VV Brown / Jackie Alway OBE

Get in formation: women of the music industry must be seen and heard

Following the recent publication of the Seat At The Table and Misogyny in Music reports, how is the landscape for women in music levelling up?

Tina Hart
  • By Tina Hart
  • 21 Mar 2024
  • min read

Celebrating positive progress while also demonstrating the endemic problems for women in music, the recent Seat At The Table (SatT) and Misogyny in Music (MiM) reports examined the good and the bad of the industry ecosystem.

When it comes to empowering women in music, activist, talent manager and businesswoman Nadia Khan is a trailblazer. She is the founder and author of Women in CTRL’s SatT report, which provides an annual snapshot of boardrooms, executive teams, CEOs and chairpersons at UK Music and its 10 member trade bodies. With her work, Nadia also recognises ‘the crucial need to support and cultivate the upcoming generation of trailblazers’.

Progress has been made continuously since SatT’s 2020 inception, with the 2024 edition showing significant improvement in balancing gender disparity at senior levels. A milestone 52% of board members in the 2024 sample are women and/or non-binary (W / NB), while global majority women (GM) representation is 16% — the highest ever. 54% of executive teams are W/NB with 14% GMW, while there are 27% W/NB chairpersons with 18% GMW. CEOs feature 45% W/NB, however GMW is at 0%.

Among those to feature in the SatT report is Jackie Alway OBE, a long-serving Universal Music Publishing executive who is the first woman Chair of the International Confederation of Music Publishers (ICMP). She tells M ‘it’s easier to wait and see who will step up to make a difference’.

‘Often the door is open to change, but it can’t happen without someone willing to take up the challenge,’ Jackie, who also sits on the PRS Members' Council, explains. ‘In every leadership role I’ve held, it turned out that my candidacy was welcomed and supported. If I hadn’t gone for it, the opportunity for a female appointment would have been lost. Step forward, support causes you are passionate about and make change happen.’

Another featured SatT executive is VV Brown. Following some two decades in the industry as a musician and songwriter, she’s since taken on prominent roles on the PRS Members’ Council and the Ivors Academy Board. Speaking to M, she encourages others to ‘fearlessly embrace the tumultuous waters of risk and failure’.

‘Transcending this domain demands fortitude and resilience,’ she adds. ‘Confront the industry's validations with an unwavering sense of self.’

'Step forward, support causes you are passionate about and make change happen.' - Jackie Alway OBE

Published in January, the MiM report makes for a sombre but important read, highlighting the iceberg-tip of negative experiences of women in music. A 2022 study on bullying and harassment in the industry cited within this report revealed that a significant proportion of workers concluded that the extent of sexual harassment in the music industry is such that women consider it ‘a part of work culture and a normalised aspect of business that they must learn how to negotiate’.

It’s interesting to observe that, in several areas of the business, ‘gatekeeper roles’ like promoters, programmers and A&Rs are predominantly male. The MiM report notes that these are within an overarching ‘Boys’ Club’ which perpetuates knock-on effects including unwelcoming environments, talent pipeline barriers, lack of role models and further gender imbalance.

There is so much to be done, but by improving the visibility and support of women with ambitions for — or already working in — such roles, moves are being made to instil positive change by smashing stereotypes and building new, more representative structures.

The current lack of representation spurred VV’s move into a leadership role. She recalls a moment that inspired her to act: ‘A photo from music industry media shared on socials by a prominent radio DJ — a seemingly supportive figure heralded for inclusivity — paradoxically showcased an absence of Black women within the dialogue on women in music. 

‘This exclusion, reminiscent of historical white feminist movements, stirred a profound sense of being overlooked as a Black woman, coinciding with a juncture in life where personal contentment superseded external opinions.’

Programmes like Women in CTRL’s SaaT Board Initiative, which is looking to bridge the gap between women and non-binary music industry executives and key organisations welcoming new candidates, and the Music Leaders Network's women’s professional development scheme (bringing opportunities for upcoming leaders to build confidence and skills) offer hope for a brighter, more sustainable future. PRS Foundation’s Keychange initiative and Women Make Music fund, meanwhile, continue to invest in breaking down some of the barriers highlighted in the MiM report, elevating opportunities for women and NB creators.

Tangible actions and regular accountability are equally vital elements when driving, and then sustaining, change. PRS for Music sets an example with the significant progress evidenced in its Gender and Ethnicity Pay Gap Report 2023. Positive action, plus continued commitment and transparency, has resulted in an increase in the range of representation of women and ethnic communities within headcount, senior roles and new employees.

Speaking about its transformative journey, PRS CEO Andrea Czapary Martin acknowledges that diversity is crucial for high-performing businesses, adding that it brings ‘creativity, innovation, enhanced decision-making and problem-solving. Diversity of thought also contributes to a dynamic and resilient company culture.’

In her role as a prominent female leader, Andrea’s approach includes thinking about the assets she can bring to the table and showing vulnerability. ‘I have no problem talking about things that aren’t perfect to better shape the organisations that I lead,’ she adds.

The consolidation of UK Music’s 10-point Plan and The Five Ps has driven progress among its members, with its implemented recommendations cultivating additional strength in this group of businesses that represent the interests of our industry with trickle-down benefits for all. In the case of PRS, its evolution is thanks in part to introducing processes to reduce bias like redacted CV filtering, development schemes (including identifying senior leaders with five-year target) and training. It has also introduced an allyship guide to empower individuals to speak up for themselves or others.

‘I own my music masters, my womanhood and my choices.' - VV Brown

In addition, VV is urging the music industry to further shatter genre stereotypes and liberate artists from cultural labels, adding: ‘Such a seismic shift promises to usher in a new era of creative freedom, unencumbered by preconceived notions.’

She emphasises the importance of embracing kindness and declares: ‘I own my music masters, my womanhood and my choices. I’ll fight to expand that belief to all women.’

Jackie suggests that executives should look around for someone they can help, and highlights the work done by the Music Publishers Association (MPA) on employee network groups ‘where members can come together in a safe space to talk about life with protected characteristics and share experiences, support and ideas’. 

As part of the MPA’s AccessAbility network, she experiences ‘the most enjoyable and energising hours of my week', noting ‘members with lots in common can connect and be mutually inspired by stories and advice’.

Jackie recognises there is still much to be done in this realm. ‘But every conversation on the topic, every campaign and every change in the law is another step in the right direction,' she notes. 'I’m optimistic we can continue to build momentum for change.’

With these inspirations, resources and initiatives in mind, the industry as a whole has no excuse to be idle or reactive. Being proactive starts with creating awareness and challenging attitudes. This is beginning to happen, but it’s time to step up accountability with further transparency around pay and team structures, with the ultimate aim of fully closing the pay gap.

This goes hand-in-hand with recommendations to provide platforms and create space for each other, support and fund organisations that seek to promote change of culture, and succession planning to inspire future leaders. Role models and allies can boost these efforts, including amplifying and celebrating other’s achievements.

This will hopefully encourage more women and underrepresented groups to enter the talent pipeline, and these implementations and learnings will come full circle for a stronger and more sustainable music industry for everyone.