Recording Academy Diversity Task Force Report Reveals Need for Reform

At the 2018 Grammy Awards, only one woman winner, Alessia Cara, appeared on TV. When Variety asked Recording Academy president Neil Portnow about the #GrammysSoMale controversy, another arose.

“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level,” he said. “[They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.”

Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb, singer Reba McEntire, singer-songwriter Aimee Mann and actor Carrie Fisher were among the female winners during the pre-telecast ceremony. Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar were awarded best rap/sung performance for their collaboration “Loyalty.” The issue was not that women were not “stepping up” — it was that they weren’t given the spotlight when they did.

This lack of representation sparked former first lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff Tina Tchen to create the Recording Academy Diversity Task Force to investigate the Recording Academy’s diversity practices. Those on the Task Force are all women and music industry professionals. The report, which came out this week after 18 months of evaluation, showed stark gender disparities.

Between 2015 and 2018, 71% of the national governance committee members were men, while only 29% were women. Between 2015 and 2017, the members of the nomination review committees were 74% men, 26% women. Both of these committees play important roles central to how the Academy operates and who it recognizes.

“Clearly, these committees are vitally important,” the report says. “The national governance committees help set policy for the Academy, while the nomination review committees play a key role in the nominations and awards process that is so central to the Academy’s identity. However, despite the indisputable importance of these committees, they have historically not included members that reflect the demographics of society at large.”

It also broadly calls out the entire industry for being exclusive.

They attributed the industry’s lack of representation of marginalized groups to a number of factors:

    • Underrepresentation of women in the music industry, particularly within the industry’s technical fields.
    • Prevalence of harassment, discrimination, and/or assault as a result of informal or isolated work environments.
    • Restriction of airtime or participation by female artists, particularly in country music.
    • Underrepresentation of individuals of lower socioeconomic means due to high costs of entry.
    • Lack of equal access to resources for disabled individuals.
    • Marginalization of certain ethnicities into particular roles or genres.
    • Phasing out of older generation music industry professionals.

The 47-page report offers recommendations on how the Academy should move forward to  include members that are reflective of the population at large. Some of these suggestions include publicly reporting on demographics of employees in different levels of seniority, reaching out to diverse communities, restructuring its Board of Trustees and setting diversity goals to “ensure that music creators from the broadest range of ages, backgrounds, genders, genres, crafts, and regions are fully represented within the organization’s leadership,” The report specifies how women are underrepresented in technical fields like engineering and producing and recommends outreach to encourage girls and women to pursue them.

It also lays out practices to ensure action, transparency and accountability.

    • The Academy shall take all necessary steps to ensure that (1) the Chair, President, and Board must make best efforts to ensure that the national governance committees and nomination review committees are diverse and reflect present societal demographics with respect to race and gender; and (2) the Academy will strive to have equal representation on the committees (separately, and in the aggregate) as between women and men.
    • To the extent the Academy is unable to meet these goals based on its internal sourcing, the Academy will consult with external industry sources, such as Task Force members, to identify qualified, diverse candidates.
    • The Academy should revise the mission statement on its public website to include language reflecting its commitment to diversity in the music industry.
    • The Academy shall take formal action committing itself to consider issues of diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization. This action, regardless of the form it takes, should include a commitment that the Academy will consider a diverse slate of candidates before making a hiring decision for any open position for which the Academy seeks applicants from the general public or from a search firm.
    • The Academy should hire an outside law firm or consulting firm to conduct a review of all of its existing policies on sexual harassment, diversity, workplace culture, and working family benefits, and implement reforms—to the extent necessary—to ensure that it has a compliant, inclusive workplace culture. In this regard, the Academy should also strive to provide more regular, cutting edge training on issues of workplace discrimination and harassment.
    • The Academy should adopt a policy committing to publicly report on the demographic composition of its workforce, including across different levels of seniority.

It even suggests the Board of the Academy is removed from today’s culture and what appeals to diverse listeners. As it stands now, the Board of Trustee members are elected by the Chapters, which has led to the organization being an exclusive boys’ club. The Task Force calls for reform of this funnelling process.

“The Chapters essentially have become silos, and it has resulted in a Board that is not diverse, is not independent, and is perceived by some underrepresented members (and non-members in the music industry) as out of touch.”

Recording Academy President and CEO Deborah Dugan took over Portnow’s position in August. In a statement, she said the Academy is seeing improvement and plans to implement these suggestions.

“The mission of the Recording Academy is to serve and advocate for music creators from all genres and of all genders and generations,” she said in the statement. “We have recently made tremendous progress and I’m proud to report that our leadership team is currently 50 percent female and that the 2019 Academy membership class is the most diverse in our history. However, there is still work to be done. We are deeply committed to continuing to implement the Task Force’s recommendations and building a community that is truly representative of our diverse and dynamic creators.”

In a statement, Tchen also thanked the Recording Academy for cooperating through the process and being transparent.

“We are also so grateful for the full cooperation and participation of the Recording Academy at every step, and are encouraged by the commitment to change they announced today,” she said.

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