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Annenberg Inclusion Initiative extends agreement with Universal Music to research on racial inequality in the music industry

Black artists consistently top the popular music charts, but African Americans and other people of color are not adequately represented in decision-making roles in the music business. Systemic inequality in leadership positions extends to all aspects of the music industry. In light of renewed and persistent calls for equity across industries, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and Universal Music Group (UMG) are extending their collaboration to provide a deeper understanding of how to create change in the music industry.

Over the next several months, the project 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, the initiative 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 Carmen Lee, the lead researcher for the upcoming research. “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 collaboration with Universal Music Group, a company with a proven track record for change.”

UMG has established a Task Force for Meaningful Change as a driving force for inclusion and social justice. 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).

“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,” Harleston and Habtemariam said. “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 collaboration between Universal and the 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 nonprofit 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 Stacy Smith was named to the founding leadership board of the organization.

Both the initiative and UMG have a legacy of transformative and impactful engagement in the music business. Combining forces to tackle urgent questions related to racial justice and equity in the recording industry will serve to accelerate change and pave a pathway for talented voices both in the artistic and organizational ranks.