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Women In the Music Business: Mind the Gender Gap

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Working in the music business has always been my dream. It all started with Neighbours-star-turned-pop-princess Kylie Minogue (don't judge me). Sat in the Birmingham NEC Arena aged five, I was dumbstruck as she belted out hits 'Better The Devil You Know' and 'The Locomotion'. I was hooked. Later, in my early teens, I papered my bedroom walls with the face of Taylor Hanson (again, don't judge me), and decided I'd be the editor of Smash Hits when I grew up.

Well Smash Hits is sadly no more, but fast-forward to the present day and I am fortunate to work in a job I love in the music business. I worked hard at university to earn a Music Industry Management degree (yes that's actually a thing), learnt the art of making a decent cup of tea on more work experience placements than I care to remember, and ultimately landed a job at the organisation that supports the UK's independent record labels, the Association of Independent Music (AIM). I've earned my stripes at the organisation over the last eight years, and my current role is Marketing and Events Manager, with responsibility for the AIM Independent Music Awards. It's a great job.

For me it was that simple, as it should be, but the bigger picture of the music industry shows a worrying gender imbalance, particularly at senior levels. Creative & Cultural Skills report that the gender divide across all music industry related jobs is 67.8% male to 32.2% female. PRS for Music report that their membership of over 95,000 songwriters and composers is only 13 per cent female. AIM's 2012 membership survey revealed that only 15% of label members are majority-owned by women. Statistics consistently show that women in music earn less than their male counterparts. Despite the music industry signing up to UK Music's Equality and Diversity Charter at the beginning of 2012, there is little sign of things improving.

I have numerous female friends working in the music industry; bright, hard-working, late-20s women who are passionate about their jobs. In almost all cases they are finding themselves languishing in the same role year after year, passed over for promotions and pay rises, with their bosses blaming 'the economy'. Meanwhile many male friends who entered the industry around the same time have moved into managerial and senior level roles. Are women lacking the confidence to push themselves forward for these opportunities, or is sexism inherent behind the scenes in the music industry? I suspect it's a bit of both.

There has been a wealth of headlines in recent years about female artists 'dominating the charts', suggesting the outlook is better on the artist side of the business. Articles reference various multi-million selling albums from female artists including Jessie J and Florence and the Machine, and of course who could escape the global success of Adele and Emeli Sandé.

But female artists are increasingly speaking out about the gender discrimination and sexism they experience. Canadian singer Grimes recently posted on Tumblr saying "I'm tired of men who aren't professional or even accomplished musicians continually offering to 'help me out' (without being asked), as if I did this by accident and I'm gonna flounder without them." Erika Forster of electronic act Au Revoir Simone recently commented on how she and her band mates are frequently mistaken at gigs for groupies or the 'merch girls'. And earlier this month opera star Katherine Jenkins was branded a diva and ridiculed by press and 'industry insiders' who claimed she had been dropped by her label for spending £1,500 a day on hair and make-up. Marina and the Diamonds, Solange Knowles, M.I.A and numerous other female acts have spoken out about encountering sexism in the industry.

So what is the music industry doing, and what could it be doing, to address the gender gap and sexism that exists? UK Music's Equality and Diversity Charter is a really positive step, but whether the many organisations and companies that signed up to it will actually take action, I'm not sure. PRS for Music have been active in organising events for women in the industry, and a number of informal networking groups have become established. The 30 Percent Club, whilst not focused on the music industry, is working hard to get more women onto corporate boards, with some exciting initiatives underway to make this a reality.

AIM, thankfully, is working hard to address the music industry gender gap. I am fortunate to work for one of the UK music business's few truly powerful women, AIM Chairman and CEO Alison Wenham, who received an OBE recently for services to the creative industries. Alison has taken an active role in encouraging women from AIM's membership to develop their careers and businesses, and to stand for the AIM Board. It's working: four of the five candidates standing for our board at next month's AGM are women.

Part of my role at AIM is to organise our annual 'Women in Music & Entertainment Evening', which is taking place in London on Monday. The idea is to bring together women from across the music and wider creative industries, and inspire them to develop their confidence and make strong business connections. Speakers at the event have previously included MOBOs founder Kanya King, legendary broadcaster Annie Nightingale and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman amongst many other inspiring and successful women. This year we are thrilled to have Jo Whiley and artist Little Boots confirmed to speak at the event. (Full details are here.)

I hope the event makes a difference to those who attend, I hope it inspires women to pursue their music industry ambitions and achieve success. AIM has many more ideas in the pipeline for initiatives to address the gender gap in music, so watch this space. If you have any ideas or would like to get involved in some way, please do get in touch, or join our LinkedIn group for Women in Music here.