Challenges in the fight for equality

Observations from the frontline

Having worked with an array of organisations and individuals working toward gender equality in music, (including Brighter Sound, Keychange, F-list, GirlsIRate and, I’ve gained a unique insight into the challenges of working within gender equality in music. I wanted to share some of the things I’ve observed while doing this work; these aren’t solutions and these aren’t suggestions for how to achieve equality…just a reminder of the challenges we can come across. Things to hold in your mind.Specifically, my recent work has included guiding development of a manifesto (which you can read here) for Brighter Sound. Through this I was reminded of the shared challenges, hurdles and mistakes that exist for most when looking to be part of change in the music industry.  

So here we go:

1. We need quantitative data. Stats are important, and being able to track progress is important, more than that, it’s useful. Often it’s the only way you to help people understand issues that are not immediately visible. Of course, not everything is measurable and stats can be taken out of context, but they are an important tool that I’ve too often had people dismiss in favour of qualitative data.

2. Legislation is important, but without implementation it’s useless. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call for legislation changes, (especially around parenthood) but it means we need to ensure what is there is actually monitored – and there are proportional consequences if the legislation isn’t followed. Too often the ramifications for not adhering to legislation are lacking and more legislation is unlikely to help this.

3. The fight has to be intersectional. This is an obvious one but I often get the feeling people are afraid to feel like they’re asking for too much, if they’re asking to include everyone. If you’re ignoring intersectional issues then your fight isn’t going to be as effective and will be rapidly outdated. (For more on intersectionality please check out the manifesto).

4. Each area of the music ecosystem impacts each other, so it’s everyone’s responsibility. This point comes from the countless times I’ve heard festivals say they feel picked on when it comes to gender equality (especially through my work with Keychange). Festivals will often argue that lineups are the result of inequality in other areas of the industry (Eg. labels). I’m not saying that it’s not hard to lead the way, but the acts that festivals book do impact who is signed and developed. You don’t exist in a vacuum; we all have to do the work, we all have to move forward. (The reasons for festivals being called out most often is a subject for a whole other post).

5. We all have opportunities to do better, use them. I understand as someone who both books and appears on panels, that it can be tricky to include a diverse range of voices for certain subjects. When booking I often have speakers ask me who else is on the panel, trying to make sure the panel is diverse before confirming. This action comes from the right place but it can be difficult if you have no one else confirmed for a panel or if the line-up changes. I want to suggest that instead, organisations and individuals simply say something along the lines of; “I’d love to do this, please note however that I will be unable to join unless there are a diverse range of voices included” – that allows for the organiser to deal with any changes in line-up while knowing that if they’re not diverse, they won’t have a panel. I’m not always good at coming back with this when I’m excited for an opportunity, but it should be a non-negotiable. We all have opportunities to do better.

6. The fight for gender equality is not the same across the world. This one is important and probably one of the most difficult aspects of the work I do. Working on a global scale means you have to be aware of local differences; from difficult conversations with organisers about wording or line-ups, to a lack of access to talent, it really can pose greater challenges. Never stop demanding inclusive and diverse bookings, but do try to be understanding. There is room for nuance and conversation in many situations, remember this when criticising too. 

7. It starts with you – in order to work towards equality you need to be supporting and paying marginalised people appropriately. You can’t talk about the lack of support or the importance of including the pay on a job ad – and then fall into the same pattern as everyone else. Too many people and organisations fail to address their own practices. 

These are just a few core things I’ve noticed, these observations through my work that are by no means definitive or exhaustive. I just feel it’s important to acknowledge where we can do better and what it really means to be inclusive and supportive to everyone across the music spectrum. It’s been incredible to see how this conversation has developed over the last 5 years – but there’s still a great deal of work to do.

Want to talk more? Get in touch about consultation for diversity and inclusion or simply for an open discussion:

Words by Jess Partridge