International Women’s Day rolled around on Thursday 8th March and amongst a huge number of killer events that week in London and globally was one we’ve been yelling about for a while: Needs x UN Women HeForShe at Oval Space on Sunday 11th.
Although the weather was grimy, the atmosphere inside was fairly electric as the attendees filtered in, preparing to come face to face with some of the biggest names in electronic music, radio, music management, and gender activism.
The day was introduced by Mixmag’s Ralph Moore and a representative from the UN Women HeForShe Arts week campaign, reminding the crowd of the impetus behind the campaign, and the real world impact it’s effecting:
“HeForShe is a systematic approach with which men and boys can engage. It’s about inviting men to become catalysts of change, agents of change, working with us towards gender equality. Since launching in 2014, HeForShe now has over 1.3 billion supporters worldwide – including companies, universities, and governments. For me personally, [one example of an impact] I find most inspiring is in Malawi; the President there has now banned child marriage, but that’s also meant he’s sent 3500 girls that were in under-aged marriages back to school, back to their families – that means addressing dowries, it means addressing issues of shame, it means preparing the way for these girls to get married when they are of age, it means finding a way for the men who married them to move on with life, it’s about changing lives, about a new start. So it’s really huge what [HeForShe is] trying to do.
HeforShe Arts week came from the idea that if we’re trying to change a culture – what better way is there than using culture. So I can stand here and talk about gender equality, but if you say something in a song, or in a statue, or in a painting, or poem, it’s going to have so much more engagement; it’s going to really get to the heart of what’s going on. It’s also because what gender equality is for me, is not what gender equality is for you – so if we’re looking at what it is for everybody, we get to something that is real.”
The first panel probably threw a few off-guard – curated by shesaidso, the topic was ‘Parenthood in music’, featuring Clara Wright, shesaidso mamas; Edna Pletchetero, Big Dipper productions; Kyra; Manny & Me; Martina Conners, Ninja Tune; and Sarah Wilson, Verdigris Management. However, the panellists – consisting of parents from across the artist and management sphere – quickly made it apparent that this was absolutely a pertinent feminist issue. Challenging issues of maternity and paternity paid leave, body image for artists post-parenthood, the unique viewpoint parenthood affords, and the flexibility required from businesses to allow parents’ careers to thrive – the day started on an inspiring and positive note.
Second up was Mixcloud’s curated panel entitled ‘She Changed Me’ – featuring Snoochie Shy, Radar Radio; Lily Mercer, Rinse FM; Gabriel, The Heatwave/Rinse FM; and Ty, Pyro Radio/Soho Radio. Each panellist discussed women that had made a big impact on them – taking in powerful artists from Eartha Kitt to Cookie Crew. The conversation was positive but nevertheless hard hitting: taking in points on the Black Lives Matter movement, issues of female representation both lyrically and visually in hip-hop and dancehall music, rapping about sexual assault and rape, and the importance of role models – the passion of the panellists was clear to see.
I was fortunate enough to be able to grab a few minutes with Mixcloud’s Xanthe Fuller immediately after she’d finished hosting the panel, to quiz her on her place leading Mixcloud’s diversity, and what she thinks the future has in store:
Could you start by introducing yourself?
I’m the Head of Community at Mixcloud, which means that I look after some of the big influencers who use the site, and I also encourage those who aren’t using the site to come and join us. My background before Mixcloud was I used to be a radio producer for ten years – I worked at the likes of Radio 1, 1xtra, 6 Music, Radio 2, XFM, and Classic FM, so I sort of did the whole lot in radio; and then decided that online is where it’s at, in the future.
How did Mixcloud become involved with this event?
We’ve heard about this event via Bobby Pleasure, who is the man behind Needs Not-for-Profit, who we’ve worked with before and were very impressed with everything he’s doing. Also Melissa, who works for the UN Women’s Council, I’ve worked with a lot over email over the years, so she came to us and asked if we’d be interested in taking part. And we were really up for it, but one thing that we were very sure about was that we wanted to do a session that really sent out a positive message. Every discussion that’s being had today is very valid, but we thought that if we’re not careful it could turn into a lot of complaining, so we wanted something that was positive and upbeat as well.
