As allegations of sexual misconduct continue to rock the entertainment industry, lawyers predict there could be one unintended consequence: less opportunities for women in music.
“I think people are going to think twice about hiring women and promoting women is going to be a big issue now,” says attorney Dina LaPolt, head of LaPolt Law. “If you have two people for the job — this guy or this woman — I just think the men are going to get more opportunities.”
Large, multinational corporations, such as Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music Entertainment, often have requirements for diversity hiring, but “what we need to be vigilant about is that at the smaller companies, ones that aren’t under the same vigilance, you might find a chilling effect on hiring women,” says Manatt, Phelps & Phillips partner Jeff Biederman, who practiced employment law before turning to entertainment.
“Some folks who don’t like to behave would be less likely to hire a female or minority person because of possible claims.”
LaPolt, whose clients include Fifth Harmony, Britney Spears, Deadmau5 and Steven Tyler, is more direct: “Women come now with a big liability tag because no one really understands what the standard is anymore. If some guy who’s your boss says, ‘You look great today, that’s a great color on you.’ Is that allowable? People don’t know anymore. Until everything shakes out and this thing blows over I think a lot of companies that have men at the top are going to think about which women get which job or whether to include women in the room.”
In an industry that is already male dominated — Universal Music Publishing Group Chairman/CEO Jody Gerson is the only global female head of a music company — fewer females in the room, even if they are still getting hired, means less chance for advancement at a time that already presents challenges.
“There are two parts of a promotion,” says LaPolt. “Getting the promotion and being treated like you received the promotion. I have men (as clients) who are SVPs or EVPs, who are at the decision making table and I have women who are at the same level and they are not at the table.”
Biederman says he’s already hearing about public officials in Washington, D.C. who are refusing to dine alone with female lobbyists — a trend he calls the “Mike Pence effect” due to the U.S. Vice President’s rule of not dining alone with women besides his wife — and some fear the same could bleed over into the music industry. Two male executives told Billboard they already are more cautious about having closed-door meetings alone with women.
“If you can’t get into the room, you can’t make a deal and you don’t have the same economic opportunities,” Biederman says.
The obvious antidote is hiring and promoting more women, says Susan Genco, who, along with Beth Collins, was promoted to co-president, Azoff MSG Entertainment, in November. “We cannot go backwards,” she says, “nor do I think it will be tolerated. We are awake.”
Artist manager Ty Stiklorius, whose clients include John Legend, believes companies will tilt to what’s right by “adding more women to the leadership ranks, putting new codes of conduct in place and making sure that they have zero tolerance policies in place for sexual harassment.”
There are signs that some companies are moving towards greater inclusion. In November Universal Music Group launched the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative with USC to increase the representation of women and other minorities in music. In a letter to UMG staff, UMG chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge noted that the partnership has been in the planning stage for more than a year. “As the first music company to join this important initiative, we are demonstrating our desire, as the industry leader, to accelerate efforts to promote diversity and inclusion within UMG and the broader music business,” he wrote.
WMG is also looking at ways to improve. “We need to be more diverse as a company and as an industry,” a WMG spokesperson said. “We have policies in place, as well as other initiatives currently in development, which are designed to promote greater diversity and inclusiveness.”
Sony Music said in a statement that it “celebrates diversity in its workforce, including our many dedicated women employees. We remain committed to hiring a diverse workforce and, consistent with our Code of Conduct, maintaining a workplace and culture that fosters mutual respect.”
Ultimately, LaPolt says there is only one sure way for females to make sure they reach their highest potential. “I tell every woman that I represent, ‘If you don’t want a glass ceiling, then open your own fucking company’.”