Major label executives have spoken about initiatives to tackle misogyny in music.
They were questioned at the fifth session of the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry, as part of its umbrella inquiry into preventing violence against women and girls.
The executives appearing were:
- Jessica Carsen, senior vice president, communications and public affairs, Sony Music UK & Ireland
- Isabel Garvey, chief operating officer, Warner Music UK
- Natasha Mann, director of diversity and inclusion, Universal Music UK
Previous sessions in this inquiry took evidence from music festival organisers, music industry representatives, organisations that support women in music and academics.
The latest session looked at how labels are addressing the gender imbalance of artists on their rosters, as well as the way in which labels respond to allegations of discrimination or abuse against women by their staff.
Committee chair Caroline Nokes raised the absence of female headliners at Glastonbury 2023, and whether labels had any responsibility for that situation.
“In terms of line-ups and pipeline, we want to sign as many women as we can,” said Jessica Carsen. “We are hugely proud of the female artists that we have on our roster. And we have a variety of ways in which we invest heavily in the pipeline at a company level.”
“We’re definitely focused on making sure we have as equal a gender balance as we can,” she added. “We've got some amazing female artists, we do everything that we can to support them.”
Carsen highlighted a “whole raft of policies that are designed to create a really inclusive workforce”, including the major’s A&R Academy trying to get more women into record labels. The first cohort was 80% female.
“We've made a lot of recent senior promotions to the heads of record labels, and that's one of the ways in which we try and make sure that the roster is as diverse as it can be,” she added.
Sony Music UK’s roster breakdown for frontline album artists is 38% female, 1% non-binary and 61% male.
Sony Music launched a childcare initiative last year to provide help with costs alongside equal parental leave and coaching programmes. Its menopause support policies include flexible working arrangements like core hours.
Isabel Garvey, who moved from Abbey Road to Warner Music earlier this year, told the committee that 40% of the major’s roster was female.
“We are sponsoring huge swathes of female talent that's coming through at the moment,” she said.
Garvey noted that the last four Rising Star winners at the BRITs were all female.
The three execs rebuffed any suggestion that the companies were more likely to sign men. All agreed that a 50:50 gender balance was the goal in terms of rosters.
“We're very cognisant, as an organisation, that we need label teams that look like the artists, that we have representation across the gender balance, and also minority representation,” said Garvey.
It's as important for men to be calling out misogyny as it is for women
Natasha Mann revealed a particular issue with hip-hop. Excluding that genre, Universal Music UK actually signed more female artists than male in 2022.
“I think what that tells you is that we have some genre-specific issues that I think the industry needs to dig into,” she told MPs. “I don't think we can sit here and say that women don't want to be hip-hop artists, so I think we need to look at that.”
The major does work closely with the next generation of talent through connections with ELAM and the BRIT School.
“I think what we need to do as an industry is constantly try and look at the pipeline a little bit further back [in the process], as well as being critical and trying to gather data on our own ever-evolving roster,” said Mann.
Pressures on female artists
While the executives spoke with confidence about the policies to support women, there was a recognition that a career in music is often harder for female artists.
“Undoubtedly, there are more pressures on women than men,” Mann told MPs. “I don't have to tell you guys that. It's societal. But when we sort of zoom in on the music industry, does it still exist? Absolutely. Is there more pressure on social media and within the media? Yeah, I think it bears it out that it can be a tougher route.
“When we look at things like representation… It's helpful to have role models who you can look up to and aspire to in any walk of life. And it's helpful for people to have well-trodden paths that you can then comfortably follow in. So I do think there's more pressure on women. I think there's more pressure on women of colour.”
“Women have a bigger consideration often for hair and make-up,” said Carsen. “We have better support [at Sony] for things like making sure we have a make-up artist who can do proper make-up for Black skin, for example.
“We try really hard to think holistically about the total package of support that we can put in place, because the artists' wellbeing, along with our employees, is absolutely at the core of everything that we do.”
Sony Music also employs a director of artist and employee wellbeing.
Execs suggested that the team around an artist can make a positive difference.
“Every artist, male or female, is subject to so much scrutiny particularly on social media,” said Garvey. “It's not just a time management issue. It's a mental health issue as well. So we will certainly offer support services for our artists where they can speak to a therapist to make sure that they're being supported correctly. We, as labels, are acutely aware of the demands on an artist these days, so we look to make sure that we manage that for them.”
Caroline Dinenage MP, a former Culture minister, raised the impact of TikTok on artists, noting the “massive pressure that Lewis Capaldi has been under recently’.
“We have a lot of conversations about what that means in terms of expectations of content, how fast you have to put content out, different varieties of content,” said Carsen. “We are putting a much greater emphasis on the mental health pressures that all artists face, but particularly women as well.”
Mentoring and coaching can address imposter syndrome, which we know happens more for women
The recent experience of independent artist Billy Nomates on social media, with negative reactions to her Glastonbury set in user comments on the 6 Music Twitter feed, was also raised during the hearing.
In terms of the environment at labels, the executives highlighted a turnaround from previous decades.
“I think it's safe to say that the industry has changed,” said Mann. “Have I experienced misogyny in the music industry? I believe I absolutely have. I think at the start of my career there were decisions made specifically around my gender, and not around how good I was at my job.
“What I would say is, speaking just solely on Universal, what I've seen is quite a dramatic transformation from when I joined the company 14 years ago, when we had several amazing women in the label I was working at, who then had children and did not return to the workplace.
