Girls I Rate takes aim at the glass ceiling

Songwriter Carla Marie Williams’ announcement on March 8 that she was starting a new initiative to champion women in the music industry was timely.

She unveiled Girls I Rate, a scheme to promote women in the creative industries, just days after Billboard’s Power 100 list was released.

For anyone hoping the music industry was becoming a more diverse place, the list made depressing reading.

It rates the industry’s movers and shakers who, although not necessarily household names, have huge influence over the music we listen to and how that music is marketed.

The first 11 places are taken up by white men. It’s not until you get to number 12 that a female face appears – in the form of Michele Antony, Executive VP of Universal Music, who doesn’t even hold the spot in her own right but shares it with her colleague Boyd Muir.

Only three women rank in the top 50 and of those only two, Jody Gerson and Jennifer Breithaupt, hold their ranking alone (without sharing the spot with another person).

Overall, 139 people make the list and 14 are women.

So what is Carla Marie Williams, a songwriter with credits for hits including Runnin’ (Lose it All) made famous by Beyonce and Naughty Boy, hoping her scheme will achieve?

RUNNING (LOSE IT ALL) Naughty Boy: Beyonce

She has two aims: to shine a spotlight on women who have been working in the industry for many years but whose achievements have largely gone unrecognised; and to support young women attempting to rise through the ranks.

She said: “Girls I Rate is not only about celebration of success, it is also about creating future platforms to empower, mentor and support the next generation of diverse GIR girls and young women coming through across the industry. There is a gender imbalance within the creative industries, and Girls I Rate aims to help smash that ‘glass ceiling’.”

Carla Marie also wants to change attitudes towards diversity as in the early years of her career the London-born artist was “hit hard by the stereotypes of what it meant to be a black girl singing alternative music”.

She was offered plenty of chances to front garage and R & B acts or as she puts it fit into “the conventional box the industry says a black woman should fit into”.

But she turned these offers down to carve out her own career.

A turning point came when she went to work with Brian Higgins at Xenomania, a British songwriting and production team.

She wrote in the Guardian: “The irony is that each chapter of my life has been advanced by older powerful, influential white males who have embraced my energy and educated me in both music and business – so it’s important not to generalise.”

Nevertheless she said women in the music industry often walk a complicated tightrope. If they speak up and express a strong opinion, they are “nagging” or “moaning”. If they say nothing they are viewed as passive.

Girls I Rate was launched in London on International Women’s Day with a gala dinner attended by many high profile women from the industry including Kanya King, CEO of the Mobos.

Kanya said she felt isolated when she started working in the industry so set about creating her own network of like-minded people.

Singer Jamelia also lent her support. She said: “It’s such an honour to be a part of the launch of Girls I Rate, Carla Marie is someone who I’m proud of and have so much respect for as a fellow woman in the industry. I’m very honoured that Carla sees in me what she does and am proud to champion the GIR message. She and I both care deeply about empowering women and girls, so the Girls I Rate movement is the perfect vehicle for creating change.”

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Article BY: Bronwyn Bidwell

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Bronwyn Bidwell is an Australian journalist and editor based in London. She enjoys writing about music, books, history and popular culture.