overlooked even further for advancement in your career.'
Nadia Khan’s work at Women in CTRL has also dug into this area. In its Women in Radio report, conducted in collaboration with Radio Silence, Women in CTRL found that 59% of respondents ‘felt that child-rearing has or would have a negative impact on career progression’.
‘We go through the industry knowing and being told that if you have a kid, if you become a mum, you’re going to be overlooked even further for advancement in your career,’ she says.
It’s something that Natalie has personal experience of, referring to pregnancy as ‘the big one’ in terms of challenges women face in their careers that men do not. ‘When I was pregnant, I was literally “written off” by colleagues and peers. If I reminded anyone that I definitely was coming back to work, I was met with side eyes of doubt and basically taken out of conversations,’ she says. ‘I was basically self-employed at that time, so it really hit my bottom line at a time I needed to feather the nest. I took four months off work totally – I was broke, I couldn’t afford to live on maternity pay and almost lost my home.’
Natalie says that she was lucky that coming from a large Irish, Jamaican, Jewish family she was able to patch together childcare week by week or day by day to make it work, but that the planning and travel this took added hours to her workload every day.
In direct contradiction to outmoded stereotypes, she was never more galvanised in her work ethic than when she became a mother. ‘I never worked harder than I did when I became a mum and was completely responsible for this whole other human in my life, she says. ‘It is the driver of hard-work, commitment, reciprocated loyalty to any of my clients or employers’ – she thanks PPL, where she is also Director of Music Industry Engagement, for this reciprocation, and continues – ‘Many mothers and especially single mothers make the best employees as a result of this primitive and most innate driver. We often simply cannot fail.’
‘When you talk about these issues, it can just feel so overwhelming, but I think it's very simple,’ she says. Having diverse recruitment practices is one key step she says, as is addressing the gender pay gap and allowing space for your existing workforce to communicate their needs. ‘Through Women in CTRL we also work with companies to help them to listen to their workforce, and identify the needs of their workforce, because every company just has to have that communication.’
For broad change to really get underway, organisations need to acknowledge where they currently are in terms of women in leadership and supporting their female staff.
'It’s important to see ourselves in roles of influence, to take space and speak up. Our unique vision and perspectives are invaluable in leadership roles.’
‘There are clear things that people can do, that companies can do to get to the root of it,’ Nadia says. ‘But I think it boils down to understanding who your workforce is, having that open chain of communication and ensuring that you have clear pathways. It’s about just accepting where you are and being open about it, and just being like, “Look, we're not perfect, but we want to improve. What steps can we take to get there?’
‘If every company did that, looked at themselves and put some of those things into practice, we would really start to see tangible change in the industry.’
Someone who can attest to the importance of having women in senior leadership roles is PRS for Music chief executive, Andrea Czapary Martin. Andrea became PRS’ first female CEO in 2019 and has overseen a period of accelerated growth for the organisation. October 2022 saw PRS making its largest ever distribution to members in its 108-year history – a staggering £211 million.
‘I have three mantras in life. One of them is from my father – “The glass is always half full. Be positive.” The second one is, “Keep it simple.” That’s what I applied as a mother. The third I took from my own mother – “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” Andrea told us, when asked how she has had such a long, successful and varied career.
She continued: ‘I strongly believe that women need to be confident in our abilities and trust ourselves more, as we move through our careers. It’s important to see ourselves in roles of influence, to take space and speak up. Our unique vision and perspectives are invaluable in leadership roles.’