So what was the focus for Mixcloud’s panel here today?
We wanted to be positive, but we also wanted to turn to our community for their opinions. We’ve got a very diverse and exciting community, so we wanted to get them on board to give their opinions on the situation in music today. Because Mixcloud is predominantly a music platform – we also have a lot of podcasts, and we want to have more as we move forward, but right now it’s more music and radio – we asked 4 people from our community who all host shows, either directly on Mixcloud, or they do shows on online radio stations who then upload to Mixcloud.
Your panel discussed some of the amazing women that have been a great influence, and also some of the hurdles they overcame. In your eyes what are some of the challenges facing female identifying artists in the community?
I think a big challenge, especially for us as Mixcloud, is trying to find enough women on the platform to celebrate. So one thing that I really want to do is push women who upload on the platform; but, it’s that age old problem, and it’s a problem that I talked about in the panel, of there not being enough women actually uploading.
But what really annoys me is when people say “Oh, I just want to employ the best person for the job but not enough women are applying, so what am I supposed to do”, when I really think it’s down to that person employing, or down to me for example in my role at Mixcloud, to find and encourage those women, and put them out there publicly; so that other women are inspired and encouraged to do the same.
It’s amazing how often ‘the best person for the job’ just happens to turn out to be a white, straight, middle-aged male…
Exactly – so then it’s also down to that employer to widen their net of where they’re advertising their job, because probably the reason it’s only white males applying is because your network, or where you’re putting your adverts, is full of white males. So it’s actually really down to that person to do the hard work, go the extra mile, and make sure you’re connecting with disadvantaged people – or wherever you’re falling short in terms of ethnic diversity, or gender diversity, or even personalities diversity. A lot of companies are guilty of just employing one personality type, and really diversity is key to everything – and that includes having extroverts, but also having loads of introverts in there as well.
You’ve mentioned your long career in radio – what are some of the positive changes you’ve seen along the way?
I think as I mentioned before, online radio is a really exciting place at the moment. The BBC is still incredibly exciting as a broadcaster, I’ll never turn away from that, but in online radio you’ve got all these projects that really take these problems to their heart, and make sure they do something about them. So (during the panel) Snoochie Shy was talking about Radar Radio; they do a lot of projects where they bring in young people, perhaps disadvantaged local youth, and get them involved in the station. They also run workshops aimed at women, trying to get them interested in DJing, or giving them the chance to DJ, or giving them the chance to present radio, or learn to be engineers – things that often women don’t tend to do, they’re really encouraging all of that. Likewise in Manchester you’ve got an online station called Reform Radio – they do the same, they do loads of local workshops and so on to encourage people.
Why do you think that’s happening more in online radio – is it to do with what Ty was talking about, the ‘Old Boys Club’, in some of these more traditional organisations?
I think perhaps yeah – the BBC has always been very good at diversity, it’s been key to everything they do, but I think commercial radio can be a bit guilty of having that old boys club vibe to it – and certainly going back there and working there a bit as I have done recently, I’ve just become so aware of how white and male it is! With online radio, it’s a different set of people, because of the freedom you get with online radio – because it’s more accessible, anyone that’s got the internet can set up a station, and kit is so much cheaper, and software is so much cheaper, that it’s really opened the doors to people that otherwise wouldn’t have had those opportunities. Which is incredibly exciting, because anyone is doing it now, and it’s kind of happening maybe naturally, that greater sense of getting people involved that perhaps were shut out before.
Looking ahead, what are some of the things you really want to see actioned by the men in the community?
