When music industry executives Meg Harkins and Karen Rait discovered there wasn't a formal nod to the Time's Up coalition happening at the 2018 Grammy Awards, the women – who work as an SVP of Marketing at Roc Nation and in rhythmic promotion at Interscope/Geffen/A&M Records, respectively – decided to take action themselves. Less than a week before the ceremony, the duo founded Voices In Entertainment (VIE), a grassroots music industry analog to Hollywood's anti-sexual harassment movement.
Inspired by Time's Up, VIE spearheaded a campaign for Grammy attendees to wear white roses as a show of support for "equal representation in the workplace, for leadership that reflects the diversity of our society, workplaces free of sexual harassment and a heightened awareness of accountability," the group said in a statement. Despite the last-minute notice, artists such as Pink, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Nick Jonas, Jason Isbell, Little Big Town and Rapsody were spotted sporting white roses at the event.
With the Grammys over, VIE – whose core team members represent radio, public relations and label executives alongside on-air talent – plans to continue working to enact change in the music industry. Although Harkins stresses several times how new VIE is – "We're trying to figure out our second meeting," she says with a laugh – she is heartened by the initial responses and outreach they've received. She spoke to Rolling Stone about where the organization is going next.
What are the organization's goals for the future?
There are entertainment groups in the music industry that we've been talking to. I went to a meeting with Dr. Stacy Smith, who put out the pretty eye-opening report last week with [the] USC Annenberg [Inclusion Initiative] about the number of women who have received Grammys over the last six years and the number of female producers and writers. [The study showed over the past six years, only 12.3% of songwriters were female on average, while only 9.3% of Grammy nominees from 2013-2018 were female.] There's a really amazing group of very strong, powerful women who are involved with that. So we're talking with them. We're talking with a lot of women to find out — and figure out — the best next steps.
What tangible changes do you want to see in the music industry because of this work?
The three tangible goals for us moving forward are A. mentorship B. getting more women in the C-suite and C. education for the current group of young women in the music industry so that they can understand their worth, what their paths can be and having more women represented across the board – whether it's in production, live [events], agents [or] record executives. We need to encourage women at all points and we do that by mentoring. That's our first step.
What are the challenges to achieving those goals?
I think we're going to get the resources. Right now, it's just time. We have to organize it so that we can be very inclusive and make sure that we set new goals for this year. I'd like to see us set some concrete goals along those three pieces. There are lots of festivals; there are a lot more nights in music that are coming up. There are lots of opportunities for us to have more public moments, but I think now we need to work within ourselves to get the women who have already spoken up and been supportive that have powerful positions to help move that ball forward.
How do you see Voices In Entertainment fitting in with the Time's Up movement? Do you see yourselves working together more closely in the future?
We would love that. The most important part of the Time's Up movement is they currently have a $20 million legal defense fund. That fund is available to anyone, woman or man, who's feeling discriminated against in any industry. To me, that's a super-important [thing]. They've done the legwork to set up that fund and that takes a lot.
I'm not interested myself in running a nonprofit. [Laughs.] I would rather use the tools and the resources and the camaraderie and the sisterhood of the Time's Up movement. But this makes us stronger. That's what we'll figure out moving forward: how much we can do as the entertainment industry on the music side to work. Because it's not just about us; it's not about entertainers. It's about other women who work everywhere.
There have been many conversations in recent months about the music industry's ingrained structural inequalities, in particular where gender is concerned. How do you see Voices in Entertainment fitting into a larger conversation about the lack of parity?
Well, I'm a voting NARAS member, and I would love to see conversation open up about how voting membership requirements work. Try to address them to it be more inclusive, and try to understand how that works. But parity only happens when we have women and men at the highest levels of any organization that care about it. We've started that conversation about caring, and we have to find those people and help move it forward by not just saying, "Yes, I'll wear a white rose," but changing workplace policies and culture.
What are some challenges to enacting change in a music industry workplace?
I don't have those concerns in my workplace. I work with a lot of women in a lot of powerful positions. But those are just conversations that have to be had. If you're at a major label, you have to have it with HR. There have to be ways that we can start implementing more transparent paths for women. It's about creating more paths, and more mentorship, and making sure that we're in those paths.
Why did you personally feel so drawn to be a founding member of this organization?
It really struck a chord with me. I have a daughter, and I want to make sure that no one who has a daughter has to worry about blatant sexism – or worse – in the workplace. It lit a fire in me. I really responded to it. It's something that I'm completely passionate and 100 percent [about]. Moving forward, 2018 is my year of grassroots activism.