Industry veteran Jeannette Lee, co-founder/joint director of the iconic U.K. independent music group Rough Trade, last night (April 21) attacked the music industry for still being sexist in the 21st century.
Lee and her Rough Trade business partner Geoff Travis were keynote guests at Women in Music & Entertainment, the annual event organized by U.K. indie labels trade body Association of Independent Music (AIM), to raise the profile of female executives.
Lee’s participation was a major coup for AIM as she is equally famous staying low profile. This is despite her winning awards for her artist-management skills, being a pioneer of the U.K.’s punk era, and a member of PiL, the band founded by ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon.
She has been co-managing Rough Trade, which comprises the label and an artist-management business, with Travis since 1987. Beggars Group has 49% of Rough Trade. Artists developed and represented by the company, past and present, include Pulp, the Smiths, the Libertines, the Strokes and female chart sensation Duffy, signed to Universal.
Yet, during last night’s discussion at a sold-out venue, she accused the industry of still failing to recognize and reflect female talent at the management level.
“If I walk into a room with Geoff, people assume I am his PA [personal assistant],” she said. “I think men are threatened by women who are doing well, and sometimes when I walk into a board meeting, they don’t know what to say to me.”
Travis corroborated Lee’s negative experiences. “The industry still thinks of me as Rough Trade and don’t think of Jeannette as my equal partner,” he said. “It has something to do with old-fashioned sexism.”
But, he added: “It is inconceivable that Rough Trade would have been successful without her. Lennon had McCartney… Me, I had Jeannette Lee.”
Asked about other challenges of being a woman in the music, she agreed that being married and a mother can have its drawbacks. She advised existing and aspiring female industry executives that a genuine passion for music makes the difference.
“I would frequently go out to a gig and drive back at 3am and then go to work the following morning. Now, my [teenage] kids are proud of what I have achieved,” she said. “You don’t have to be flirty or be a bitch; just be good at your job.”
She admitted that keeping a low profile during has not helped. “But I’ve decided to stand up and say something or I can’t complain that I’m being left out of the story,” she said.
Rough Trade changed hands in 2007 when indie music company Beggars Group acquired it from Sanctuary.
“Entering into the Beggars Group has been good for us,” she said. “Sanctuary was into heavy metal, and they didn’t understand what we’re trying to do. Beggars understands, mainly because they had a similar start to us – with a [record] shop.”
Travis disclosed that Rough Trade employs eight women and four men, but not because of “positive discrimination.”
The keynote interview, conducted by AIM CEO/chairman Alison Wenham, was followed by a panel discussion called “Women in Independent Music.”
The debate was based on the results of a gender-profile survey by U.K. culture trade body Creative & Cultural Skills (CC Skills).
David Worthington, CC Skills’ chairman, revealed that men accounted for 66% of the music sector nationwide. In the capital, London, women represented only 30%. He attributed this to low salaries, with 47% of women earning less than £10,000 ($15,395) in the industry, compared with 35% of men.
Only 6% of women earned more than £29,000 ($44,647) compared with 22% of men. “No one can survive in London on less than £10,000 a year,” he tells Billboard.biz.
The panel also touched on the need for greater diversity, including different ethnicities, age groups, and physical abilities.
Remi Harris, AIM’s general manager, explained why she agreed to chair the new non-profit organization Alliance for Diversity in Music and Media. “After 10 years in the business, it’s only recently that I have been comfortable as a black woman in this industry to raise the issue of diversity and equality,” she said.
Panelist Doug D’Arcy, the industry veteran and AIM’s deputy chairman, said: “If the music industry is going to be any good, it has to reflect its environment and culture, which have changed in the last 40 years. The industry has to accommodate that change, and it is clear that is hasn’t.”
After the discussion, Wenham tells Billboard.biz, “AIM has six women on its board of directors [out of 16 in total]. That’s the most we’ve had in our history and we’re proud of that.”
The event was held at the London venue Cargo.