The music business’s gender pay gap is embarrassing and uncomfortable. It’s time for change.

It’s been a big day for the gender pay debate in the UK, with MBW revealing a 30%+ disparity in wages across the major labels in the market, in addition to other unflattering figures at companies such as Live Nation and PRS For Music. Here, MBW Contributing Editor, Rhian Jones, gives her take on the news…


The major labels have reason to be feeling sheepish.

Stats revealed by MBW today have shown the difference between the hourly earnings of men and women working in their UK organizations – and it makes for fairly damning reading.

On average, women working at one of the three British major labels earn 33.8% less than men.

What’s more, an average of just 31% of leadership positions (the ‘top quartile’) at all three labels are filled by a woman.

That disparity is easy to spot in real life: today, there are just two female Presidents of frontline major labels in the UK, both at Universal – Jo Charrington at Capitol and Rebecca Allen at Decca.

It’s not only the major labels that have cause for red faces, either: Live Nation’s UK operation just reported a 46% gender pay gap.

The concerts giant also confirmed a shocking 88% difference in bonuses between male and female employees, despite the fact women are in a comparatively high 41% of leadership positions within its company.

Think about it: those two facts combined don’t make for fun reading.


There are complexities to these numbers that give reason for optimism – which we’ll get onto shortly – but let’s not also pretend this fact isn’t true: as women progress through the music business, they are simply not reaching the professional statuses of their male counterparts with nearly enough regularity.

One anonymous source who has previously worked at a UK major told me: “I requested several pay rises over my time and was consistently told the amount I was on was ‘standard’, yet I was made aware of male colleagues with equivalent experience on 50% more [pay] than me. When I flagged this, I was told they were ‘just better at negotiating’ and that I shouldn’t discuss private information.”

Some HR experts will tell you that women often aren’t as bold when asking for pay rises and that many pause their careers – or take on part-time roles – due to the demands of raising a family.

“let’s not also pretend this fact isn’t true: as women progress through the music business, they are simply not reaching the professional statuses of their male counterparts with nearly enough regularity.”

On a fundamental level, flexible working isn’t yet ingrained in major label work culture – something that directly hurts the chances of women who have children to progress in business.

I often wonder about the few women who do end up in charge at large-scale music companies: does the struggle to make it that far in a male-dominated, competitive work culture make some of them more hardened than they should need to be?

Having an encouraging boss who believes in your talent and justly rewards it is a key motivator.

Today’s numbers really drill home this question: does the music business have enough inspiring leaders who believe in fairness – and who truly understand the benefits of equality and mentorship?


Diversity across all the ranks of your company – which equal pay will help achieve – quite literally makes business sense.

A study in 2015 by McKinsey consultants surveyed more than 350 large public companies in North America, Latin America and the UK. It found that those with the most gender-diverse staff were 15% more likely to produce better returns than other local companies.

Firms that were racially and ethnically diverse performed even better, and less diverse companies were less likely to do well.

“For every 10 per cent improvement in gender diversity, you’d see a 2-4 per cent increase in profits.”

McKinsey’s UK managing partner, Vivian Hunt, told the FT: “For every 10 per cent improvement in gender diversity, you’d see a 2-4 per cent increase in profits.”

Clearly, gender disparity in the music business isn’t just a UK problem.

But it’s interesting that Atlantic Records in the US is led by a woman, Julie Greenwald, who alongside her co-head, Craig Kallman, has ensured a 50/50 gender balance in her label’s staff.

Is it just coincidence that Atlantic was the biggest label in the US last year with a 12% streaming marketshare, and just swept the Grammys?

Or did a diversified workplace help give the company an edge over its competition?


Another idea to ponder is whether pay rises and promotions should be something that need to be requested in the first place.

The brilliant CAA Agent Emma Banks has said that those who make decisions about pay shouldn’t need employees to ask for more money – they should instead be offering rises based on inflation and success.

“Most of the people who work at CAA don’t come asking, we look at what they do and offer them a pay rise if they are worthy of it,”  said Banks at UK trade show ILMC in March.

“Everyone that’s in a position of power should take a look at themselves and ask, ‘What am I doing about this?'”

“If the only way you get paid more is to ask, please sir, can I have some more, that’s a sad indictment on the company you work for.”

She added: “Everyone that’s in a position of power should take a look at themselves and ask, ‘What am I doing about this?’ The same goes for people being overpaid.”


To their credit, the UK major labels have promoted a number of women over the last year, which will have a positive effect on next year’s gender pay gap stats (the current crop of numbers were taken as of April 5, 2017).