“Standing here right now, I can honestly say that I can't believe that would ever happen in the company. In fact, loads of women at Universal go on maternity leave and get promoted, myself included – I've been promoted twice and I've been off on mat leave. We've got seven out of 10 frontline leaders who are women, including the presidents [Rebecca Allen and Jo Charrington] of the biggest record label, EMI, which just won record label of the year [at the Music Week Awards].
“Do I think everything is perfect right now? No. Do I think it's a marked difference from when I started out in the industry? Absolutely.”
Gender bias and mentoring
Mann has pioneered the Bystander To Upstander training, which is being undertaken by every employee, from CEO to entry level. It covers the biases that women experience inside and outside of working life, and explains how to address and challenge them. Mann acknowledged that a few staff members were not receptive to the concept.
Speaking about her own experience of misogyny, Mann said: “How I overcame that was by being a bit gobby and calling it out. I did that because I had the safety of knowing that I had a great boss, who was also a woman. I had great connections within the industry of allies that I knew would back me and would say, ‘This is outrageous behaviour and you wouldn't be treating this person like that if they were male.’
“What I take from that now in this role is that the importance of role modelling can't be overstated. And I mean that not just for women, I mean that also for men in the industry. I think it's as important for men to be calling out misogyny as it is for women.”
Sony’s anti-harassment and bullying policy sets out the rights of every employee, and obligates every employee to report abuse. There are a number of avenues for artists and staff to report incidents or concerns about inappropriate behaviour, including formal grievance processes and anonymous helplines.
Mann emphasised the importance of anonymous hotlines at Universal for women to report bullying and harassment.
Harassment in music
While the inquiry has previously heard worrying evidence about predatory behaviour, the major label executives suggested that it would be acted upon immediately at a major. Asked about the numbers of harassment cases, all reported numbers in single digits over several years that usually led to the individual in question exiting or being suspended.
“I cannot believe that the people that we work with would not call it out, either anonymously, or via one of the safe spaces… community groups, mentoring, HR, etc,” said Mann of predatory behaviour. "I think the industry has changed dramatically. I believe that there is not a select powerful few who are being protected. I believe that the industry is thriving because of collective greatness, and you can feel that when you go into labels – you can see it's about a team, it's not about A&R an superstar, or a president.”
Artist behaviour is also acted upon, Mann told MPs.
“In my time at a label, I have had an artist who we felt was not somebody that we wanted to be in business with, because of the way they were behaving, and they were let go,” she said.
Garvey said that had also happened at Warner Music.
“At Warner Music, UK, we have really rigorous strict policies particularly around anti-harassment,” she added. “Where we think there has been inappropriate behaviour, we're not afraid to terminate employment.”
However, there was acknowledgement that those in freelance roles may not have the same protection.
“I think it's super-important that if you're not within the more comfortable confines of a record label, where we have all of this rigour, that there is a place to go to lodge a complaint about harassment,” said Garvey. “So I think we owe it as leaders in the industry to help support that.”
Warner Music’s Supplier Code of Conduct applies to all third-party recording studios, licensees and advisers and requires that they adhere to non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
We are sponsoring huge swathes of female talent that's coming through at the moment
Speaking about the evolution of the sector, Garvey said major labels are now “a very different culture that is very inclusive and very thoughtful in how it thinks about the future and how we balance things”.
Warner Music offers shared parental leave as part of its family policies.
“I think you have to hire as many women as you can for every level of the company,” said Carsen. “You have to then retain them, and how Sony has done that is trying to put in some really industry-leading, female-friendly policies. We have a childcare policy where we pay up to £15,000 for childcare, to try and get people to stay in the industry that's tapered so you get less as you earn more, but particularly supports younger women.”
“As a senior female leader, you want to see female representation throughout the company at all levels,” she added. “Training is key for women, as well as having mentoring and coaching as you get more senior. That is really really helpful for confidence, so that you can address things like imposter syndrome that we know happens more for women, and try and make sure that you've got a really supportive environment.”
Gender pay gap
The executives each described a leadership team that was broadly balanced in terms of gender, following senior appointments in recent years. Sony Music, for example, now has 55% of its record labels and divisions led by women. Warner Music is targeting a 50:50 balance at senior level by 2025.
However, there remains a persistent pay gap.
“I think ours is the most disappointing, so I will call that out now,” Garvey told MPs. “What we have to remember in this is they're based on headline numbers. They're a snapshot in time and organisational change can have a big impact.
“We've forensically examined our pay gap because of the alarming headline number. We're hugely encouraged by what we're seeing in the quartiles underneath… I think it shows a real commitment to progress but also a huge generational and cultural change. So there's a generation coming through now that are hugely talented and we're putting all of the support in there, be it family, parental leave or training to make sure that we retain that talent and that they start to fill those all-important roles in the upper quartile.”
Mann highlighted the impact of A&R roles on the pay gap and how that is changing.
“We have recently started up a Women In A&R programme,” she said. “I cannot overstate what a well paid part of the business that [A&R] is. It is very likely that, at a record label, an A&R might be better paid than the managing director, as an example. It's largely male and we have to address it.
“The end goal is to get more women into the A&R department, alongside the on-the-job learning of being mentored. One of the things that was a barrier to A&R is that the jobs don't get advertised, and also it can feel off-putting if you just see no one that looks like you.”
“You see these numbers being swayed by senior leadership roles,” said Carsen. “So what we have done recently is put a big focus on – as the others have alluded to – more senior women in the record labels. That really is a huge part of changing the industry for the future.”
Read the latest gender pay gap report here.