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Recording Academy Names Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s Former Chief of Staff, Head of Task Force for Inclusion

The Recording Academy announced today that Tina Tchen, chief of staff to former first lady Michelle Obama, will chair its task force to examine issues of inclusion and diversity within the Academy and the music community. According to the announcement, “As part of its charter, the task force will identify the various barriers and unconscious biases faced by underrepresented communities throughout the music industry and, specifically, across Recording Academy operations and policies. In an effort to determine pathways toward greater parity at every level of the organization, the task force will look specifically at Recording Academy governance, hiring and promotion practices, membership, awards, and telecast.”

“The music industry faces numerous challenges — from combatting long-held biases to making sure women are represented and respected within the community,” Tchen said in a statement. “This task force is an important initial step by the Recording Academy to demonstrate its commitment to tackling these challenges in a comprehensive way. I am honored to partner with them in this effort and look forward to working with members of the task force as we look to make the music industry a diverse and inclusive community for all.”

Grammy chief Neil Portnow faced a torrent of criticism after this year’s Grammy Awards due to the low representation of female artists in the show and for his unfortunately-worded post-show comments to a Variety reporter that female artists and executives need to “step up” in order to get ahead in the music business. While Portnow clearly misspoke and later made efforts to walk back his comments, three different groups of music industry executives, two of which were female, posted letters criticizing him and the Academy. Representatives of those groups either declined or did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.

Tchen currently heads the Chicago office of the Buckley Sandler LLP law firm, where she is a partner and leader in advising companies on gender inequity, sexual harassment, and lack of diversity. Most recently, she played an integral role in spearheading the formation of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal support to victims of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse in the workplace. During her tenure in the White House, Tchen was the executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, established by President Barack Obama to ensure that the needs of women and girls would be accounted for in the development of all government agency policies and programs.

She has no music industry background, which was intentional, Portnow said in a statement. “In this moment, the Recording Academy can do more than reflect what currently exists; we can help lead the industry into becoming the inclusive music community we want it to be—a responsibility that the Board and I take seriously, ” he said. “Tina Tchen is an accomplished advocate for women and impact-oriented leader versed in convening disparate stakeholders for a common purpose. In addition, the fact that she lacks business ties to the music industry ensures her objectivity as Chair. We are honored to have her at the helm, guiding the Academy and our industry toward a greater good for everyone involved.”

Incidentally, prior to joining the Obama administration, Tchen was a litigator at Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a large firm at which the late Joseph Flom, father of Lava Records founder and longtime A&R exec Jason Flom, was a partner.

According to the announcement, the Recording Academy says it will complete the formation of its task force comprising “music executives, music creators, academia, and experts in diversity in entertainment” in the coming weeks, “with an eye toward assembling a leadership group balanced in perspective and independent of bias.”

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