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Recording Academy Letter Argues Gender Gap Not as Wide as Reported, But More Needs to Be Done

Billboard logo Billboard 2/15/2018 Marc Schneider
a man wearing a suit and tie: Neil Portnow © Theo Wargo/WireImage Neil Portnow

Two weeks after announcing a task force to investigate gender bias at the organization, The Recording Academy reached out to its members on Thursday in a letter with updates, preliminary figures and an admission that, so far, they have not done "enough."

The letter is the latest development in a situation touched off by Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow's comments suggesting female artists needed to "step up" following a particularly male-centric Grammy night.

Since then, "there's been a national conversation about gender bias at the Recording Academy and, more importantly, in the music community," the letter states. "Much of that conversation centered on a poor choice of words and a recent USC Annenberg study, which revealed a vast disparity between the number of male and female Grammy nominees."

Earlier this month, the Academy revealed it would establish a task force "to review every aspect of what we do to ensure that our commitment to diversity is reflected in our organization and community."

Since then, it has taken a closer look at the USC Annenberg study, which found that a mere 9 percent of Grammy nominees were women. As the Academy points out in its letter to members, the study only examined five out of 84 categories (best new artist; record of the year; song of the year; album of the year; and producer, non-classical). Taking into account all categories, the Academy determined that number to be 17 percent.

The USC study also found that over a six-year period, 36 percent of best new artist nominees were women; 21 percent of song of the year nominees; zero percent of producer, non-classical; 8 percent of record of the year nominees; and 6 percent of album of the year nominees -- the latter two being so low "because most nominees in these categories are producers and engineers, who are almost exclusively male." In comparison, the study noted that 22 percent of all performers were women; 12 percent of songwriters were women; and 2 percent of producers were women.

The Academy also addressed one of the main criticisms it has faced for years: that its membership is too heavily male. According to incomplete data, it found that women make up 21 percent of its voting membership, and 11 percent for its Producers and Engineers wing.

To establish the current level of representation of women across the music industry, the Academy took three metrics from the USC study (22 percent performers; 12 percent songwriters; 2 percent producers) and aggregated it to determine that women comprise 12 percent of the total music creator population.

The Academy then placed that 12 percent figure up against its own findings -- that women comprised 17 percent of all nominees and 21 percent of its membership. "It means that the gender composition of our membership and nominations reflect that of the music community, according to the study," the letter stated.

"But it’s not enough to reflect the community," it continued. "We must be leaders in moving our industry toward greater inclusion and representation. Women are 50 percent of our world. We need their voice and presence at every level."

The Academy said it will share more details about the forthcoming task force in the coming weeks. Read the full letter below:

--

Dear Member,

Since the 60th GRAMMY Awards, there’s been a national conversation about gender bias at the Recording Academy and, more importantly, in the music community.

Much of that conversation centered on a poor choice of words and a recent USC Annenberg study, which revealed a vast disparity between the number of male and female GRAMMY nominees.

The Recording Academy Board takes gender parity and inclusion very seriously. We are establishing a task force to review every aspect of what we do to ensure that our commitment to diversity is reflected in our organization and community. In developing a scope, budget, and timeline for the task force, we’ve spent several days reflecting on ourselves and analyzing the Annenberg study. 

When we read the headlines, "only 9% of GRAMMY nominees are women," we were troubled. Could we really be that far behind the rest of the industry?

Going back six years, the study looks at only 5 of our 84 categories: Best New Artist, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Album Of The Year, and Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical. In establishing current levels of representation across the music industry, the study states that only 22% of performers are women; 12% of songwriters are women; and 2% of producers are women. Aggregating the total number of performers, songwriters, and producers, we see that women comprise 12% of the total music creator population.* These figures are necessary for meaningful analysis.

How do we compare?

  • Across all 84 categories, 17% of GRAMMY nominees are female (compared to 12% industry index).**
  • 36% of Best New Artist nominees are women (compared to 22% industry index).***
  • 21% of Song Of The Year nominees are women (compared to 12% industry index).***
  • 0% of Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominees are women (compared to 2% industry index).***
  • 8% of Record Of The Year and 6% of Album Of The Year nominees are women.*** This is largely because most nominees in these categories are producers and engineers, who are almost exclusively male.

There have also been questions about the makeup of our membership. Because we don’t require demographic information, the data we have is incomplete. However, we want to share what we do know:

  • 21% of our voting membership are women (compared to 12% industry index).****
  • 11% of our Producers & Engineers Wing members are women (compared to 2% industry index).****

What does all this mean?

It means that the gender composition of our membership and nominations reflect that of the music community, according to the study. But it’s not enough to reflect the community. We must be leaders in moving our industry toward greater inclusion and representation. Women are 50% of our world. We need their voice and presence at every level.

In the coming weeks, we will share more details about the task force. In the meantime, we encourage you to read the USC Annenberg research in full, as a few bullet points cannot do justice to a 30-plus-page study.

Part of music's power is its ability to raise awareness around important cultural issues and effect change. It is in this spirit that we move forward.

Thank you,

The Recording Academy

*The USC Annenberg study collects data across six years and 600 popular songs to calculate gender indexes for performers and songwriters, and across three years and 300 popular songs to calculate gender indexes for producers. To calculate a total industry average across all three creator segments (performers, songwriters, and producers), we analyzed figures from the three years in which complete data sets were available (2012, 2015, 2017). 

**Based on proprietary Recording Academy data compiled over the same six-year period analyzed in the study. 

***Based on USC Annenberg study.

****Membership numbers as of 2018.

a drawing of a face: 2018 Grammy Awards © Provided by Billboard 2018 Grammy Awards
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