It has become abundantly clear over the past few years — not to mention the past few decades — that African-Americans and other people of color are not adequately represented in decision-making roles in the music business. In an effort to address the renewed and persistent calls for equity across industries, the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and Universal Music Group are extending their partnership to explore ways to create change in the music industry.

According to the announcement, over the next several months, the partnership will conduct new research – examining major and independent music companies, labels and publishers, digital platforms, radio and live concert companies as well as artists’ teams, focusing on managers, agents, attorneys and publicists – to determine the extent to which men and women of color are excluded from music’s leadership ranks. With this information in hand, Annenberg will issue a report, establishing goals and providing recommendations on how the music industry can address these disparities.

“There are currently gaps in access and opportunity for people of color, especially Black executives, in the music business” said Dr. Carmen Lee, an affiliated faculty member with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and the lead researcher for the work. “Beyond placing a spotlight on these discrepancies, we must illuminate how the lack of people of color in key roles thwarts inclusion throughout the industry. I am eager to lead the charge, flanked by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and in partnership with Universal Music Group, a company with a proven track record for change.”

Earlier this month, UMG established a Task Force for Meaningful Change intended to work as a force for inclusion and social justice by amplifying and expanding UMG’s current programs, devising new initiatives and supporting marginalized communities in the ongoing fight for equality, justice and inclusion. Its work is divided into six areas, including: Aid/Charitable Giving; Global; Internal/Institutional Change; Legislative/Public Policy; Partners; and Programming/Curation. Staffed by a group of professionals from across UMG, it is co-chaired by Jeff Harleston (UMG’s Executive VP, General Counsel, and Def Jam’s Interim Chairman and CEO) and Ethiopia Habtemariam (Motown Records’ President & EVP, Capitol Music Group).

Harleston and Habtemariam said, “We look forward to our continued work with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative as we work to advance diversity and inclusion in all corners of the music business. We are committed not only to improving UMG’s performance, but also to fostering real and sustainable change across the entire music ecosystem. We know that music can do better and believe that, informed by research and data, change can be most meaningful and constructive.”

The project represents a second phase in the partnership between Universal Music Group and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. In 2017, the two groups announced a collaboration to support inclusion in music, in which the two explored questions related to the participation of women and women of color specifically in the business. Jody Gerson, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group was named to the Initiative’s Advisory Board.

In addition to research, the two organizations have worked together over the last two years to support the efforts of She Is The Music, a non-profit organization founded by Alicia Keys, Gerson, Ann Mincieli, and Samantha Kirby Yoh to increase the number of women working in music across a variety of positions. In January 2020, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Founder Dr. Stacy L. Smith was named to the founding leadership board of the organization.