Following its public and controversial parting with CEO Deborah Dugan earlier this year, the Recording Academy announced Thursday morning that Valeisha Butterfield Jones, who was previously global head of inclusion at Google, has been appointed for the Academy’s newly established chief diversity and inclusion officer position.
Butterfield Jones has an extensive background in diversity and policy initiatives. She co-founded the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network in 2007, and before taking the diversity role at Google, she’d served as youth vote director on President Barrack Obama’s campaign and as director of public affairs for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce under the Obama Administration. She’s also served as director of diversity and inclusion at the Alzheimer’s association and as an executive director at Rush Communications. Butterfield Jones will report directly to Academy chair and interim president and CEO Harvey Mason Jr.
On a phone call with Rolling Stone, Mason Jr. declined to give specifics on what particular tasks and initiatives Butterfield Jones will be focusing on once she starts May 11th, saying that the Academy would be working with her on a more comprehensive agenda going forward. She’ll be looking at diversity in every aspect, Mason Jr. says, from the Academy’s regional chapters to the executive level. He also said Butterfield Jones will be a part of the hiring process along with the rest of the board as the Academy continues its search for Dugan’s replacement.
“The things that impressed me weren’t so much the exact specifics of what she thought the Academy needed, but also her philosophical approach in the way she looked at things and problem solved along with her energy and attitude on being proactive,” Mason Jr. says. “She’s willing to get her hands dirty and jump right in. She has an approach of getting things done and winning, and I gravitated towards that.”
Butterfield Jones joins the Academy at a much-needed time for a conversation about diversity and transparency within the organization. Dugan, the Academy’s first female CEO, lasted less than a year at her post before she was placed on administrative leave 10 days before the Grammy Awards. While the Academy said the ousting was due to alleged misconduct, Dugan fired back that it was over an internal email she’d sent detailing a rape allegation against former academy CEO Neil Portnow, a fixed Grammy voting process, and her own sexual harassment at the hands of Academy general counsel Joel Katz. Portnow and Katz have both denied the allegations, and the Academy has repeatedly defended the Grammy voting process.
Following settlement discussions, the Recording Academy’s executive committee voted to officially terminate Dugan at the beginning of March. Multiple artists and industry members criticized the Grammys’ lack of transparency, with Diddy calling out the “elephant in the room” at the annual Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala and Tyler, The Creator calling his Best Rap Album Grammy win for his more pop-heavy record “Igor” a “back-handed compliment.”
The diversity officer position comes following a recommendation from the Academy’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which called for the appointment of the position by May 1st and suggested 17 other diversity-oriented initiatives late last year. The task force, led by Time’s Up chief executive Tina Tchen, wasn’t involved in the interviewing process or hiring decision, Mason Jr. says. The Academy will continue to convene with the task force as it addresses the last of the group’s recommendations, he says. It isn’t clear what will become of the task force after that.
“The task force has done incredible work, and Valeisha is not replacing that, but she will make a huge difference in how we go forward,” Mason Jr says. “I’m not sure [of the task force’s future], that’s something we’ll have to work out. I completely welcome the work they’ve done, I think it’s been very valuable to us, we’re lucky that they’ve given the input that they have.”
In a statement, Tchen said she was “pleased to see the Recording Academy take this important step toward change within its own walls today by appointing Valeisha Butterfield Jones as its first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer. Creating this executive-level position was a principal recommendation of our Task Force because it is one significant way the Academy can demonstrate that issues of diversity are mission-critical and will be prioritized in the future.”
“The Recording Academy has an opportunity and responsibility to ensure that diversity and inclusion is embedded in its core values. I’m deeply honored to join the Academy as we enter a new chapter of transformational growth, leadership and change,” Butterfield Jones said in a statement. “During this unprecedented time in world history, together we will double-down on our focus to drive systemic change and equitable outcomes for underrepresented communities and creators.”