Features August 9, 2016

Report: Local industry gathers to discuss gender diversity in music

Former Editor

The equal opportunities act was passed 32 years ago and Australians are still requesting intelligent recruitment practices and representative meritocracy.

Yesterday at the second annual Contemporary Music Roundtable, a panel of respected industry stalwarts and executives addressed gender diversity in music. Convened by Lindy Morrison OAM (The Go Betweens, Support Act, PPCA Board), the session did note that equal representation isn’t present in many sectors, but it was far from a male-bashing display. In fact, its panellists are now developing policies and planning recommendations to see that women have a greater representation in the Australian music industry.

Panellist Vicki Gordon, the Executive Director of the upcoming Australian Women in Music Awards, said she is disappointed at the lack of female representation in executive roles within music.

“There are still too few women working at record label managers, video directors, sound production, engineers, managing directors, CEOs, CFOs, festival directors and those represented on the boards of our various major peak and independent music bodies,” she said.

As noted by Gordon, the current music boards are represented as followed:

ARIA Board: Five men, no women

AIR Board: Nine men, no women

APRA Board: 12 men, two women

AMCOS Board: 12 men, one woman

Gordon also noted Western Australia’s One Movement festival held its inaugural business seminar in 2008 with 42 men and not one Australian female represented in the independent sector.

“It just starts to look embarrassing doesn’t it? And embarrassing for the men too,” she said.

“A commitment to gender equity is not reverse discrimination,” she added. “It is an act of commitment to readdressing imbalance. It is a consciousness that things can’t stay the same; because the Australian music industry will stagnate and look and be antiquated in a world that is culturally diverse and gender equal.”

Gordon also addressed the criticism of Sydney’s Vivid LIVE last year, when the annual showcase event featured 50 acts, but only three were women (none of which were Australian).

“Funded by destination NSW, one has to wonder why there wasn’t more concern expressed by the State Government,” she said.

Gordon ended her contribution with a message of hope: “I believe that the music industry is ready to move on this issue. We clearly have the clout and the intelligence to come to grips with gender and cultural equity and this needs to be addressed across the board at all sectors of the music industry at a policy level.

“A good place to start could be to look at the Women’s Empowerment Principles, distributed by the United Nations.”

Arwen Curson, Vice President Creative ANZ for Universal Music, holds the highest position for a woman in the Universal building aside from SVP Human Resources Asia Pacific, Janine Ashton.

Her music industry experience dates back to the early ‘90s when she was 17-years-old and working in Germany as a music promoter. Curson said that while she was working in the A&R department at a major label in the UK she experienced many problems due to her gender.

“I was basically a junior A&R at the point and everything I brought in, I was told ‘We already have this band […]’. And I knew they didn’t,” she said. “The ideas were taken away from me; and I’m not saying it was because I’m a woman – it may just have been because I’m new and that’s the way it works in A&R perhaps. But I found it really difficult.

“Then somebody very senior in the company, at a Christmas party, basically followed me to the toilet and expected me to… make out, I would say. It was almost an expectation. I was so disappointed that I left that company very soon after.”

Curson said that while 65% of the staffers at Universal Publishing are women, her experiences of suppression and sexism in the past are still a societal issue; but women in higher roles can help tackle it.

“Women need to be empowered. Middle career women need executive and higher women teaching them how they got there,” said Curson. “Women need more confidence, they need to be encouraged to know that those jobs are open to them.”

Panellist Zoe Hauptmann, bass player and Artistic Director at Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA), said she was the only female instrumentalist in her jazz course. Hauptmann has worked and toured with Missy Higgins, Tim Rogers, Paul Kelly and Tim Finn, among others, and while she said for the most part she has been treated equally, she did have some “strange” experiences.

“There was one time where a bass player was leaving quite a prominent band and had recommended me for the gig […]. The band leader said no girls on tour. So that was the end of that for me.

“Also when I was just out of jazz school I got offered a gig in China,” she added. “I had to send a video of myself playing bass because the club owner thought I was the drummer’s girlfriend and that he was trying to sneak me over.”

Hauptmann’s Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA) offers Young Women’s Jazz Workshops in NSW, ACT and WA with plans in place to extend it to Brisbane.

“In the jazz scene it’s made a massive difference,” said Hauptmann. “Even still, it’s so hard for us to get any funding, which I find incredible. […] If we want to create change the funding bodies need to start investing in addressing the gender imbalance.”

Panellist Kerry Digby, Remote and Regional Art and Community Management, has spent the last 25 years working within the arts. Her focus for the last six-and-a-half years has been on remote areas in the Northern Territory and Katherine.

Digby questioned why a major research snapshot on gender parity has not been conducted.

“There’s not a lot of stats out there, there’s not a lot of data,” she said. “It’s 2016; why is this not being brought up as a major research project?”

Later in her contribution to the panel Digby called for an increase in on-ground indigenous management in the same role she does for communities in remote areas.

“We need to tap into role models. I’m one person running a program for eight indigenous remote communities,” she said. “There needs to be 10 of me.” 

Final panellist Jana Gibson, Director of Writer Services at APRA AMCOS, said the industry body has addressed its gender parity issue in its top management roles. A year ago discussions began surrounding the fact APRA AMCOS’ top management is 100% male.

Gibson said APRA AMCOS CEO Brett Cottle engaged in focus groups within the company. 

“We came to the understanding that generally we’re pretty comfortable that we as women in the organisation are supported by our male management teams,” she said. “But that what we really needed to do was put some programs into place to help us as women decide whether we wanted to progress ourselves further.”

Women at APRA AMCOS can now apply for grants to receive exposure beyond the organisation as well as a mentoring program and a panel discussion to encourage growth and development.

Gibson said one of the biggest internal opportunities created from those focus groups is around flexibility, where staff from all levels of employment have been offered flexible working hours. 

APRA AMCOS is also addressing the low percentage of female songwriter and composers. It’s currently spearheading funding research to understand why Australia has such low numbers.

Gibson addressed Gordon’s comment on APRA AMCOS’ low number of females (two) on its board.

“We are very aware of that. As an organisation we also need to be talking to the members of our boards about how as a group we can improve that situation,” she said.

The panellists’ recommendations were put forward to the Roundtable Plenary yesterday for adoption by delegates.

In attendance yesterday was Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan. Speaking to the panel and its attendees he made note of the steps and initiatives in Victoria being taken to tackle gender parity in the music industry.

“We set 40% gender targets across all our panels, our board, our events. We have 50/50 board members,” he said. “The government has set up a sexual harassment taskforce to manage the issue and has a zero tolerance toward that.

“There’s a number of other initiatives happening such as LISTEN, Girls Rock, panels on confidence and public speaking. […] I urge everyone to follow what we’re doing in Victoria.”

Image: Arwen Curson (Universal Music), Lindy Morrison OAM, Zoe Hauptmann

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