Recording Academy Reveals Its Diversity Task Force Report, With Strong Calls for Reform

Grammy Awards 60th Annual Grammy Awards,
MJ Photos/REX/Shutterstock

Anyone wondering what the Recording Academy’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion has been doing for the past 18 months got their answer this morning in the form of the organization’s strongly worded, 47-page-long Final Report, which is now available on the Academy’s website. As its name states, the Task Force, helmed by former first lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff Tina Tchen, was formed in the wake of the “Step up” controversy that followed the 2018 Grammy Awards and threw the Academy’s issues of gender and racial diversity into stark relief.

The Task Force did not hold back: The report is a detailed, critical and clear-eyed analysis that lays out a number of sweeping recommendations for changes throughout the Academy and the industry at large. In the bigger picture, its recommendations include restructuring and setting diversity goals for its Board of Trustees to “ensure that music creators from the broadest range of ages, backgrounds, genders, genres, crafts, and regions are fully represented within the organization’s leadership,” ensuring gender parity on Awards and Governance committees, publicly reporting on the demographic composition of its workforce across different levels of seniority, and increasing outreach to diverse communities, which include key initiatives for female producers and engineers. It also sets goals for execution and accountability of those and other directives.

At various points, the report says that the Academy’s governance and nomination-review committees “had historically not been comprised of diverse members,” and that its board of directors “is not diverse, is not independent, and is perceived by some underrepresented members (and non-members in the music industry) as out of touch.” Read the full report here.

Of the 18 recommended actions, the Academy says it has already implemented 17 of them, holding off a change in voting procedure for further examination.

The report noted, “The Task Force proposes that the current system pursuant to which Board members are elected exclusively through the Chapter system be reformed, so that the Board is selected and composed of three co-equal groups: Trustees elected from Chapters, Trustees elected by the voting membership, and Trustees appointed through at-large selections,” with a third of the trustees being selected or elected by those groups. While its initial purview was “in response to concerns about the underrepresentation of women in the industry,” it broadened its approach to include “groups that were underrepresented in terms of race, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ and disability, in addition to gender and gender identity.”

In a statement, Recording Academy President/CEO Deborah Dugan said, “The mission of the Recording Academy is to serve and advocate for music creators from all genres and of all genders and generations. We have recently made tremendous progress and I’m proud to report that our leadership team is currently 50 percent female and that the 2019 Academy membership class is the most diverse in our history. However, there is still work to be done. We are deeply committed to continuing to implement the Task Force’s recommendations and building a community that is truly representative of our diverse and dynamic creators.”

Speaking with Variety, Dugan added, “The big takeaway from the report and our actions is restructuring the board, which hasn’t happened in 62 years, and the transparency that’s coming from the Recording Academy, the clear setting of goals and being accountable for those goals — the changes that must happen immediately to implement diversity and inclusivity at every committee. That goes to race, gender, genre, and even regions, so it’s quite complex.

“I’m oddly happy with report because it is what it purports to be,” she continued. “It’s genuine, and I trust Tina to be completely professional about it, and we were ready for it because we’ve been working on it for a long time  — the question is how we sustain it. I’m pleased because it shows a great tone for the Recording Academy.”

Tchen said in a statement, “Over the course of the last year and a half, the Task Force dedicated hundreds of hours of their time to conduct a thorough analysis of how the Recording Academy could do better to create a diverse and inclusive environment for all workers and music creators. We owe a debt of gratitude to the impressive lineup of leaders from throughout the music industry who served on the Task Force for their tireless commitment to changing the Academy, and the industry, for the better,” said Tchen. “We are also so grateful for the full cooperation and participation of the Recording Academy at every step, and are encouraged by the commitment to change they announced today.”

Explaining its process, the report reads in part, “In connection with the Task Force’s initial investigation, we conducted interviews with Academy staff and leadership to better understand Academy governance and operations. Through that work, we learned of two sets of Academy committees that serve particularly vital internal and external functions for the Academy: (1) national governance committees [which play a key role in setting corporate policy for the Academy]; and (2) nomination review committees. With limited exceptions, members of these committees generally are appointed by the Chair of the Board of Trustees, in consultation with the President/CEO of the Academy, subject to ratification by the Board.

“After reviewing the composition of these committees, we found that they had historically not been comprised of diverse members.”

It then goes on to note that between 2015 and 2018, 71% of the national governance committee members were men, while only 29% were female; and between 2015 and 2017, the members of the nomination review committees in the aggregate were 74% male, 26% female.

“When the Task Force learned of this disparity in mid-2018, we realized immediate corrective action was needed,” the report reads. “So we promptly worked with Academy leadership to address these disparities in advance of the upcoming Grammy Awards season. This was a collaborative process in which Task Force members worked with Academy staff to identify diverse, qualified people to invite to join these committees. As a result of this work, the demographic disparities were addressed almost immediately.”

For this year’s awards, members of the nomination review committees were 51% female, while the national governance committees were 52% male and 48% female, and the national governance committee co-chairs were 50% male/50% female.

The diversity recommendations include:

  • The Academy shall take all necessary steps to ensure that (1) the Chair, President, and Board must make best efforts to ensure that the national governance committees and nomination review committees are diverse and reflect present societal demographics with respect to race and gender; and (2) the Academy will strive to have equal representation on the committees (separately, and in the aggregate) as between women and men.
  • To the extent the Academy is unable to meet these goals based on its internal sourcing, the Academy will consult with external industry sources, such as Task Force members, to identify qualified, diverse candidates.
  • The Academy should revise the mission statement on its public website to include language reflecting its commitment to diversity in the music industry.
  • The Academy shall take formal action committing itself to consider issues of diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization. This action, regardless of the form it takes, should include a commitment that the Academy will consider a diverse slate of candidates before making a hiring decision for any open position for which the Academy seeks applicants from the general public or from a search firm.
  • The Academy should hire an outside law firm or consulting firm to conduct a review of all of its existing policies on sexual harassment, diversity, workplace culture, and working family benefits, and implement reforms—to the extent necessary—to ensure that it has a compliant, inclusive workplace culture. In this regard, the Academy should also strive to provide more regular, cutting edge training on issues of workplace discrimination and harassment.
  • The Academy should adopt a policy committing to publicly report on the demographic composition of its workforce, including across different levels of seniority.

As part of an extensive criticism of the existing system, the report says “The Chapters essentially have become silos, and it has resulted in a Board that is not diverse, is not independent, and is perceived by some underrepresented members (and non-members in the music industry) as out of touch.”

The report’s analysis of the music industry at large is even more critical, and lays out the following areas as particularly ripe for improvement (and goes into great detail on each).

The Task Force identified the following issues as existing obstacles to success for underrepresented persons and groups of persons within the music industry:

  •   Underrepresentation of women in the music industry, particularly within the industry’s technical fields.
  •   Prevalence of harassment, discrimination, and/or assault as a result of informal or isolated work environments.
  •   Restriction of airtime or participation by female artists, particularly in country music.
  •   Underrepresentation of individuals of lower socioeconomic means due to high costs of entry.
  •   Lack of equal access to resources for disabled individuals.
  •   Marginalization of certain ethnicities into particular roles or genres.
  •   Phasing out of older generation music industry professionals.

Read the entire report here.