How Do We Make the Music Industry Fairer for Women? A Conversation with Women in Music Canada’s Samantha Slattery
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Canadian Musician.
By Michael Raine
These are interesting and potentially transformative times for women’s rights. January’s Women’s March was the largest protest in American history, with sister marches in cities and towns around the globe – including 60,000 people in Toronto – while things like pay discrepancies, misogynistic corporate cultures, and equal opportunity hiring practices are now part of the mainstream conversation.
The music industry is not immune to the inequality that faces many women in the workforce. In fact, and sadly, the music industry has had a reputation as one of the most misogynistic industries to work in for decades, and Canada is not exempt from this.
While progress has been made on some fronts, there is still a lot of work to do. For this reason, Canadian Musician caught up with the founder of Women in Music Canada, Samantha Slattery, to discuss the unique issues and challenges that women face in the Canadian music industry and how we can work together and collectively address them.
Canadian Musician: If you compare 2017 to 2007 or 1997, are there areas of significant improvement or of regression in terms equal treatment and equal opportunity for women?
Samantha Slattery: It’s interesting you ask this because I actually left Canada around 1997 to work in the U.S. and the U.K., so I have an interesting perspective because I sort of had that snapshot of when I left and when I came back. So it’s kind of a comparative before and after versus an evolution and a normalized view of it.
So, my initial thought is it’s relatively unchanged, or I would argue that it’s actually possibly regressed somewhat. My reason for that is you see a lot fewer women leading major companies now. You’d have Lisa [Zbitnew, former CEO of Sony BMG Music Canada], and Denise [Donlon, former president of Sony Music Canada] and heads of major organizations were women. You’re seeing that less and less now.
Interesting enough, some of our colleagues in other divisions of the entertainment industry, women in film and television, had learned the same thing two years ago in their research study that it was going the wrong way. Additionally, funny enough, I saw an interview last night with Sheryl Sandberg and she was saying that it’s an epidemic in North America, not just the entertainment industry or music industry. That women had a real escalation in their achievements in the ‘70s and ‘80s, arguably because of the feminist movement then, and then what you saw in the ‘90s and early 2000s is it’s like people took their foot off the accelerator or lost their focus. I’m only speculating, but maybe it’s because there was so much achievement that there was this sort of collective breadth, like “we’re OK now.”
So then when you really do look at it, it really is going the other way now and I wonder, partly, too, with these things that are happening like the Women’s March and so forth, I am seeing a lot of this as a reaction. I think there is going to be another wave of interest and focus and I’m seeing it among my younger peers where there is definitely a lot more engagement and awareness of the differences and the discrepancies and where there is a lack of equality in the industry. So I am hopeful and while I feel like it may have shifted back a bit, it’s going to start to swing the other way now.
CM: In terms of the men in the music industry, both older and younger, is there a greater awareness among them than there used to be about issues facing women or do old attitudes still prevail?
SS: I think the same thing. I feel like I am really optimistic about this generation. It seems like both the men and women seem to have a much more acute sense of equality. It’s not just gender, but generally, whether it’s socio-economic, cultural, etc. What I am finding hopeful about this next group is that it feels like everybody is very aware and that everybody should have equal opportunity. So yeah, it’s more so than, I think, my generation and definitely more so than the older people of my generation.
Like even when I started in the industry 20 years ago, you know, you come in and you feel like you just have to fit in and fit the mould and you didn’t have this sort of rah-rah voice. There are now different organizations and we all know each other and we’re all sort of aiming our compass in the same direction to try to get to the same place. Maybe through different mechanisms, but there are local chapters popping up, Women in Music is now a global organization and we have affiliates all over the world. You know, I feel like that next focus and that energy is really being put towards trying to address some of these issues, especially things like opportunity and pay discrepancies and so forth. I think that is really going to go in the right direction now and moving forward a bit better.
CM: Based on your research and own observations and experience, what would you identify as the most common challenges that are unique to, or more prominent for women entering the Canadian music industry?
