Punters and publications alike call-out a lack of female representation in lineups, while despicable behavior is highlighted and scorned. In other words, the problem is articulated. But of course, there is much more work that is needed to be done, particularly behind the scenes of the industry. Think record companies, production companies, music association boards and the like.
A study conducted by The University of Sydney in 2017 analysed the four peak music industry bodies, and found that 83% of board positions were held by men. The peak body, the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), had no women on the board.
Enter Sarah Deborre – the project manager of Music Victoria’s new program Cultivate – which seeks to drastically address issues like this. The new leadership initiative, backed by the Victorian government, targets this problem head on, and as Deborre will ensure, will foster and enhance the skills of mid-level to established female music industry professionals.
“It’s to support women who are on their leadership journey and their journey into upper management within the industry,” Deborre explains. “[It] provides them with the relevant training and leadership skills to enable them do their job successfully for a long time to come, which will positively impact the music sector in Victoria.”
The program, which will take in a select number of participants, is totally bespoke. And while mentoring is at its heart, including partnering up participants with CEOs, senior role holders and the like, there are many other approaches to their development.
“There will be a series of master classes that will hone in on all types of different leadership skills and we’ll be identifying a lot of that through the application process,” Deborre explains. “Things like board training, which will give people the skills to be on different music industry boards so we have more women represented on these boards. Other things like conflict-resolution, public speaking, building emotional intelligence, empathy, negotiation skills, leading and motivating others. We’ve got the budget to be able to invest into each of our participants to put them through the training that’s going to be relevant to them and their career.”
Deborre reiterates that Cultivate is not aimed at artists. “This is more for people that are working behind the scenes. Women that are working in leadership positions in places like record labels, in production companies, as artist managers, women working in public relations, marketing and even in music entertainment law,” she says.
Addressing imbalances across the music sector and fostering diversity is invaluable for decision making, Deborre says.
“I think it’s important to have different voices, to me that is one of the things that screams out,” she explains. “And also it’s about making sure that we’ve got the right person in the job and not a person that’s employed over someone else because of their gender. And that’s not to say that it should be just gender-based. We need to ensure that we are inclusive and diverse in the voices that we’re representing in a community.”
As for what leadership means to Deborre, the key thread amassed from her nearly 20 years as a leader in the industry, is simple – understanding people.
“I think that more than anything [it’s] actually learning to empathise and understand… and you really need to be able to relate to everyone, even if they are going through something completely different to you,” she says. “If you can do that, then you know how to support those people around you and supporting and understanding is really what I think it’s about when it comes to leadership.”