The music industry is still a “boys’ club” where women are not given enough opportunities to develop, a leading British songwriter has said.
Carla Marie Williams, who has written for artists including Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Craig David and Girls Aloud, said the music industry was not immune to the barriers faced by women in entertainment and called for more investment by record labels and publishers to involve women at a younger age to bridge the gender gap.
“Equality in the music industry definitely doesn’t exist, it’s male-dominated through and through,” the Brit-winning and Grammy-nominated writer told the Guardian.
To mark International Women’s Day, Williams has invited 100 women in music to the third annual gala for Girls I Rate, a not-for-profit support network she founded two years ago. It was set up with the aim of empowering women already established in the industry and give space to those from disadvantaged backgrounds like hers to become the managers, PRs, and songwriters of tomorrow. Advocates include Lily Allen, Emeli Sandé and Wretch 32.
Growing up in Harlesden, north-west London, Williams decided she wanted to work in music after watching adult singing classes in the community centre where her mum worked after school.
After a stint as a youth worker, she worked with Beyoncé on the Naughty Boy-produced song Runnin’ in 2015. When the two women reconnected to write a song for Beyoncé’s Grammy-winning album Lemonade, she says, “what I was feeling at the time in terms of freedom and womanhood was the message she also wanted to put out”.
The result was Freedom, a protest anthem for female and black empowerment. “It fell in line with my mission for Girls I Rate, which is what we call “operation couch”: celebration, opportunity, unity, change and hope,” Williams said.
“Today, we put on academy weekenders to educate girls about the business of music. One of our events was sponsored by Island Records. Over 800 girls submitted their demos and 200 were invited to have their work heard by executives and directors from the publishing and record labels and receive direct feedback.”
Following the allegations against the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, the music industry has also come under scrutiny for its treatment of women. But it is not just a story of harassment and abuse, it is one of representation too. Men hold more than two-thirds of jobs in the industry and occupy the vast majority of positions of power.
According to the chief executive of the PRS for Music foundation, 78% of grantees it has supported had experienced sexism in their career. Williams adds: “PRS has 21% female membership, and that’s after organisations like ours helped get girls signed up.”
While she has never experienced harassment herself, Williams said she had often been put down. Once she was told to “shut up” by a group of men for speaking up about lack of opportunities, “but when the other guy was saying the same thing he wasn’t told to shut up. Then I become the aggressor.”
To make change happen, companies needed to look at their employment statistics when hiring, she said.
“If you have five men on the board, get five women,” she said. “Try and make those positions available. There also needs to be more financial investment in younger women’s development from labels and publishers, allowing for girls to come forward and feel like they can occupy spaces. An annual five grand here and there can go so far.”
The importance of women supporting other women should not be underestimated, she added, saying: “Together we can become a powerhouse.”