As part of our series on International Women's Day 2020, we speak to Michele Phillips from DHP Family on gender in the live music industry, her route into venue management and what can be done to encourage and inspire women who want to have a fulfilling and rewarding career in the sector.
Why do you think the music industry has an issue with gender imbalance and do you think there are problems specific to the industry?
The more gender equality is spoken about the more I don’t think it is specific to the music industry. The top level, visible roles in most industries tend to be male dominated and this seems to lead to a vicious circle of fewer women applying for these roles. The less we see women inspiring other women by reaching for and attaining these top roles, the less there are and the cycle continues. There are women working in the music industry doing an awesome job but they tend to be behind the scenes in supporting roles.
The music industry has a reputation of long working hours without much work life balance; cut-throat and determined individuals fighting it out over artists and fees; venues battling authorities to stay afloat; "certainly not a place for a woman!" All of which suited me, a twenty something career-driven individual who had no plans to have a family or get married and thrived on the pressure of making sure 19,00 people had a great fucking time, safely.
What can be done to educate, raise awareness and drive long term change within the current and next generations of the industry?
There needs to be more visibility of successful women in the industry and a change of perception. The few women that have overcome this male shaped obstacle course are seen as power-hungry, cold, masculine figures who aren't bothered by babies or spending time with family or friends not involved in the industry. It's important to recognise there is space for women who want to balance career and home life, who are able to utilise their skills to not only fulfil every detail of their job description but exceed it and achieve amazing things while doing so.
The current view seems to be that the more hours you work, the more committed and better you are at your job, but we should recognise individuals on the work they do not how long they are away from home. The music industry in reality lends itself to flexible working, it's not restricted to 9-5 and you don't always have to be sat in an office to deliver on everyone's expectations, so it should be more geared up for a better work/life balance and women who may even want to start or already have a family! We need to talk about this more; I fear that we lose a lot of women who feel they have to choose between a career or family life your when your worth is in what you can achieve, not the maximum amount of hours you can dedicate to your role.
It took me 17 years to realise that I can be a senior manager in a high pressured industry and also be a mother, is this why? I couldn't see how I could balance looking after a child and also several venues across the country. Working with Women in Music I got to meet some amazing people and saw some great examples of women supporting women, I wanted to be one of those women, not another statistic that gave up her career to work somewhere that fits around childcare. Really, how would that show my daughter that she can be anything she wants to?
I am hopeful and excited for the future. It feels like we are on the cusp of change where the next generation of managers know they can make a difference and won’t accept inequality whether that be gender, race or disability. If Greta Thunberg at 15 can impact the President of the USA, is gender balance in the music industry really that far from reach?
You work in venue management - is this an area you feel women are underrepresented and did that affect your own path into your career?
I do feel women are underrepresented in venue management and probably because it isn’t seen as a woman's job! I have hope that this will change with new generations, as it is no longer a given that women only do caring roles such as teachers or nurses for example. It isn’t unsurprising that I am yet to see a man on the team looking after children at my daughter's nursery.
I was lucky that when I was working on the bar in the venues there were women in the management teams, so I didn't ever think it was unachievable for a woman to run a venue, but that was not the norm. Like a large percentage of women I am not a stranger to imposter syndrome even if I have only recently found out that it was a 'thing'. I just assumed it was a trait I had where I felt that I had to pretend that I knew what I was doing, act like a confident person who wasn’t afraid of speaking up in meetings, disagreeing with the boss or working with male dominated security teams. I am lucky that my commitment to my role was recognised early on in my career and I progressed within the company, as it is unlikely I would have directly applied for a management position, let alone Area Manager.
My advice to women wanting to 'make it' in the industry would be to fake it until you make it, do what works for you because if you want it, you can do it. The sea of white middle class men that dominate the industry have no more right to be there than you do and the only skill they may possess that you don't is a somewhat over inflated ego thanks to years of being told he can do anything. This makes it sound like I'd like to eradicate all the white middle class males in the industry which I would absolutely not. These men spur me on, get me to push the boundaries and some of the best ones support me and the other women I work with to spread the word and recruit more awesome women to come and work in the industry. After all we make their jobs easier by achieving more.
What are the aims of Women in Music in the next 12 months?
We want to continue talking to women in the industry and finding out why there is a gender imbalance and what we can do about it. Why as an industry do we go from more female supervisors on our bars to men dominating the management roles?
We get far less CVs from women when we are recruiting than we do from men, and we want to find out why and communicate what we can do to change this for all businesses in the industry to push forward a change. We want to find out how we can tip the scales back to the middle so we can have more balanced management teams that can help put on the best events to our diverse audiences. We will continue celebrating amazing women working in the industry and showcasing them at our conferences to inspire the next generation.
Check out our other Q&As with incredible and inspiring women to celebrate International Women's Day 2020 here.
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