The Major Record Companies Have a Big Gender Problem - Rolling Stone
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The Major Record Companies Have a Big Gender Problem – But There are Positive Signs for the Future

A new study highlights huge gender disparities at the top of the biggest labels

Julie Greenwald and Sylvia RhoneJulie Greenwald and Sylvia Rhone

Julie Greenwald and Sylvia Rhone

Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images, Jason Szenes/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

There are 13 frontline major record label groups operating in the United States, including Nashville outposts. One of those labels, Sony’s Epic Records, is run by a woman – Sylvia Rhone. One of them, Warner’s Atlantic Records, is co-run by a woman – Julie Greenwald. All of the rest, literally all of the rest, are run by men. (“Frontline” in this respect refers to the core brand of any corporate major label group, rather than imprints or sub-labels.)

The biggest record company on the planet, Universal Music Group, currently has no women running any of its Stateside frontline labels, which include the likes of Interscope Geffen A&M, Republic Records, Def Jam and Capitol Music Group.

Over in the U.K., it’s a similarly troubling story. Universal Music U.K. actually has the best record in Blighty on this score, employing one female frontline label President (Rebecca Allen at Decca) and one female co-President (Jo Charrington at Capitol). Both of UMG’s biggest rivals, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group, do not count a sole woman amongst their frontline U.K. label heads, who run historic brands like Columbia, RCA, Parlophone, Atlantic and Warner Bros.

In fact, a quick rundown of the most prominent 26 major labels in the U.S. and U.K. (all owned by Universal, Sony or Warner) shows that female executives run or co-run just four of them, or 15%. Successful female execs are rightly and routinely celebrated at industry “Women In Music” bashes on both sides of the Pond – but, in record company land, they’re clearly not landing in the corporate hotseat half often enough.

A spotlight was shone on this situation earlier this month, with the publication of the official Gender Pay Gap statistics of Universal, Warner and Sony in the United Kingdom. This data is publicly submitted by these companies annually, reflecting the gender parity situation at their U.K. firms in April 5 of the prior year (in this case, April 5, 2018.)

The stats were, as expected, deflating. The mean average gender pay gap across all three companies (i.e. the average difference in the money earned by a female member of staff vs. a male one) was 29.6%. Sony Music U.K. had the lowest mean figure at 20.9%, with Universal Music U.K. on 29.1% and Warner Music U.K. at a painful 38.7%.

Predictably, the biggest driver of these problematic average pay differences came at the apex of these companies. The Gender Pay Gap reports break down the proportion of men and women working in four different salary brackets (“quartile”) at each firm. Amongst the highest-paid “quartile” at Universal, 73% of employees were male; at Warner, 70% were male; at Sony, 60% were male.

Although the average male vs. female pay figures at all three groups improved slightly on the equivalent numbers from 2017, you can see why some have been vocal in censuring the “shameful” disparity revealed.

Universal, Sony and Warner all pledge that they’re making significant changes to improve their gender pay gaps in the coming years – and recognize that they must do more to promote female talent to the summit of their organizations.

Morna Cook, Universal Music U.K.’s Senior Director of HR, makes no bones about this fact. “[Our] overall pay gap largely results from the fact that we have fewer women than men in senior positions, something we are determined to address,” she said in the company’s annual report. “We already have a significant number of female senior executives… and we will continue to add to these numbers through bespoke coaching and mentoring to support the development of all our future leaders.”

One barrier to a more even spread of male and female executives at the top of the major record companies is systemic: The majority of label heads still graduate from the world of signing and developing talent, known in industry circles as “A&R.” Anecdotally, this field remains lopsided, gender-wise, at every level, with less of a female presence than in other core record company departments like marketing, promotion, PR and brand partnerships.

Universal’s Cook observes: “[Our] headline figures are influenced by bonuses paid to senior A&R staff, an area of the music business which continues to include more men than women. To help address that, we are proactively recruiting more female A&Rs with a view to making our A&R teams better reflect the overall 50:50 gender splits in our frontline labels.”

It would be remiss not to note some senior women working in the major record industry today, too. To offer just one example, Los Angeles-based Capitol Music Group counts a management team that includes the President of Motown Records (Ethiopia Habtemariam), the President of distribution/services arm Caroline (Jacqueline Saturn) and CMG’s Chief Operating Officer, Michelle Jubelirer. All three have been tipped as potential future leaders of the global record business. Warner Music U.K., meanwhile, notes in its Gender Pay Gap report that, in the prior year (April ‘17 – April 18), it hired seven executives of VP level and above, of which the majority were women.

If the record industry needs inspiration in its quest to push more women into its most senior roles, it could do worse than looking close to home. Record companies deal with artists (performers); publishers work with songwriters (composers). And, at a glance, the blockbuster music publishing world has a far healthier split of male and female executives in its most influential positions.

The Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group’s publishing company (UMPG), a billion-dollar annual concern, is Jody Gerson. She landed the job in 2015, when she became the first ever woman to be named Chairman of a multi-national major music company (in an industry which had existed for more than a century).

One of Universal’s fellow major companies in the publishing world, Warner Music Group’s Warner/Chappell, has since hired (and promoted) the respected Carianne Marshall to global co-Chair and COO, working alongside A&R veteran Guy Moot in the two highest-ranked positions at the company. 

In other words, two of the three biggest music publishing firms on earth are now run by female executives. Evidently, talented women can break through to the most powerful positions at modern major music companies. Yet if those same companies want to avoid more embarrassing and uncomfortable statistics coming to light about corporate gender pay disparity in future, they’re going to have to make even more room at the top.

Tim Ingham is the founder and publisher of Music Business Worldwide, which has serviced the global industry with news, analysis and jobs since 2015. He writes a weekly column for “Rolling Stone.”


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