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Grammys reveal data on female members: Better than the rest of the music industry, but not by much

After telling women to "step up," Recording Academy CEO announces a task force to address gender bias in music.

Alessia Cara accepts Best New Artist onstage during the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.  CREDIT: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS
Alessia Cara accepts Best New Artist onstage during the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City. CREDIT: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS

The weeks after this year’s Grammy Awards were flush with damning, humiliating revelations around female representation at not just at the show itself but also in the music industry the awards are designed to celebrate. Now, nearly a month after the 2018 Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy has sent its members a letter revealing the actual number of women in its ranks.

In the letter, portions of which were obtained by Variety, referenced a study out of USC Annenberg, which was released just days before the Grammys and found that more than 90 percent of recent Grammy nominees were male.

The study is used in the letter as a catalyst for reflection: “When we read the headlines, ‘only 9 percent of Grammy nominees are women,’ we were troubled. Could we really be that far behind the rest of the industry?” The USC data reveals that, aggregating producers, songwriters, and performers, “women comprise 12 percent of the total music creator population.” (This aggregation is a neat way to inflate some of the numbers: Only 2 percent of producers are women.)

After running through the data already made public by the USC study, the letter looks at “the makeup of the Academy’s membership.” There are thousands of people in the Recording Academy, and the letter notes that the data is incomplete — members aren’t obligated to report demographic information. But based on the information it has, the Recording Academy found:

– 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).

Though the letter points out that the Recording Academy’s stats are higher than the industry average, “it’s not enough to reflect the community. 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.
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Outrage around female representation — or, more accurately, the lack thereof — was brewing before the ceremony, at which only one woman took home a televised award (Alessia Cara for best new artist). Before the show, reports surfaced that Lorde, the only woman nominated for the night’s top prize, album of the year, wasn’t offered a solo performance spot, while all the male nominees were.

Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow’s now infamous remarks on the matter — if women want to win more Grammys and succeed in music, he said, they need to “step up” — rocketed across the internet, as female artists and music industry executives called for Portnow to resign. A petition calling for his removal is fewer than 20 people shy of its 14,000 signature goal.

His words scanned as particularly callous and ignorant in light of a number of recent, high-profile stories about the violence and harassment that women in music experience. Kesha, whose struggle to emancipate herself from a recording contract with the producer she claims raped and abused her has been going on for years, performed her anthem about reckoning with her trauma at the Grammys.

Just weeks before the Grammys, Rolling Stone published an investigation on sexual harassment in country music; last summer, Taylor Swift triumphed in court over a radio DJ who grabbed her ass during a meet-and-greet. News of R. Kelly’s ongoing alleged sexual manipulation and violation of young women continues to break, though consequences for the star are, thus far, non-existent. And of course roiling around all of this is the massive force of the #MeToo movement.

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Portnow tried to walk back his comments, apologizing for any offense he (obviously) caused, saying that his words, “when taken out of context, do not convey my beliefs and the point I was trying to make.”

In a follow-up statement, Portnow announced the creation of an independent task force “to review every aspect of what we do as an organization and identify where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community. We will also place ourselves under a microscope and tackle whatever truths are revealed.”

This letter, and the research within it, is among the first actions taken by that task force. The Recording Academy says more details about what the task force plans to do will be announced in the coming weeks.