As Billboard began preparing the 2018 Women in Music issue, two previous Executive of the Year honorees — perennial contenders for the distinction — asked to be removed from the running in order to make room for other rising stars. We liked the idea so much that we have established a Women in Music Executives Hall of Fame.The first five inductees — all groundbreaking role models who have already received the top honor, some more than once — offer their hard-won insights on leading the industry to a more diverse and inclusive future.
Chairman/COO, Atlantic Records
The vanguard label chairman on the essential importance of women mentors
I’ve been hitting the speaking circuit lately — colleges, young women in this industry — and I’m meeting so many great women in their 20s who don’t have a front-row seat, who don’t have someone they can look up to or go to for advice. I hit them with the realness and directness, and I give them my I-was-a-fish-out-of-water story. Because there’s so much pressure right now — student loans are crazy high, and everyone’s worried about the job market — and I want them to know you can all-of-a-sudden bump into a career that you weren’t thinking you were going to have.
I wanted to go to law school when I took a summer job [in the early 1990s] as Lyor Cohen’s assistant [at Rush Artist Management]. I had to sit on the arm of Lyor’s couch — I didn’t have a desk. When Rush was winding down the management company, Lyor told me, “There’s an opportunity upstairs in the promotions department at Def Jam” [where Cohen was president]. Once I moved upstairs, I was actually allowed to sit on the couch — that’s how I knew I got promoted.
Lyor [now global head of music at YouTube] was an amazing champion and mentor who really pushed me to take risks. But we need more women mentors: As I said in my [2017 Executive of the Year] speech at the Women in Music event, 10 years from now, I want the person being honored to be able to say, “My mentor was a she.” That’s what I want to change.
It definitely doesn’t feel like the Old Boys’ Club when you walk around the Atlantic offices today. I have 10 department heads who are women. There’s strength in numbers. The photo [see Atlantic’s entry in Billboard‘s annual list of most powerful female music executives, live at 6 p.m. on Dec. 6] was shot in our lobby, and it was incredible: the sisterhood, the camaraderie, the feeling of having people on staff walking in and being able to say, “This is your senior team. This is who we’re hoping you aspire to be.”
We need more women in positions of power. We need more women to have role models that are supportive, open, honest, direct. That’s the goal.
— As told to Joe Levy
Executive vp/executive management board member, Universal Music Group
The music-biz veteran on the pitfalls of feminine conditioning: “Self-imposed perfectionism is our worst enemy”
As a young woman, one of the most enduring lessons in leadership for me came from Gloria Steinem’s example. Gloria reinforced a vital lesson that, for the time, was radical — showing me how women can effect change in a male-dominated society and making clear the leadership role we must play in improving the world.
That takeaway has guided so much of my life and the way I view myself, my activism and my career. Without a doubt, I am indebted to my mother and father for so many important life lessons, and I have been blessed with additional brilliant role models and mentors. Brought up by my parents to be gender-blind, I was determined to never let being a woman be a barrier to success in any job.
Even so, through my career, I also have come to understand why so many women, especially those who are family caretakers, have found the late nights and travel demanded of a music career so challenging. To ensure we don’t lose a future generation of women leaders in music, our industry must find more balance and flexibility. There remains much to accomplish, and so many more changes will be required, before we can ever be as diverse and representative as the world around us.
At the same time, I’m more optimistic than ever. Opportunities for women are improving, and addressing diversity is top priority — in our industry, as well as others. In music, I see a generational shift taking place. However, we need this new generation to see more women in leadership roles, and that’s not going to happen when only 2 percent of credited music producers of popular songs are women, according to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
For lasting change, we will need to see these gains accelerate and continue well into the future. On a personal level, we must encourage young women to take risks, be vocal and ask tough questions. Self-imposed perfectionism is our worst enemy, but you can’t be afraid of making a wrong decision, having an isolated opinion or failure. If you are, you’ll be paralyzed. Learn from your mistakes, and at the end of the day, you will make more right decisions than wrong ones.
I am so fortunate to be among the women in our industry who have risen to the highest levels of leadership. However, it’s now our responsibility to lead by example and to ensure the next generation of women leaders in our industry continue to have even more opportunity for success.
Gloria Feldt, former president/CEO of Planned Parenthood, argues in her 2010 book, No Excuses, that women must take a direct role in effecting change. She writes: “So here women are today, at this moment of unlimited possibility, ours for the taking … There are challenges, yes. Roadblocks, yes. Impediments, yes. Injustice and unfairness, yes. But there are no limits to what we can envision ourselves doing and no boundaries to what we can dream and achieve.”
