Minding the Gap: Why Targeted Action is Still Needed
I want to mark this year’s International Women’s Day with reflections on what we’ve learnt from the gender equity programs I’ve led in the UK and the US over the past 12 years. I also want to use this opportunity to celebrate the incredible women and gender-expansive creators these initiatives have supported. Back in 2011… Read more »
I want to mark this year’s International Women’s Day with reflections on what we’ve learnt from the gender equity programs I’ve led in the UK and the US over the past 12 years. I also want to use this opportunity to celebrate the incredible women and gender-expansive creators these initiatives have supported.
Back in 2011 when I launched the UK’s first dedicated fund for women, trans and non-binary music creators, the gender gap in music was not widely recognized. Some people – including composers who wanted to be identified first as artists rather than women – did not welcome a fund which prioritized some gender identities over others. Whilst I acknowledge and understand this point of view, the results of the programs I’ve been a part of demonstrate that intentional, targeted action works for artists seeking support, and this is a fact we can’t overlook.
- My colleagues at PRS Foundation celebrated 12 years of Women Make Music (the fund we launched in 2011) with an event and evaluation that demonstrates the ongoing importance of targeted programs for women and gender-expansive artists. This fund has supported a total of 382 creators, with 83% confirming they would not have been able to realize their activities without the fund. 98% believe that this form of support is still needed. 45.5% were women of color, highlighting that the fund’s gender equity focus also supported intersectional inclusivity.
- The team now driving the Keychange initiative I co-founded with European and Canadian partners in 2017 recently shared evidence of the progress made through the Keychange gender equity pledge and talent development program. In their words, “what gets measured gets done” The pledge has now attracted over 600 signatory organizations committed to dramatically increasing representation of women and gender-expansive artists on their stages or in their organizations, 64% have surpassed their targets and this program has supported over 280 artists and industry professionals with mentoring, showcases and peer learning opportunities.
From the start, I stated that “success” for programs like these is the moment when they are no longer needed. Feedback from the community gathered via the reports I mention above demonstrates that we are not there yet. Until we see widespread structural and cultural change, along with equitable investment and endorsement led by those who currently hold the most power, progress is bound to be limited. We should also pay attention to the UN’s latest forecast that gender equity is 300 years away if we accept that the music industry is a microcosm of broader societal issues. The UN calls for urgent, collective action in the face of “centuries of patriarchy, discrimination and harmful stereotypes.”
Many of the programs we are running at New Music USA have come about because of the way these challenges show up in music.
- All aspects of the film industry, including directing and scoring, are heavily dominated by men, with men scoring 95% of the top 250 films at the US box office. Our Reel Change fund, developed with SESAC and composer Christophe Beck, aims to help shift this imbalance.
- When we launched our national Next Jazz Legacy apprenticeship program with the Berklee Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice, 58% of the albums in NPR’s jazz critics poll featured no women musicians at all.
- Music by women composers still accounts for just 11% of orchestral music commissioned in the US. Our Amplifying Voices program encourages orchestras to collaborate and diversify the range of composers they commission.
In spite of these daunting statistics, the extraordinary talent of the women and gender expansive creators who are finding a way to dedicate their lives to music is something we must celebrate today on International Women’s Day, and every day, just as we do at New Music USA.
- Listen today to this exhilarating performance by Next Jazz Legacy artists at New York’s Winter JazzFest (see below), or hear the scores of Reel Change grantees Sultana Isham, Catherine Joy and Emmolei Sankofa at festivals and on major platforms like Hulu and Amazon;
- Look out for the increasing number of women who are being commissioned by orchestras, from Pulitzer prize-winning Tania León to Courtney Bryan, Shelley Washington and Nina Shekhar
- Let’s give a shout-out to artists like Jen Shyu, Sara Serpa, Ellen Reid, Missy Mazzoli and Terri Lyne Carrington who are investing so much of their time in supporting their peers and the next generation;
- Let’s celebrate the younger women and gender expansive people taking part in initiatives like Luna Lab, El Paso Jazz girls, Girls Rock Des Moines and the Afghanistan National Institute of Music.
The success of all these creators gives us a chance to imagine an alternative future for music; music that is relevant and welcoming to more people; music that may sound different, drawing from a broader range of perspectives; music that’s truly reflective of the communities it serves. That’s the future I think we all want to see. Until then, let’s accept that targeted action is still needed and it’s one proven way of addressing the inequities that ultimately hold everyone back.