The State Of Women In Live: On Stage, Backstage & In The Boardroom

In producing this week’s Women of Live issues for Pollstar and VenuesNow, it quickly became apparent that the list of nominees over the years has grown to the point that selecting 40 has become a monumental task because there are far, far more women driving the business than we are able to include.

Karol G performs onstage at Premios Juventud 2021 at Watsco Center on July 22, 2021 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images for Univision)

But we as an industry still have a long way to go, if the comments from many of the women featured in this issue are any indication.

And they are – backed up by studies from organizations like the USC Annenberg Inclusion Report, The Recording Academy, Berklee College of Music and Arizona State University, for starters.

The proliferation of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) departments and organizations devoted to recruiting, training and hiring women and other underrepresented people into the live entertainment business are striving to create an industry that more accurately reflects the population it wishes to entertain – the fans.

Women are taking to the road this year in big numbers, to be sure. Billie Eilish’s global arena tour started just last month and with eight dates reported to Pollstar has already grossed more than $12 million and moved more than 101,000 tickets.

Dua Lipa is having an epic year, joined on her “Future Nostalgia” tour by Caroline Polachek and Lolo Zouai, plus Megan Thee Stallion on a few select dates. Her March 1 show at New York’s Madison Square Garden sold 15,461 tickets and grossed $1,803,373.

Reba McEntire just wrapped her “Reba: Live In Concert” tour of 25 cities. Though final box office reports are still coming in, there’s no doubt the outing will top the $20 million mark, with the shows that have been reported averaging 10,868 tickets and a gross of $1.15 million.

And there’s a slew of tours and festivals coming up all headlined by women. Lady Gaga, Halsey, Bonnie Raitt, Alanis Morissette, Lorde, Mitski, Kacey Musgraves, Charli XCX, and more are hitting the road. Stevie Nicks will be the first woman to perform as a headliner at Bonnaroo. Adele still intends to play a hotly anticipated Las Vegas residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Women sell tickets.

They sell brands, too.

Colombian hip-hop superstar Karol G is a global force, not only onstage but as a market ambassador for Smirnoff, which became the presenting sponsor for her sold-out 2021 “Bichota Tour.”

As part of the deal, Smirnoff sponsored two sold-out, headlining shows in her home of Colombia before some 70,000 fans.

Melissa Newhart, United Talent Agency brand management executive, said those shows gave her “goosebumps.”

“I have admired Karol for years in terms of her work ethic, remaining true to herself, and being an advocate for women particularly across the music industry, who are often confined to certain boxes,” Newhart tells Pollstar.

Yet women artists remain in the minority. Of 1,750 artists signed by major and independent record labels, USC Annenberg finds that just 31.8% are women. That may come as less of a surprise when one discovers that only 26.7% of Artist & Repertoire execs are women.

Researchers examined whether artist gender influenced the composition of teams and found that 84% of women artists had at least one woman agent, manager or publicist compared to 70.8% of male artists. While 69.9% of women had two or more female representatives, this wasn’t the case for men: only 38.7% of male artists had two or more women on their teams.

“The data for artists and their teams reveals that artists’ identity is driving inclusive choices in team composition,” the study concludes.

This is not to say that major white, male acts hire only white males as agents, managers and crews – U2, for example, has employed mostly women in management positions (save for legendary manager Paul McGuinness) since forming in Dublin, Ireland, and employs majority female crews when it tours.

As production guru Jake Berry who, during U2’s “Innocence + Experience Tour 2018,” told Vogue: “We’re equal opportunity employers – you have to give people opportunities on merit. What’s so hard about that?”

Well, what IS so hard about that?

Especially now, when there are organizations like She Is The Music, Soundgirls, Diversify The Stage, Women In Music, and Roadies of Color United and others that have risen or are ramping up efforts in recruitment, training and job placement.

But when one looks at the actual data compiled by academic and other independent researchers, the picture – while improved – bears out the fact that the live industry has a long way to go to achieve anything approaching proportional representation – not only for women, but all underrepresented people.

Despite the promotions in recent years of women to top executive positions by the largest corporations in live, USC Annenberg’s study, for example, finds that men continue to easily dominate executive boards and other top positions across all music sectors.

In live music and concert promotion, the March 2021 USC Annenberg study finds that among top executives – defined as President, CEO or Chair – 21.4% were women, though they make up 51% of the population. In executive or senior vice president and general manager positions, 34.1% are women. As vice presidents and department heads, women do appear to approach parity at 49.5%.

There are many working within the system to make that change, however.

Heather Lowery, President & CEO of Femme It Forward, recently launched a mentorship program pairing 200 young women of color mentees with leading female executives and entrepreneurs. And then there’s Blues N Roots festival co-owner/producers Tracy Lane and Shay Jasper, who booked 2021’s event with a 100% female-led or non-binary lineup.

Grace Blake, who is programming director at City Winery in New York at Pier 57 and Hudson Valley outposts, says, “We pride ourselves in fostering an environment that invites people from all walks of life into our ecosystem and gives them a chance to proverbially ‘Be on stage.’

“From weaving D&I into our new employee orientations and cultural training sessions, celebrating and recognizing diverse events such as Black History Month, International Women’s Day, and Pride, through consciously building equity into the engine of our hiring systems and practices, it is something that City Winery treats with purposeful intention,” Blake says.

The work of DE&I does not end at a hire. There’s issues of job satisfaction, work-life balance, equitable pay and promotion opportunities, and accountability by employers for ensuring staff are not just hired, but happy.

The “Women In The Mix” study conducted by The Recording Academy, Berklee College of Music and Arizona State University surveyed more than 1,600 women across the music business and made some startling findings.

Women and gender-expansive people in the industry are working multiple jobs and long hours, with 57% having two or more jobs, 24% working from 40-51 hours per week.

Not only is working too much and too hard an issue for many women in music, but so is not being paid enough, many said. Thirty-six percent said they make less than $40,000 per year, and almost half said they should be further along in their careers.

Discrimination continues to pose significant obstacles, according to the “Women In The Mix” study, released on March 8 – International Women’s Day. Eighty-four percent of respondents, distributed equally across racial identities, report facing discrimination; 77% felt they’d been treated differently in the music industry because of their gender, and 56% believed their gender had affected their employment in the industry, with music creators and performers expressing this the most, at 65%.

At the same time, and despite those challenges, 78% of respondents reported feeling satisfied with their jobs, including over 80% in career categories that seem to face the most obstacles. However, those who worked in event and tour production, management and promotion were the least likely, at 65%, to express job satisfaction, the study finds.

Clearly, despite some of the most disappointing study findings, not all is doom and gloom for women in the concert or even the broader music business. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Gracing the cover of this week’s Pollstar is Lesley Olenik, who is Live Nation’s SVP of global touring – arguably the most successful woman in that sector today. In fewer than 10 years, she has risen from booking small clubs as a talent buyer to overseeing many of the biggest tours on the planet.

“There will always be room for improvement,” Olenik says. “There is always more work to be done. … And I think the industry needs to pay attention to organizations such as Diversify the Stage, She is the Music, and Roadies of Color, for example.

“I think companies in general, not just in the music industry, are being held accountable in regard to their DE&I efforts. Now, more than ever, companies are focused on growth and promoting from within and creating new positions and opportunities at all levels. There has been a clear shift and I am hopeful it will continue to go up from here.”