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The Recording Academy has named former Google executive Valeisha Butterfield Jones as its first chief diversity & inclusion officer, effective May 11. Butterfield Jones will join the executive leadership team and report directly to Harvey Mason Jr., academy chair and interim president/CEO.
She is charged with applying inclusionary practices across all areas of the Recording Academy, including organizational and staff culture, membership and awards, through building and implementing programs focused on inclusion and representation for underrepresented communities and creators.
Butterfield Jones formerly served as the global head of inclusion for Google, Inc. Before that, she was the national youth vote director for Barack Obama’s 2012 Obama for America presidential election campaign and deputy director of public affairs for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce in the Obama administration. Butterfield Jones’ résumé also includes a previous music industry stint as executive director at Rush Communications, which includes Def Jam Enterprises, Baby Phat, Phat Farm and Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.
Mason tells Billboard that Butterfield Jones’ diverse professional experience helped make her the standout candidate. “Her backstory and the places she had worked all were very impressive,” he says. “She had a lot of different experiences, which I thought was unique, and I think that was a differentiator for us. Her work at Google was obviously really impactful.
“I liked her energy, I liked her approach, I liked her process. I liked how she came with a real proactive approach on how to improve things that we were doing. I liked her depth and breadth of experience before she got to us. We spent a lot of time talking. … More than anything, we just discussed her ideas and my ideas as to how we could be the most diverse and representative organization possible.”
In December, the Academy’s diversity & inclusion task force released its final report, which included a recommendation that the organization hire a diversity & inclusion officer at the executive level by May 1. The Academy made it right under the wire with its announcement Thursday, though the organization has had to deal with two unforeseen crises since that date was set — the sudden dismissal of Deborah Dugan, its first female president/CEO, on Jan. 16, and then the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is something we’ve been working on since December,” Mason says. “We just wanted to make sure we got the right person.”
Mason says the number of applicants for the position was in “double digits” and he interviewed “more than a handful” of finalists before personally making the final selection. “A lot of these interviews were done prior to the work-from-home [edict], so they were done in person. I spent a lot of time with the candidates and then I also had phone calls and Zooms with a number of them as well.”
Tina Tchen, chair of the diversity & inclusion task force and president and CEO of Time’s Up, said in a statement: “I am pleased to see the Recording Academy take this important step toward change within its own walls today by appointing Valeisha Butterfield Jones as its first-ever chief diversity & inclusion officer. Creating this executive-level position was a principal recommendation of our task force because it is one significant way the Academy can demonstrate that issues of diversity are mission-critical and will be prioritized in the future.”
(Like Butterfield Jones, Tchen also worked in the Obama White House in various roles. She served as an assistant to President Obama, executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama.)
Butterfield Jones said in a statement, “The Recording Academy has honored their commitment and I’m proud to join them on this journey. … I’m deeply inspired by the opportunity to shape a new industry standard of representation, inclusion and action.”
April 2020 is rather late for a company the size and stature of the Recording Academy to be hiring its first diversity & inclusion officer.
But Mason says his focus is on the future, not the past.
“I just got here,” he said. “This is one of the first things that we did [on my watch]. I looked at it and it was something that was very important. Before me, I’m not sure what the discussion was. I was not involved in those discussions, but as chair, and when I ran for chair, I knew that there was a need to make sure that we were doing the best we could in every area. For me, this is something that made a ton of sense and that I was very in favor of. So to be able to make this hire is something I’m excited about and very proud of.”
Butterfield Jones will become the fifth woman on the Recording Academy’s 13-member executive staff. She joins Lisa Farris, chief digital officer; Shonda Grant, chief people & culture officer; Lourdes Lopez Patton, vp communications; and Laura Segura Mueller, vp membership & industry relations.
In addition, all three people on MusiCares’ executive staff are women: Debbie Carroll, vp health & human services; Kelly Darr, vp events & fundraising; and Judy Wong, vp finance. There is one woman on the Grammy Museum’s executive staff: COO Rita George.
In 2007, Butterfield Jones co-founded the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN), a nonprofit coalition of women and men committed to the positive portrayal of women in the entertainment industry. She also serves on the national board of directors of iVote, ColorComm and MC Lyte’s Hip Hop Sisters Network.
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.
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