On the third day of this year’s NonCOMMvention — the annual gathering of public radio programmers and music industry professionals — attendees gathered for something we don’t see often enough in this industry, or any other. For one hour only, attention was directed to four women representatives for a panel discussion titled #ShePersisted — Women Pursuing and Achieving Success in Radio and the Music Industry.
The panel was moderated by The Current’s Lindsay Kimball and was comprised of Jessi Whitten of Colorado Public Radio, Liz Felix of BirdNote Radio and Shannon Kurlander of Terrorbird Media. Discussing a number of topics related to the lack of equal representation in music, they covered as much ground as they could in the time allotted, focusing dually on workplace gender imbalance in the music industry and the unequal ratio of male/female artists we hear on the air.
Only 10.5% of radio programmers are women. There is only one woman General Manager in all of public music radio. Many programmers don’t realize that women are a significant minority of the artists they play on their stations, but when they look at the numbers, they realize how skewed their ratio actually is. These aren’t easy problems to fix, but the panelists attempted to outline tangible and immediate first steps toward change — number one being for programmers to take look at both their playlists and their workplaces to realize. As some noted afterwards, the panel could have benefited from a more intersectional approach, as the inclusion of people of color, nonbinary people and other underrepresented demographics was mentioned only briefly, and these groups were noticeably absent in the audience, as well.
During the following question and answer session, several audience members rose to add their thoughts. Several industry veterans spoke briefly, but each said that they both had so much more they could say, remembering the days when it was even worse but emphasizing how far we still have to go. Younger women in various facets of the industry spoke to the challenges they’ve faced trying to establish their careers and be taken seriously when people assume that they’re the intern or someone’s daughter. It was a productive discussion, but one which many felt was dampened by an uncomfortable moment at the very end. After the last question had been asked, a man in the audience made his way to the microphone to add a comment — which many saw as both unnecessary and an indication that maybe he hadn’t been listening to the panel and its points (like giving women space to have their voices heard) at all.
After the panel, two of my colleagues, photographer Rachel Del Sordo and writer Megan Cooper, and I realized just how many thoughts we had. We were eager to continue our conversation back in the office but thought that instead of just dwelling on our own reactions, we should see what everyone else thought, too. The three of us spent the rest of the evening (in between the fantastic musical performances) tracking down some of the panelists and women who were present in the audience to hear their thoughts, reactions and critiques. Here’s what they said. Continue reading →