Breaking Down The Barriers: How Intersectionality Impacts Those In The Business

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While Pollstar may have had a difficult time narrowing down our Women of Live list due to the sheer number of fantastic women in the industry, there is still a long way to go. White women make up 26.9% of the entire music business, underrepresented women 8.4% and Black women just 3%, according to USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 2021 study. In live music, white women are 30.8% of the workforce, underrepresented women 9% and Black women only 1.7%. 

Noelle Scaggs’ Diversify The Stage works to level the playing field and help provide opportunities for people who may not have the same advantages as others. Her organization allows numerous young music industry professionals to get their start, teaming them up with mentors and helping them land some of their first jobs in the music business.

After taking part in Diversify The Stage’s apprenticeship program and establishing careers of their own, alumni including Maythe Santos, Carmen Walker and Em Garcia hope to one day pay it forward.

“I am now in a position of management power in one of my working spaces, and I hired two Latinas as my assistants,” Santos, who identifies as a queer, undocumented Latina, tells Pollstar. She wears numerous hats, including artist hospitality, working as the hospitality manager at the Salt Shed in Chicago, merch coordinator at Ten Atoms and freelancing on tours.

“Not everyone’s going to look like you,” she says. “But to know that there are others like you, it truly makes a difference. I remember when we first started Diversify The Stage, I was in that first cohort, and I could almost cry at how beautiful it was to see so many women of color and folks who I won’t see in a workplace. I can go to a show and see who’s in charge here. And unfortunately, most of the time it’s not going to be women of color or non-binary folks or just representing folks out there.”

Santos is hopeful that, with Diversify The Stages and other organizations aiming to promote intersectionality and equality in the music industry, the new changes she’s been a part of are only the beginning. She remembers spotting a Diversify The Stages sticker on the TVs at a Live Nation venue in Chicago. Seeing that small representation immediately made Santos feel more at home.

“It’s simple,” she says of how venues, companies, artist teams and the rest of the industry can make themselves more welcoming to people of color, gender non-conforming folk and everyone else.

Walker, an A&R manager, has been in the business for around five years. She got her start with internships while still an undergrad. As a young Black woman in the industry, she’s finding confidence within herself and recognizing her perspective matters.

“Being youthful in an industry that’s ever-changing, they want our input,” Walker says. “They want us to contribute. But I don’t think we’ve really gotten the training or preparedness to show up in rooms as confident professionals.”

Her personal aim has been to share with other young professionals that confidence matters and the best way to move forward is to stop stepping in your own way. “Being in certain spaces, you can really psych yourself out,” she shares. “I found that looking between me and my other counterparts, I put a lot of weight on myself and my own journey. A lot of expectations that were not put onto me, just by how I feel I show up in the space. I think battling with the stereotypical experience of what people are expecting of me versus showing up as who I am has been the biggest challenge throughout the years.” 

Walker also hopes barriers of entry into the industry change. She feels for others who think to join the industry later on who may face more difficulty in getting a foot in the door.

“I think middle-aged people or those who are in that weird space after college are kind of left out when it comes to these conversations,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of preparedness towards 18 to 24. There’s plenty of people who want to give this a shot and move into music. I think it’s easy to turn our nose up to those people and say, ‘Well, what were you doing? What have you been learning? What tangible skills do you have?’ A lot of times that’s because to get in and learn, you have to be an intern. Some folks aren’t getting paid. I think there needs to be more training, more classes to see this in a different way.”

While other industries have certificates one can receive to start a job, the music industry has no direct path. Those wanting to work in music oftentimes fall into it in their own way.

“From a business perspective, of course you want to get in the younger people,” she says. “Are we not preparing people to take those next steps? In other industries, you’re forced to go through certain training that legitimizes you to come in and be a nurse or a doctor. And for us, it’s a gray area.”

Em Garcia (she/they) is still navigating their identity. The past several years have marked major changes. They opted for a career change and leaned into their identity as a non-binary individual. After graduating from UC Davis in 2021 with a degree in psychology and working for a period of time in that field, they made the decision to pursue their passions and joined Diversify The Stage’s apprenticeship program. Now, they work as a festival admin assistant. 

“Within the industry, and also outside of it in my personal life and day-to-day, I always enter new spaces wondering if I’m going to feel excluded because of language, specifically language that is not inclusive of gender identities that exist outside of the gender binary,” Garcia shares.

Garcia believes that the best way to work towards a better future is with “each individual doing their own research on how to be more inclusive in their day-to-day interactions and also in the workplace.”

Santos, Walker and Garcia are all working towards making the music industry a safe space for those in the crowd, on the stage and working behind the scenes.

“I want people to be okay in situations when they work,” Santos shares. “I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable and I want it to be a safe space because I’ve been there.”

She emphasizes the best way to make steps toward change is to speak up. The only way to create change in the industry is to raise awareness of what still needs to be done and to help open doors for those hoping to follow.

“If I can help hire or put somebody in the right direction, I would love to be a part of it,” Santos says. “I want to keep this going and make sure no one else gets left behind. We open those doors and make it known that you are welcome in this industry.”

Diversify The Stage provided Garcia, Walker and Santos with a safe space to pave a new road and improve the industry for those who come after them. While the statistics show there is still more work to be done, creating room for young professionals to seek out mentors is a step in the right direction.