The Recording Academy has invited 900 women and/or people of color under the age of 39 to join as voting members, based on the recommendation of its Task Force on Diversity & Inclusion formed earlier this year.
The move is an effort to diversify its voting membership in the wake of the fierce criticism the Academy received earlier this year in the wake of outgoing chairman Neil Portnow’s ill-phrased comment to a Variety reporter that female executive and musicians need to “step up” in order to receive equal recognition, and the low percentage of female and minority 2018 Grammy winners. Portnow announced late in May that he will step down from his post next year.
The invited individuals are described as “music creators, including vocalists, songwriters, instrumentalists, producers and engineers”; the move was first reported by Billboard. The Academy says it has also diversified the composition of its Nominations Review Committees, the 16 committees that select the final Grammy nominations in specialized categories. The Nominations Review Committees are now 51% female and 48% people of color; in 2017 they were 28% female and 37% people of color, according to the report.
Similarly, the eight National Governance Committees, which oversee such areas as membership and advocacy, raised their numbers of female members to 48% and people of color to 38%, up from 20% and 30%, respectively.
The Recording Academy says its total membership, including voting and associate members, is 22,000, of which 33% are female; however, just 21% of the 13,000 voting members are female. It added that 55% of the voting membership identifies as white, 28% as people of color and 17% declined to disclose.
Task Force chair Tina Tchen, formerly chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, said the initiative is “a first step. We hope to work with the Academy in the coming months to do it again next year in a more organized way, but we wanted to do [it] right away to affect this year’s awards season. This is an outreach effort to say ‘You are qualified [to vote], we hope you will join.’ We are hoping this will be part of getting the artists to be part of the change that we want to have, which is to diversify the leadership of the industry through the Recording Academy by having all diverse artists participating in the process.”
“In this day and age, you need to do outreach,” Tchen added. “You can’t sit passively by and expect people to come to you. You need to do deliberate, intentional outreach and make sure that your membership reflects the broad range of folks that you want to have in.”
She also said that she hopes to have the bulk of the Task Force’s work completed by May of 2019. “I have been hoping, and I remain still hopeful, that we started our work in May and that by the time we got to our year anniversary we’d be largely finished,” she said. “That’s the pacing that we’ve wanted to be on. This is not a longterm gig for all of us. But we haven’t set a firm deadline. We want to get the work done and we want to get it done right and we understand the urgency of getting it down quickly as well.”
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