"They are women we aspired to be when we were coming up in the industry, and set the example and tone for what it meant to be a female in this industry," Malika Quemerais, head of music partnerships for Facebook, told Billboard of the day's powerful honorees. "So for the next generation of women coming up in this industry, we want to create a supportive and inclusive environment so they can have those aspirations to do everything they want to do."
"The women in this industry really represent who we are as a company," Fadia Kader, who works on the music partnerships team at Instagram, chimed in. "We’re all inclusive, we’re all hand-in-hand together."
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The themes of inclusiveness, togetherness and community were prominent throughout the girl power-oriented afternoon. From the #empowHER hashtag written on every mirror and surface, to the dozens of female musicians, industry dynamos and more attendees engaging in encouraging conversation, the love in the air was certainly felt.
You could also feel the genuine bond between the four honorees, who embraced each other tightly upon coming face-to-face, and caught up about their busy weeks before sitting down with Billboard to discuss their illustrious careers.
"We all have history with each other," Rhone explained of her three fellow execs as she smiled at them across the couch. "A long history and a very valued history. At the same time, we don’t see each other a lot. But that sense of friendship and community and loyalty will always exist. I don’t have to see Ethiopia or Jacqueline or Gail, but I know if I need something and I have to make a call, that these women will be there for me and I can rest easy on that. That’s one thing we have to really feel proud of. We’ve developed a network of women in the business that is just as strong as the dudes think they have. And probably more honest."
"There’s a pre-conceived notion that women don’t support each other and that’s not true at all," she continued.
"It’s in our daily work and our daily actions," Habtemariam chimed in. "It’s not like, ‘Let that be our brand because it’s a trend.’ It’s who we’ve always been. They’ve been in my life and shown up for me, and I’ll show up for them."
The conversation naturally led to hyping each other up, a representation of the women-supporting-women mentality they wholeheartedly preach. "What’s really special about today is the fact that [Gail Mitchell] is being honored," Rhone said. "She has done so much not only music, but particularly for black music and particularly for women. Now she gets the chance to smell the roses. It’s way overdue. She has done incredible work and she’s an unsung hero in many ways."
Mitchell, the star interviewer-turned-interviewee, quickly expressed how moved she was by the recognition. "These three women I’ve had the opportunity to do stories with, interviews, panels with, etc.," she said. "I guess it’s a validation, because I just feel like as long as I’ve been at Billboard and as long as I will be at Billboard, it’s a platform for me to use to spread these stories and let folks know that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere."
With decades-long careers flooded with major accomplishments, it may be hard to pick a standout moment, but Saturn touchingly noted that "every single part of my career, I was just happy to be involved in it."
"I still always think back to being an assistant, you get to work so hard on something and be invited to a show, and that is the same energy I still feel now every day," she continued. "I think for people in this industry, it’s a lifestyle and it’s a passion and an opportunity wake up every day and be so proud to be a part of it."
Mitchell agreed. "With me, every day is a moment because a lot of people have boring jobs," she joked. "I never know. I could sit and make a list of what I want to accomplish every day and it doesn’t happen. Something new always pops up."
As four women who love music to their cores, and defied odds in a male-dominated industry to achieve success, their advice to young women was as inspirational as they are. "The opportunities are limitless," Rhone proclaimed.
"You really have to dream big, and you have to be fearless. You create your own opportunities," she continued. "You meet people to support you and mentor you and you choose those people around you and you develop that community and support system. But your drive and you go for whatever you believe in because it’s achievable and I am here to prove that."
Habtemariam concluded it best. "I’m just so inspired by where we are," she said. "There’s so much opportunity and a word like 'precedent' does not hold as much weight anymore because you can change the game. The rules that used to exist in our industry and society as a whole are all being broken."