International Women's Day: Sarah Rodgers

Women are winning – but they still haven’t won!

Two decades into the 21st century and at last we are beginning to see a turning tide. Women’s leadership across many sectors is no longer raising eyebrows but there is still a long way to go. Yes, we can point to industry icons such as Jude Kelly, Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director for 12 years and now driving force behind the Women of the World Festival; or Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director of the LSO. That five of the country’s music membership organisations - ISM, MPA, Sound & Music, Making Music and BASCA have women chief executives is also significant. But women as a percentage of the music business workforce at decision-making level, of the creative workforce at production level or even as members of PRS for Music, barely hit the 20% mark. A survey of the UK music industry published by UK Music in 2017 found 70% of senior executive roles were filled by men. Where are the women music producers, record producers, company directors?

Throughout my career, I have taken advantage of every opportunity which came my way to be a presence and a voice for women creators – three years as Chairman of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain, four years as Chairman of BASCA, seventeen years as a writer director of MCPS, and, in all those positions, I was very often the only woman at board level. For all the indulgences of my male counterparts, that could feel very isolated, particularly as a woman’s take on situations, whether business-based, strategy-based or policy-based can seem alien and is often dismissed as such!

Board balance is slowly improving and board cultures are beginning to shift, but the question remains as to why this isn’t happening more quickly. Regardless of the perceived need for diversity and representation, most men will choose a man by preference so, until there are more women choosers, this attitude will prevail. I’ll reiterate that: ‘until there are more women choosers, this attitude will prevail.’ At the same time, women have to learn to validate themselves more, to believe that their contribution is as important as that of men and to be confident that they have the experience, ideas and vision to bring about success. Without this self-belief, the interests of women in the creative sectors will remain unrepresented and, beyond token concessions, will continue to lack nurture. (There is a word most men would not use!)

As a composer, it is a delight to see how our community has developed over the past ten years and become increasingly open, inclusive, collaborative and supportive. In the 1980’s when I received my first commissions, women composers were quite literally a rarity and even a risk as far as funding was concerned. There are caveats: composer residencies are three times more likely to be awarded to men and opportunities for women at some of the most prestigious festivals such as the Proms, Edinburgh or Cheltenham are not equal to those for men.

The introduction of the British Composer Awards, which I was privileged to found and lead for their first eleven years, has, I believe, contributed a great deal to this new-found balance and optimism. Certainly, new generations of composers treat one another and one another’s work with equal interest and respect.

This may not be a tide, but it is undoubtedly a new wave.

Sarah Rodgers

Sasha Siem receives a British Composer Award from Jude Kelly. Photograph by Mark Allan