International Women's Day: Vanessa Reed

When reflecting back on 2017, we were proud to announce that 53% of the projects funded by PRS Foundation featured female music creators and 40% of the artists we funded identified as BAME. These results demonstrate just how diverse the next generation of talented musicians really is and that there’s no reason not to reach a broad talent pool if you work with a diverse, inclusive team with different networks and perspectives.

Diversity and equality is important to PRS Foundation for several reasons. A commitment to enabling songwriters and composers of all backgrounds to realise their potential is at the heart of our charitable goals so we encourage the broadest possible range of applicants to come forward for our support. The business case is also significant. We can project, from evidence in other sectors, that a more diverse and gender balanced music industry will be more successful and relevant. It will reflect its audience and harness the incredible breadth of talent we could be nurturing in the UK. Finally, I think it’s our responsibility as an independent development agency to respond quickly to any challenges we spot, testing new models and targeted schemes that help us understand the barriers that are holding people back.

This is exactly how we approached the gender gap in music when we realised in 2011 that our support was not reaching many female composers or songwriters. As a result, we launched our Women Make Music Fund. Five years later, our evaluation of this fund demonstrated that 77% of the female music creators we reached had not approached us before, 79% said that the fund increased their confidence and 78% said they had experienced sexism.

In recent years it’s been encouraging to see a range of different approaches to the gender gap led by men as well as women e.g. Composer Matthew Herbert and the Oram Trust approached us about helping with the annual Oram Awards for pioneering women in electronic music and sound. We’re also working with Festival Republic on the ReBalance programme set up by Melvin Benn, which enables one core female act per month to spend time in a recording studio in Leeds supported by a female producer mentor.

One development we hadn’t anticipated is for the EU-funded Keychange programme we’ve been leading to blossom from a talent development programme for female artists and industry innovators to a ground breaking, international movement which now involves over 45 festivals who’ve signed up to a gender balance pledge by 2022. Thanks to the vision of our partners we’ve discovered that a large number of men and women really want to see change and they’re ready to put themselves on the line to achieve it.

The huge response to Keychange makes me optimistic about the next 10 years. With increased public awareness about gender inequality across the creative industries we have a unique opportunity to question existing structures and ways of doing things that are being taken over by digital innovation as well as social and cultural change. In 2018, 100 years on from some women first getting the vote in the UK, we’re finally making progress.

Vanessa Reed, CEO, PRS Foundation

@Vanessa_PRSF / www.prsfoundation.com / www.keychange.eu