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New Annenberg Study Reveals ‘Diversity Desert’ for Music Industry Executive Roles

Black artists make up 44% of the talent on the Billboard Hot 100 chart over the past nine years and yet less than 5% of CEO, chairs or presidents of major music companies are black.&nbsp…

Black artists make up 44% of the talent on the Billboard Hot 100 chart over the past nine years and yet less than 5% of CEO, chairs or presidents of major music companies are Black. 

These stark numbers come from the new Executive Race/Ethnicity & Gender Across the Ecosystem of the Music Business study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released today that reveals a “diversity desert.”

Spearheaded by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and Dr. Carmen Lee, the study is the first of its kind to examine representation at the executive level of the music industry. The study was sponsored by Universal Music Group and covers 4,600 executives from vice president to C-suite roles across 119 companies and six industry categories. 

Beginning with the CEO, chair, and president roles across 70 major and independent music companies, only 13.9% of top executives across were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. Of that group, only 4.2% were Black and 13.9% were women.  


Of the senior management teams at nine major companies as shown on their websites, only 18.8% of executive board members were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups with 8.5% who were Black and 30.8% who were women. By comparison, half of the U.S. population are women, 14% are Black and 40% identify as underrepresented. Despite the fact that the music industry profits greatly from underrepresented artists, the research states that not one of the major music companies has an underrepresented CEO.  

“Proportional representation is always just a starting point for conversations about inclusion,” Dr. Smith tells Billboard“Until we see [better representation] there will be negative consequences and cultures that don’t create or aren’t known for their belonging. It creates a workforce crisis because people aren’t going to be drawn to organizations that don’t reflect the experiences of all of that rich talent.”

Lack of Diversity in Music Executive
Courtesy Photo

Despite the percentage of Black and underrepresented established artists on the charts, the people who most closely manage their careers are largely white and often male. However, underrepresented and Black artists were far more likely than white artists to have team members whose identities were similar to their own. Roughly 80% of underrepresented and Black artists had at least one underrepresented or Black team member, compared to less than a quarter of white artists. The study concludes that underrepresented and Black artists find it important to have team members from underrepresented backgrounds. It also means the majority of the inclusion work is being done by underrepresented and Black artists.

“The structures and cultures associated with these organizations are what need to change. That’s where the ecosystem perspective really helps to situate this conversation,” says Smith. “Everybody has to come to the table because the entire structure is set up in such a way that access and opportunity are being shut out to people that are very gifted and extraordinary in many ways. But because of how they look they’re not getting the same opportunities that their white male peers are.” 


The composition of senior management teams varied by the type of company examined, according to the data. Music groups (UMG, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group) had the greatest share of underrepresented (26.3%) and Black (23.7%) executives on their senior management teams. Live music and concert promotion companies (Live Nation, AEG Presents) had the fewest underrepresented (12.5%) executives and no Black senior management team members listed on their websites, but had the highest percentage of women team members (40.6%). Radio and streaming companies (iHeart Radio, Cumulus, Audacy, Spotify) held a middle ground between the other two categories: 17% of senior management team members were underrepresented, 2.1% were Black, and 23.4% were women.

Streaming companies, music groups and labels emerged as the leaders in hiring and promotion of underrepresented executives with a quarter of executive roles held by underrepresented individuals. Radio executives has the lowest percentage of underrepresented individuals with only 12.3%.  


For women throughout the industry, as power increased, the percentage of women in executive roles decreased significantly. This trend was primarily driven by white women’s presence in the executive ranks. More than one-quarter (26.9%) of executives were white women, with only 8.4% underrepresented women. Only 3% of executives across the industry were Black women. Across all categories, the ratio of white male executives to Black women executives is 17.7 to 1. 

“It is a rare day that any of our statistics are above 5% for women of color,” says Smith. “It is really important that we illuminate that the patterns for White women are fundamentally different than they are for women of color and Black women specifically.”

A&R divisions fared better than most in the study. A full 34.2% of A&R executives across the three music groups and independent companies were underrepresented – which is close to proportional representation with the U.S. population – and 26.7% of all A&R executives were women. 

The study suggests the industry has failed at better representation for a handful of reasons. It suggests that companies need to alter the way positions are siloed or stereotypedA serious issue is that the prototype for leadership across companies and industries continues to align with being white and male. This stems from how executive roles are defined, the persistence of traditional gender norms, and stereotypes related to race/ethnicity.  


The Annenberg Institute goes on to provide strategies for how the music industry can work on its “diversity desert.” Suggestions include companies developing specific metrics that rely on objective and measurable criteria for managers to evaluate employee performance, providing flexible pathways for employees to reach the C-Suite and fast-tracking executives through a system that provides support, mentorship, and opportunities for high-achieving talent.

The study details more about changing office culture to be less hostile to underrepresented employees. Find the full details of the study and its solutions here