SS: It’s interesting because this past week I had a Skype call with some of the other sister groups around the world, so with the U.S., the U.K., and Brazil, for the reason being that we’re all on a panel at South by Southwest together and we wanted to get our ideas together on the panel and questions and how we wanted to steer the conversation.
What I found really interesting – and we want to talk about this on our panel – is what were the differences we all experienced? One of the things I think we don’t necessarily realize in Canada, just to put a positive spin on things for a moment, is because of the nature of our society and culture, I actually think we have a slightly easier – albeit, obviously, I’m not for a moment going to think there aren’t challenges – but ours is a little easier to navigate because of things like our HR laws and societal norms and corporate culture. So it’s not ideal, but it’s better than others.
Speaking to my U.S. colleague, they have six weeks maternity leave, so at least we are doing things better than other places, which is great. I’ve thought about this at length, about is ‘there anything unique or prominent that’s specific to Canada?’ and nothing sort of struck me initially.
I think we also have the benefit that many countries don’t of things like our granting system; a system that is designed to support up-and-coming artists and also professionals and help develop entrepreneurs and help support growing companies. So I do think there a lot of things that we’re doing right, a lot, compared to other countries. So that’s the bright side. I think if you look at it globally, we’re definitely one of the leaders in that. But that is not to say there is not still a tremendous amount of work to do.
You know, I have stories from a colleague in Brazil where there is a company that I obviously won’t name, but a major music company, is dismissing women once they have children because they think they won’t work the same. It may happen here, but at least you have recourse here when things happen and, to be fair, I haven’t heard of it happening here. No one has come to me with that. So I think there is a lot better culture here for that than in other places.
CM: For women who are veterans in the industry, say those who’ve worked in it for more than 10 years, do they face unique challenges advancing their careers?
SS: I think they do. Look, our study [of women in the Ontario music industry] said that nearly 75 per cent of women who worked in the music industry in 2014 were under 40. So it’s definitely a young person’s industry. Whether that is because of the nature of the content, or because of the industry itself not necessarily being a great lifestyle fit as you get older, I think, again, there are a number of factors and I’m not going to presume to speak to anyone in particular.
But what is talked about at length among women like myself, who you’d qualify as veterans, is that as soon as you start to get to a place in your life where you want balance – whether that is with family, relationships, outside life, extracurricular, any of those things – it’s definitely a career that demands a lot of you and many of us come to it because we just have such a passion for it. So there are a lot of blurred lines between our passions and ours jobs because often they are one in the same when you work in this industry. But as you get older, you definitely want to be able to define things within your own life that are maybe not part of that, and that becomes challenging because it is a really integrated career oftentimes.
Depending on what part of the industry you work in, and I’ve been a promoter for most of my career, I’ve specifically chosen to work more in the festival area because it means that if I was working in, say, the club shows, I’d be at shows five nights a week and I have two children, so I can’t do that.
There become balance challenges, I think, more so for the women than the men. And again, that is just societal and women tend to be the ones that end up being the care givers. Again, this isn’t industry-specific, but overarching and I’m not here to say whether this is right or wrong, everyone has their own opinion, but it definitely makes it a different challenge when they start to progress their career. Many of the women we interviewed also said that the reason they left our industry, specifically, around that time as because they went to an adjacent entertainment industry, whether it was book publishing or something where it’s more nine to five so they had the ability to have that balance. So many of them were still staying in entertainment but were removing themselves from the music industry.
CM: What have you found regarding pay equity in the Canadian music industry?
SS: So the annual salaries of women in the music industry, when we did our survey, were roughly 27 per cent lower than the average. So bearing in mind how we define this, we looked at the average between men and women, and then women alone were 27 per cent less. So if you were to peg men against women, then that discrepancy would be even larger. So, unfortunately, the industry is actually worse than the national average. That’s definitely something that we as an organization are really trying to address and work out why that’s the case and how we go about trying to change that.
CM: Your survey also pointed out that over half of women said there wasn’t a women in the executive tier of their company. How do we address that opportunity gap?
SS: Another quick stat to throw in with that’s even more shocking is that of the 104 named executive positions, just 23 per cent were held by women. So, when you go to that next level, it’s even worse.
