Why These Execs Are Investing In Mentoring the Next Generation of Female Industry Leaders

As the industry gradually moves toward giving women more -- and better -- opportunities, those in senior leadership roles are extending a hand to the next generation, building valuable mentor relationships.

When attorney Dina LaPolt began her practice in 2001, the only female mentor she could look to for advice was a client: Afeni Shakur, mother of the late rapper Tupac. “She used to tell me all the time, ‘Wisdom comes from good judgment, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from really bad judgment,’ ” recalls LaPolt.

Since then, LaPolt has become a mentor in her own right, joining a growing group of women in senior positions supporting the next generation of female industry leadership. “We’ve been more successful at removing bias in the workplace,” says Epic Records chairman/CEO Sylvia Rhone, who alongside Atlantic Records chairman/COO Julie Greenwald and Universal Music Publishing Group chairman/CEO Jody Gerson is one of the few women executives leading a top music company. “Sony Music is now 50% women globally. But the disparity in senior-level management positions for women still needs to be addressed. Our task is to increase the pipeline for those roles and hold companies accountable.”

In an effort to do that, Atlantic executive vp Juliette Jones is launching a monthly Q&A session with her team early next year featuring female speakers. “There are a lot of women who need and want to ask real questions,” explains Jones. “We forget the access we can have with our peers and co-workers.”

Elsewhere, MAC Presents is funding a spring break 2020 program for female NYU Steinhardt students, who will spend time in Los Angeles and Nashville meeting with female executives from the major talent agencies, record labels, performing rights organizations and brand firms. “You can’t put a price on that,” says MAC Presents president Marcie Allen, who is working in tandem with co-worker and mentee Kacie Lehman. “The most valuable thing you can give someone that wants to break into the music industry is time.”

Allen and Lehman -- along with LaPolt, Jones and their respective mentees -- recently chatted about what they’ve learned on both sides of these partnerships.

Juliette Jones
Executive vp urban promotions, Atlantic Records
Natina Nimene
Senior vp urban promotion, Def Jam Recordings

Nimene: We met in 2005 while I was working at WKYS in Washington, D.C., as a promotion and programming assistant. But I was very clear that I wanted to work on the label side. I remember being so impressed the day when Juliette came in because I had never seen a woman doing national promotion before, only local regional. I felt we had an instant connection, so I asked her flat out to be my mentor.

Jones: I remember too that we bonded because you had had a lot of false starts with male executives who said they were going to hire you. But they never followed up. That touched me because I knew that frustration.

Nimene: We’ve only worked together three out of the 15 years we’ve known each other, but she has been a constant throughout my entire career. I brag about our relationship because I’m just so grateful that she took the time to invest in me. It’s very comforting to know I have someone that has my back. I also feel a sisterhood with my peers now. We have our own cheerleading squad and group chats to hold each other down.

Jones: To be able to give someone an opportunity and watch them grow is very fulfilling. But there’s still an underlying belief that there’s only one seat at the table for us. There’s a long way yet to go in terms of more women being able to put more women in key positions. I ultimately just want to be a resource.

Dina LaPolt
Founder/owner, LaPolt Law
Jessie Winkler
Attorney, LaPolt Law

Winkler: I was at Universal Music Publishing handling royalties when I met Dina in 2010. I talked to Michael Rexford, a lawyer at Universal at the time. He said I had to meet Dina, who was teaching her UCLA class. And though I had graduated from Berklee College with a music business degree, I knew it was worth taking the class just to meet Dina.

LaPolt: By the end of the class, she decided she wanted to be a lawyer. So I told her to do as many internships as she could while going to law school and to keep in contact with me. She has been a lawyer here now for four years.

Winkler: Seeing and following her lead as a woman working in the industry has just been invaluable for me. I was like, “All right, I can do this. I don’t have to go to Harvard to succeed in this industry. I can be a woman, and I can speak my mind as a woman.” The industry isn’t always supportive of women. There’s not a lot of tolerance for things like family flexibility and maternity leave. I’m on maternity leave now, and not once have I been made to feel shut out of anything or like I’m inconveniencing anyone.

LaPolt: There are two types of women: those that help pull each other up and those that actively push each other down. That’s definitely a thing in the music industry. It’s so hard to listen to women who preach inclusivity when the majority of their teams are men. I’ve called executives and artists out for that. As an industry, we have to set goals for the changes we want to see.

Marcie Allen
Founder/president, MAC Presents
Kacie Lehman
Senior vp partnerships, MAC Presents

Allen: Kacie started as an intern with us. She was part of Belmont University’s [Nashville] East-West program.

Lehman: I was working in field marketing with Red Bull. I knew someone who knew Marcie, and I got connected that way. I started full time in 2012. We used to carpool to work together in New York, and that’s when I learned a lot: listening to her take phone calls on the car speaker as we drove across the bridge. And as a brand-new employee, she was willing to put me in the room so I could just soak up everything. I’m super grateful for that access with no separation.

Allen: I was very careful from the beginning to not be overbearing, to just let her soar on her own. I guess on the flip side you could say I threw her in the deep end to see if she could swim. And she swam beautifully. She being millennial and me not, we absolutely have different viewpoints and have had heated discussions.

Lehman: Marcie’s mentorship has really been inspirational for me as I adopt the practices that I’ve learned from her over these eight years. It’s a thread for our company that we don’t take for granted and continue to perpetuate.

Allen: There are some unbelievable women in power in the C-suites now. But the next steps I want to see are more record labels, booking agencies, management companies, publishing and other industry firms being started by women. I want to see more female business owners forging the path.

Stacy Vee
VP Festival Talent, Goldenvoice; vp Artist Relations, Messina Touring Group
Sabrina Sarmiento
Executive assistant to Paul Tollett, president/CEO, Goldenvoice, and Stacy Vee; Stagecoach brand manager

Sarmiento: I first met Stacy as part of my interview process for Goldenvoice in 2017. When I transitioned from radio to festival marketing, it was definitely a learning curve. I felt out of my comfort zone. Stacy constantly stopped by my desk and checked on me. I wasn’t directly reporting to her at the time, but her amazing energy and positive attitude really made a difference that left me encouraged and inspired.

Vee: There’s no job too big or too small for Sabrina. She’s patient and proactive, open to learning and experiencing as much as she can. And when push comes to shove, she can be very tough as she stands her ground. I’m an open book, sharing everything I’m working on day-to-day so Sabrina can soak up the rhythm and the experience. You can see that she enjoys her job and is having fun doing it. That’s one of the reasons why she’s going to be successful.

Sarmiento: The most valuable lessons I’ve learned from Stacy is to be yourself, and that genuine kindness and hard work go a long way. As she continues to excel in her own career, she still manages to help me find my own strengths. Stacy empowers not just me but others around her. Being mentored has motivated me to want to share that experience with others. I love seeing people I’ve worked with killing it in their careers. It’s important to celebrate the victories of others.

Vee: We have a strong supportive and collaborative community among women and men within our organization from production to the marketing and booking departments. But I also have great supportive relationships with women outside the office, even women who are technically competitors. I enjoy a close relationship with Marsha Vlasic [president, Artist Group International], who’s been a very nurturing mentor to me. She and a few other women blazed the trail for us. I think she wishes she would have had somebody to talk to for advice, or just to listen and laugh with. Now it’s a new day. More women are proactively reaching out to help each other up so that we’re all stronger together.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of Billboard.

2019 Billboard Women in Music