At Universal, these include the aforementioned Jo Charrington, who was upped to co-President of Capitol in September, and Rebecca Allen, who was named President of Decca Records Group last May.

At Universal’s Island, Annie Christensen was promoted to A&R Director toward the end of last year, and Claire Mas was named Head of Digital in October.

At Sony Music UK, Amy Wheatley was named GM at Ministry of Sound last July, while Stacey Tang was appointed co-MD alongside Manish Arora at Columbia in November.

Elsewhere, Sarah Thwaites was named Head of Sony’s classical imprint Masterworks UK in January.

And at Warner UK, Mel Fox was promoted to Chief Transformation Officer in September.

More recently, Emmy Lovell was promoted to SVP of Digital and marketing exec Jennifer Ivory was named General Manager of Warner Bros. in January.


In the wake of today’s numbers – and an icky 49% average gender pay gap – Warner Music Group has already pledged to make serious change.

Masha Osherova, EVP, Human Resources at WMG, admitted in an internal report: “Our current gender pay gap numbers make starkly clear the need for us to accelerate the pace of change at Warner Music UK. Building an inclusive, diverse culture is not only a moral imperative; it’s integral to our commercial and creative success.

“While we’ve made real progress in many different areas, we’re acutely aware there’s still much more work to do, especially if we are to be as diverse and inclusive as we aspire to be, and if we are to increase the number of women in leadership roles.

“We continue to look forensically across our entire company, from many different perspectives, to activate the right Diversity & Inclusion strategies and to ensure mindful action is happening every day.”

Warner deserves outcry and brickbats for its staff numbers today – the worst of the three majors – but it also deserved commendation for its directness and certainty that transformation is required.


The music business is on the eve of a global rejuvenation. Revenues are rising, streaming is succeeding and there’s a general feeling of optimism in the air.

The industry has an opportunity to build itself again from the ground up in order to ensure those revenues keep rising.

That will happen, in part, thanks to a diverse stable of talented employees who feel supported and appreciated.

“The major labels should be asking themselves why they are so far away from these figures.”

It’s difficult to create equality in an organization when it doesn’t currently exist, but it’s not impossible.

Case in point: the gender pay gap at UK music licensing company PPL., also revealed today, is just 6.6%. (That figure goes down to 2.7% when the CEO’s salary is removed from the mix.)

The major labels should be asking themselves why they are so far away from these figures.


I have mixed feelings on the fact that the major label pay gap stats demonstrate that, amongst the lowest-paid roles in their UK companies, the gender split is close to 50/50.

On the one hand, it throws into a harsh light just how hard it is for women to rise up in an industry where systemic problems means that men are hogging the top roles.

But on the other, it gives us hope for the future – that in 10 or 15 years’ time, the gender split we see amongst these junior staff members will carry through to the very highest level.

Executive coach Claire Singers, who has a long history in the music business as co-owner of successful UK PR firm LD Communications, works with companies and employees to improve performance at work.

“If people aren’t actively looking at these areas, setting goals and targets and making themselves accountable, it’s not going to happen,” she says. 

“If you’re saying you think diversity is really important to your organisation — what are you doing to achieve it?”


Singers suggests a five-step practical plan to achieving diversity in the workplace – and she talks a heck of a lot of sense:

  1. Looking at recruitment policies and unconscious bias, and recruiting the best people for the team, not necessarily the best person for the job. In the words of top lawyer Dina LaPolt: “You might have to search and focus for two months to find a woman, it might take you a little longer, but you will find the right person.”
  2. Transparency around equal pay for equal work.
  3. Smart/flexible working. Research by McKinsey shows that if you offer smart working, you retain senior women. Singers says: “The working culture in the music industry was designed by blokes in the ‘50s and it’s based on command, control and presentism. Often when women come back into that after having a baby, they just can’t function in that presentism work culture.”
  4. Shared parental leave. The music industry is generally behind companies like Spotify who have introduced six months’ paid parental leave. “I asked [Spotify’s] Head of HR out of all the policies, what was the game changer for diversity, and she said parental leave,” Singers adds. “Contrast that with some people I spoke to in the labels, and I was told that not one guy had taken shared parental leave, which I think is probably down to peer pressure and company culture.”
  5. Measure the situation as it is now and set goals and targets with a timeline.

To anyone whose gender pay statistics caused them to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed today, I simply say this:

Get over it. And then get a move on.Music Business Worldwide

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