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Recording Academy’s Diversity Task Force Is ‘Shocked and Dismayed’ at Dugan Allegations, Demands Action

In the wake of former Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow’s ill-spoken 2018 comment that female musicians and executives needed to “step up” in order to advance in the music industry, the organization formed a Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion, headed by Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff Tina Tchen, to identify and execute those objectives. Last month, it released a strongly-worded 47-page report identifying multiple areas for improvement at the Academy. (Read the full report here.)

Now, nearly two years later, amid the shocking allegations of sexual misconduct at the Academy in ousted CEO Deborah Dugan’s legal complaint, it has issued a statement saying that the organization the Academy “implement all of the changes in the report that we delivered — without any delay.” It says it will be reconvening in 90 days and “expects to hear progress from the Academy by that time.”

The statement follows below in full:

As representatives from across the music community serving on the Recording Academy Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, we want to speak in our own voice about our shock and dismay at the allegations surrounding the Recording Academy and its leadership that surfaced this week.

Our Task Force devoted the last year and a half to determining ways of making this industry we love more inclusive and representative of all of our voices. On December 12, 2019, we issued a 47-page report, setting out 18 systemic changes we determined were needed to improve diversity and inclusion at the Academy, and drive constructive change across the music industry.

These new charges reinforce just how important and urgent it is that the Academy implement all of the changes in the report that we delivered — without any delay.

The Academy’s Board of Trustees and leadership must immediately commit themselves to real reform, take concrete steps to implement all of the Task Force reforms, and transparently and regularly report on their progress — including transparently reporting on the pending investigations they have announced are underway. The Task Force will be reconvening in 90 days and expects to hear progress from the Academy by that time.

To reiterate, among the recommendations outlined in our report are calls for:

  • Ensuring that all committees of the Academy, including nominations committees, are diverse, with equal representation of men and women — an area where progress achieved last year was eroded in this year’s appointments;
  • Implementing ranked-choice voting at both the nominating committee and final ballot stages for the Big Four award categories (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist), which we believe would be a more fair and representative way to decide among a large group of nominees;
  • Changing the Board of Trustees election system so that the leadership of the Academy will be more diverse and inclusive. While the Academy announced a partial implementation of our recommendation last month, it does not go far enough;
  • Hiring a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the executive level to lead the deeper changes that are obviously needed; and
  • Hiring an independent outside advisor to conduct a review of all policies to ensure the Academy has a compliant and inclusive workplace culture.

To be clear, these are changes that need to be made at the highest levels and institutionalized so that they outlast any single leader.

While we understand there are ongoing investigations about the issues raised over the last week, our experience and research tells us that if the Academy leadership, its staff, and the nominating committees that govern the Awards were more diverse and inclusive, there would be better processes for resolving problems and more trust in the Academy as a whole. Those seeking to make such reforms need to be supported, not impeded.

Change is hard. It won’t be easy to make these changes. But we are deeply disappointed at the level of commitment by some of the Academy’s leadership in effecting the kind of real and constructive change presented in our report. We are confident that they can do better.

Music has historically catalyzed and galvanized mass social change. And so it must again. Now.

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