I think it’s very important what Ty was saying about positive discrimination not being a bad thing. So making sure that you have women in senior roles in your company is key – they can bring female perspective on decisions that you’re making, and it’s going to make your business run better. But also it will hopefully attract more women to apply! When you’re interviewing, have a woman and a man there, so that females don’t feel intimidated in that situation – little things like that. Also continuously communicating with the women in your company, and making sure that they’re feeling as though they’re given the right space, and their rights. Encouraging women to form groups, if there are problems, and to push those issues forward and get them addressed, and as a man – being an open ear to all those issues.
I thought the panel earlier with the mothers, discussing the difficulties that they face, was really interesting – the male employer needs to think about creating those flexible working hours, and making sure that if a woman does go on maternity leave that she’s not then going to stop having her career progression that she was having before.
Even with amazing events like this one, bringing positive change to the industry is a long process. Does Mixcloud have a long-term diversity strategy?
Definitely – we’ve got strategies within the company in terms of how we’re building our team, and we really feel like how we run our company and the values that we express will then filter out onto the platform we’re creating as well. Diversity is key when we’re thinking about employing new people, and we’re reaching out to certain organisations, both to train us in things like unconscious bias and being aware of that, but also companies to help us reach different people when we’re posting job ads.
Then on top of that, we’re really keen to make the platform as diverse as possible, and to make sure that the stuff we’re posting on social media is as representative as possible of different races, and genders, and so on. So we find ourselves really trying to dig out great women that we can find on the platform, really pushing them, and then broadening out their network as well.
I was really surprised recently when setting up an account on a streaming service – being forced to select ‘male’ or ‘female’ to continue…
Yeah that’s interesting. I mean, a lot of these concepts have come to the public consciousness quite recently; so I think inevitably institutions and websites might take a bit of time to catch up. But still – I think it’s an exciting time right now, with the latest thing being addressing gender and perceptions of gender, it’s brilliant.
Huge thanks to Xanthe Fuller for taking the time to sit down with me!
AIM hosted the following panel entitled ‘Effecting Positive Change – how to achieve gender equality in the music business’, which featured strong discussions on, amongst other things, the possible future of inclusion riders, and PRS Foundation’s Keychange scheme aimed at committing festivals to a 50/50 gender balance by 2022. After that shesaidso took to the stage once more, inviting Carla Marie, Chloe Howl, Munroe Bergdorf, and Peggy Gou herself, to discuss the future of women on the stage.
After the final panel drew to a close, it was B.Traits turn to take to the stage alongside Radar / Resident Advisor’s Martha for a live recording of their Exchange Podcast. As she pointed out to the crowd, Bri was fresh off three solid nights of gigs – Thursday as a surprise guest at Soul In Motion, her first jungle set in many years; and then Friday and Saturday nights at her own IN TOTO label nights in London and Manchester. Still, severe sleep deprivation notwithstanding, Bri relaxed into her well known cheery self; and gave a really inspiring deep look into her difficult youth in small-town Canada, her decision to relocate completely alone to the UK, and her personal connection to the impressive drug awareness work that she’s done over the last few years. For those who only know her as the energetic voice of Friday night Radio 1 – take a listen to the podcast to discover the courageous and driven woman behind it.
And with that, the time for talking was over – the chairs were cleared away and the dancing shoes slipped on. The demographic of the crowd changed markedly – it being a Sunday after all, some of the older industry bods slipped away; while somewhat disappointingly, a much larger group of young lads trouped in ready to shuffle hard to the sounds of Jackmaster. I guess you can lead a horse to water – but you can’t make it listen to 4 hours of gender equality panels.
The evening’s music was executed in style by the top rate line up, Oval Space’s less than ideal acoustics not able to dampen the quality of the sound system and selections of the artists. Needs NFP founder Bobby Pleasure warmed up the crowd, before B.Traits went b2b with Danny Krankbrother as the surprise guest, ushering in a darker sound. Finally Jackmaster hit the bangers home, before the woman that possibly the large majority of the crowd were there to see – Peggy Gou – took the last set to send everyone off grooving into the night.
Please don’t forget that all of this was in aid of HeForShe – click the link, sign up, engage and donate if you can.