So, this one is bit challenging because this is something that even the UN is getting to the point that they’re trying to address it. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the HeForShe campaign with Emma Watson?
CM: I’ve heard of it but am not familiar with the details…
SS: Yeah, it’s more a case of just trying to articulate how complicated, I guess, the solution would be to something like that. People enormously wiser than myself are working on how it is you face that challenge. As an organization, we’re trying to look at it from a number of angles as far as what we think, practically, is really going to make a difference.
The first one we’re doing, which I sometimes get a bit of slack for but I think is the right approach still, I still stand by that, is we need to look internally first as a group. What we’re finding, for example, is when a woman applies for a job she needs to feel like she is 100 per cent qualified before she’ll even submit a résumé, whereas a man, on average, needs to feel like he is about 60 per cent qualified. So there are things like that whereby we’re sort of doing ourselves a disservice because we’re not even putting our hand up or, to quote Sheryl Sandberg again, “leaning in.” So we need to be prepared to step up and push for those roles and push for life balance and make these jobs work for us.
Another one is self-education, which is a big one for us. We have a lot of educational panels we’re doing, whether it’s Grants 101 and we just ran a production engineering workshop with six of the top engineers in the country, female producer/engineers. The Harris Institute was kind enough to give us space and we made this a free education series for women so they could start to educate themselves on production/engineering and how to go about finding one and at least the baseline knowledge so that they felt they could go into a studio and not feel silly.
So we need to be able to advocate for ourselves and for each other. So that’s one part of it, and we also need to learn about what’s out there; what grants are out there? We apply for grants in shockingly low numbers compared to men. Why is that?
Another one is networking. So I think, also, once you share that information with each other, or even just share opportunity or share support, it makes a tremendous difference.
So those are things we’re doing internally as a group of people. We also just want to keep the industry aware, both men and women at all levels, that there are pay discrepancies, beware that women aren’t reaching these positions, and companies need to understand why. I’ll give a lot of credit to Lucian Grainge and Universal Music because it’s a big mandate for them and they actually just won an award in the U.S. for this where they are actively pursuing how it is they go about promoting women internally and having them in those executive positions.
One of the things I don’t talk about often that is really important, because I want it to be done because it’s the right thing to do, but there is also a compelling economic reason, and we’re actually going to start doing some research on it this year. There is a direct correlation between women in senior roles and the financial success of businesses.
There are so many reasons why companies really need to take this seriously and look at this and understand why it’s important to address this. So we’re really trying to come at it from multiple angles. We have an ambassador program we’re developing and we’re reaching out equally to men and women. Again, we want to make sure there is an awareness and understanding and there is support and then also just really advocate for ourselves, as well.CM: Just based on my own observations, it seems there are more women in high-level positions at the non-profit music organisations in Canada than at the labels and other for-profit companies. I can think of, for example, Caroline Rioux as president of the CMRRA, Amy Terrill as executive VP of Music Canada, Doris Tay as VP of distribution at Re:Sound, and there are four women in VP roles at SOCAN. Am I correct in thinking there are more women in prominent roles on the association side of the industry than on the label and company side?
SS: 100 per cent, I think you’re absolutely right. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but to your point and thinking anecdotally about who you know and where women are succeeding, the MIAs [music industry associations], hands down, have got a much better culture for equality and work-life balance. Maybe because they’re NGOs, it makes it a little less challenging to have those balances than private companies. There have been so many changes in the record industry that everyone is really having to fight for their profit streams and their money, so to speak, so you’re often having to do the job of three or four people at these companies now where you didn’t 10 or 15 years ago.
So I think that is also partly why you’re seeing that, as well. Women, as I mentioned, are sort of stepping out of a lot of these roles around their late-30s or early-40s because they’re looking for balance and I think the MIAs are an excellent and healthy part of the culture. And I think that a lot of the for-profits, just by nature of the industry’s challenges right now overall, are making it really hard for women to succeed because the demands are such that there really isn’t any balance. It’s that way for women and men, but I think the women get hit a bit harder in those scenarios.