Board of directors, Amazon
The former chairman/CEO of MTV Networks on how cable TV’s early days helped shatter the glass ceiling
I always considered myself lucky to be anywhere near music — anywhere near the artistry and the creative process of exposing it to more people. But I remember at one of my first industry events in the ’90s — a charity lunch at the 21 Club — I was waiting for someone when an executive walked in and handed me his coat. To hang up.
I respected coat-check people too much to drop it on the floor.
More than one guy did this. It was a different time and place, and if you were a woman who went to anything involving leaders in the music business, you would rarely see someone who looked like you.
When cable TV launched [in the early ’80s], it was considered an unlikely experiment — not as cool or as important as broadcast. Much like any new format, any new platform, the reaction was, “This is probably nothing.” But cable was hungry for content and didn’t pay as well — so there was a lot of opportunity for women and other people who weren’t typical, who were willing to take a risk, who were driven to challenge the status quo.
There were a lot of us together [at MTV, where I started as a copywriter in 1981] with not a lot of resources and a lot to accomplish — and we were all running into headwinds. As a woman, you could say 15 things before a guy would say one, and no one would hear it until he said it. But my feeling was, “OK, you have to say 16 things.” Minds and unconscious bias needed to change. As I gained privilege, I tried to share it. My company was new; there was no training for what we were doing. There wasn’t a long history or a legacy to be hobbled by like there was in the music industry. Eventually, people would come to MTV Networks — political figures, industry people — look around and say to me, “There are so many women here!” Doing jobs not traditionally associated with women. Speaking with authority.
I remember being at rehearsals for the Video Music Awards in the 2000s and thinking, “Look at all the key production roles held by women”: Beth McCarthy-Miller was directing, Salli Frattini was producing. Everyone working that stage was a woman — Carol Donovan and Kathy Flynn, Patti Galluzzi, and many more.
Change is slow. It takes time. But there is progress, and there is optimism. And we hang up our own coats.
— As told to J.L.
BOZOMA SAINT JOHN
Chief Marketing officer, Endeavor
The branding badass and former Apple Music executive breaks down why diversity matters — and how white men can help advance the cause
It’s very important that our leadership reflects our audience and that it represents all kinds of diversity. This isn’t just a good thing to do. It’s a must-do to make sure our businesses are healthy.
The issue isn’t just getting representative people into the business — it’s keeping them in the business. So we’ve got to create support networks that allow for dialogue about the challenges of being one of few — or the only one — within your team. We have to make sure there are safe spaces to discuss and come up with solutions. The key isn’t just women helping women, but also men helping women and recognizing we’ve got to make sure there’s more balance in our boardrooms and our decision-making processes.
This isn’t just about diversity — it’s about inclusion: “Are my ideas, my opinions, my experiences as a black woman seen as important? When I react to a strategy or a business proposal with a difference of opinion, is that opinion going to be validated in the way that my white male counterparts’ would be?” Most of the time, the answer is no. And the white men in the room, who are usually in charge, need to be aware of this. They need to get out of their comfort zones and listen to the opinions of those whose experiences are very different than their own.
— As told to J.L.
Chairman/CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group
The first woman to run a major global music company offers an industry wide call to arms: “No more excuses”
Together, many of us in the industry — women and men alike — are taking action to shape a new future. Today, we are working to build a balanced, diverse, inclusive business and a better world through music.
Music is a powerful force for change. In the same way that artists use their voices to shape culture, our industry should be ahead of the curve in fostering equality. To create meaningful change, we need more global opportunities for all women to rise to the highest levels — executives, artists, songwriters, engineers, producers and beyond. Isolated instances of women in top executive and creative roles aren’t enough.
Through sisterhood and community, women have power in numbers. We are stronger together. And now more than ever, we need each other. Women have to support and empower one another.
Here is my advice: No more excuses — be ambitious. Embrace your power. Say what you want so you can achieve it. Trust your instincts.
Change is happening. As the first female global chairman of a major music company, I am proof of that. Generations of women have paved the way. Today, there are women running music companies — serving as top lawyers, agents, managers and more. We are moving toward true gender equality and changing the narrative. Let’s celebrate women’s successes today and open doors for new generations to rise.
Writing history takes time. There is a lot of work to be done, but it’s important not to lose sight of our progress. As females in historically male-dominated industries, our shared perspective creates unity. With mutual understanding and compassion, we can work together and help each other succeed.