Music Business

Sexism In The Music Industry – When Women Lean In, Others Need to Listen Up [Emily White]

O-GENDER-EQUALITY-SIGN-facebookEmily White writes about the troubling reality of sexism in the music industry, and how even companies which purport to promote gender equality in the workplace, are often guilty of indirect sexism.


Guest post by Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment and Dreamfuel via Zieley Magazine.

I have had my ass grabbed in the workplace, which most agree is essentially wrong. Most people also agree with equal pay for equal work, no matter a person’s gender. A big talking point this election year promotes extended family leave. In the meantime, women in business have been told to “Lean In” to get ahead.

Yet it is the indirect sexism in business, often by liberal leaning companies, that can be the most harmful to both the people involved and the work at hand.

I have been VERY fortunate to experience minimal sexism in my music industry career. I do not see gender in the workplace, and I credit growing up as an athlete  to be a considerable influence. If I could beat the boys in the pool, why would it be any different on land?

Sadly and recently, I have come across sexism that is not as blatantly illegal as getting my ass grabbed at work, but is sexism nonetheless. I run into it  in meetings  when people ask how we can get to someone in the industry. I respond by letting them know I have a great relationship with that person and I am happy to make that call. Yet the conversation keeps going, “But how do we ‘GET’ to that person!?!” Huh?

BookI suppose that is why Sheryl Sandberg, activist, author and Chief Operation Officer of Facebook, whom I admire from afar, has told us to “Lean In.” But in reality I think the ones asking the questions need to “Listen Up” when women speak or give opinions in meetings and in the workplace.

I recently told a colleague who I consider a more “educated” feminist than myself about this. She was a Women’s Studies minor in college and is active in feminist groups. (A reminder for people who still fear the F­word, feminism merely means equality between the sexes, which we are  all for, right?). My colleague said that feeling like my experiences, connections, and ideas sometimes fall on deaf ears in meetings was very common for women. Time and again she has witnessed women giving ideas in pitch meetings, but not getting credited  for those ideas in the end.  Alarmingly, many of those meetings occurred at companies which pride themselves with being warriors for social justice. The New York Times recently wrote about this phenomenon in academia as well.

I own an entertainment company, and last week I advocated for one of my artists. Even in this day of streaming doom and gloom, the artist makes significant income on his  master recordings. A label wants half of that income in perpetuity for no advance when the artist paid for the recordings. They also refuse to have a direct to consumer sales portal available, despite being a new label in a very specific genre. It is still intellectually mind blowing to me to not collect data from willing fans who are customers, so labels and artists can sell music to them in the future. I wrote about this years ago.

Yet when I raised these points, instead of responding with any sort of  business acumen, the label beelined to the artist to complain about his “condescending” manager’s “tone.” What? I have always reveled in business and intellectual debate. I find it unprofessional  to be name called to a client in response for doing not only what is right for the artist, but frankly what makes sense. “Condescending” and “tone” are words rarely associated  with my male counterparts.

When this was pointed out to the label, I was accused of being disrespectful to “actual victims of sexism.”

So we can work towards paying women the same as men, we can give both men and women time off when they have children. We can ensure situations are free from gender­based stereotypes, violence, and harassment, which is all clearly important!

But if we truly want equality and wish to help women in the workplace, when they do “Lean In” with ideas, listen up! And give them FULL credit for their work. Before you speak with a woman to discuss her tone, think twice. Would you have this conversation with a man in the workplace? Are you disconcerted by women standing up intellectually in thought provoking ways? Do you respond the same way to women as you do when men push back in a negotiation?

I want to be paid the same as my male peers and I look forward to that day. So as we work towards equal pay for equal work and ensuring other commensurate opportunities, in the meantime,can we treat each other fairly? Listen to the  ideas of each person? Give credit where credit is due? Eliminate the word “tone” altogether? That is the world and business culture I want to live and work in.

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  1. “..feeling like my experiences, connections, and ideas sometimes fall on deaf ears in meetings was very common for women[..]women giving ideas in pitch meetings, but not getting credited for those ideas in the end. ”
    Uh, you don’t realize this is the same experience for many men as well ?! Not EVERYTHING is about sexism or equality, you know.It’s often just a matter of hierarchy, company structures, ignorance in general, colleague jealousy etc etc.In other words, some things are just about the normal, stupid things that working in a company comes with, no matter if you’re a man or a woman.

  2. ““Condescending” and “tone” are words rarely associated with my male counterparts.”
    I dunno… I’m a male and I’ve often been told ( by other males) I could be very condescending at times…

  3. Lean in is shitty “victim platform as leverage” to stand on. Add value. The gender wage gap has been disproven by non partisan women.
    The shitty pay we experience on the indie level is due to kakaonomics.

  4. It’s disappointing when men can’t read or hear a woman talk about their everyday experiences with sexism and unconscious bias, without getting their defenses up and taking it personally. To paraphrase Melissa McEwan, the very idea that gender bias is a matter of opinion is itself a sexist concept.
    Gender bias exists like gravity exists; you may not see it happening, but trust women when we tell you it’s not the sky falling. What you call a difference of opinion would more accurately be described as an inability (or worse, an unwillingness) to see. Men have the luxury of not having to see gender bias. That’s a privilege (yeah, I know…another word you don’t want to hear or think about, but it literally means you have the privilege, as a man, of not having to think about it). You can more easily choose not to see it – or in this case, not to hear or think about what Emily is saying – because you don’t have to live with it. That’s a luxury, and I don’t begrudge you that! But I’m grateful and I guess, lucky, to know many men who are interested and empathetic enough to have at some point in their life consciously chosen to open their eyes to the life experiences of women.
    If at some point you decide you’d like to broaden your perspective and attempt to understand things outside the realm of your experience as a man living in this sexist world – good news! Scientists have done the hard work for you – conducting and publishing the results of countless studies proving gender bias is real, and not the subjective concept you wish (probably with good intent) it to be. And this from a field itself plagued with gender bias:
    So…do some reading on the latest studies in gender bias if you require objective proof. “It’s Science!” 😉 Or, you know, you could have some conversations with the women in your life, which may prove to be surprising, eye-opening and even consciousness-broadening. The sky is not falling, Chicken Little!
    With Respect, Keri

  5. Emily, I think your treatment of the topic is largely anecdotal, and as a result, flimsy. I wish you would offer some concrete information, some real statistics from hard research, surveys, actual data, etc. Instead, this approach makes it impossible to tell whether your experiences were based on actual bias, or just the generally crappy way people treat one another in business situations (professionally or otherwise). Maybe you’re incredibly condescending, who knows? Just relaying personal stories, from one side, I fear discredits the points you’re trying to make.

  6. I agree there is a huge amount of sexism in the music business, as exemplified by countless panels at Pollstar and Billboard where old white men have told lude, misogynistic stories about the good ole days.
    Having said that, this post fails to do it justice. The below article in which Hillary complains about Bernie’s “tone” shows that tone is not a gender-specific term. I myself (a man) have told other men that I don’t appreciate their tone. The sad reality is that people in the music “business” are often bad at business. Emily, you are sharp and forward-thinking. Given how long you’ve been doing this, I’m surprised that you are surprised others are not.

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