And in the different sectors, like we noted [in the report], production and engineering is shockingly low; it’s like five per cent female. With artist agents it’s same thing, it’s incredibly low, and promoters are very, very low, but then marketing and PR are very, very high.
The place that we really want to try to encourage moving forward is entrepreneurship because what we found is that women, when they’re actually at the reigns of the company and starting their own businesses, are incredibly successful, as are the companies. So we really want to look at how we grow that next generation of entrepreneurs.
CM: Once we’ve identified the problems, how do we forward on a policy level and also change the culture?
SS: I think because we have our granting system we’re actually in a lucky position in Canada where our policies can have a tremendous impact because there is a lot of economic decision making made at the policy level in Canada, whereas in the U.S. they don’t have that “lever” that they can effect.
In Australia and a number of other regions, the way that they issue some of their grant money or most of their grant money is that there is a gender balance requirement. I believe it’s between 40 and 60 per cent division. So it could 50/50 or it could 45/55, but that one half goes to males and half goes to females. I know they’re starting to look at that in the Canadian film industry where the grants are being allocated based on gender in an effort to try to balance that out a little bit, especially for investing in that next generation of talent or business entrepreneurs. I think that would be a really incredible policy we could affect here in Canada, or even just starting a grant, a separate stream that could grow female musicians and talent and entrepreneurs and businesses. I think that would be a huge one on a policy level that would be wonderful and have a tremendous impact.
On a cultural level, again, I think it’s one of those slow and steady things. That is why we really try to be present at a lot of industry events. It’s why we’re going to be at SXSW and Canadian Music Week and all these various events around the world and why Women in Music as a global organization keeps trying to have the conversation so, again, we don’t normalize the fact that this isn’t OK and we do need to change this. So the more women that are aware, and the more men that are aware, I find that when I was in the industry and starting out, up to maybe even five years ago, you didn’t hear [about it]. We kind of all knew-ish, but no one really spoke about it specifically and more and more so now, we’re looking at it and pointing at it and going, “that’s a problem.” So hopefully that will start to affect the culture just by nature of knowledge.
CM: Is it the same for female musicians as it is for women on the business side of the industry, in that female musicians are facing unique or worse challenges compared to male musicians?
SS: Again, this is quite anecdotal because we tend to skew more towards the professional side of things, but just working in the industry and knowing the sheer amount of female musicians that I know, I think that they face a lot more overt misogyny.
In businesses, people temper it a little bit more, even if that’s where their thinking is. They don’t feel like they can say it out loud or be quite so overt with it. I think that on the musician side, they face absolutely more discrimination outwardly than we do on the business side. And even just from the perspective of opportunities and programming, I think they have a bigger challenge than we do professionally in that if you look at things like festival lineups and if you look at the opportunities or even if you look at tour growth and so forth, it’s still very disproportionate. You still hear a lot of things like people would rather see male bands than female bands. You know, females are over half of the consumers of music, so where that thought process comes from that they don’t want to see females, I’m not really sure what that is based in but there seems to be some sort of old school philosophy that that is the case. Again, as the years go on that is not [the case], you see the Adeles and Taylor Swifts and that is absolutely not the case, it’s just making sure they have those same opportunities.
I do find that the female artists are really going out of their way to educate themselves. To understand how to read their royalty statements, to make sure they’re getting the money where it should be and stand up for each other and stand up for themselves. But I do think they face more overt misogyny than women do on the business side, absolutely.
CM: Thank you for making the time for this conversation.
SS: Of course, you’re very welcome. It’s such a big conversation and such a global problem and we’re just a part within this, but it’s overarching. It kind of comes back to how do we change this overall, culturally, within Canada and then how do you change it globally, right? So, you know, they’re really big things to think about and really big challenges and Canada is such an amazing country, as we know, from the perspective of equality. I’d love for us to be on the forefront of this, much like many other things we do. So hopefully we can come up with some really practical solutions and my hope is in another year or two we’ll do another survey and, in fact, see that the wheel is starting to go in the direction we want it to. So thank you again for even asking the questions.
Michael Raine is the Senior Editor of Canadian Musician.