Two Months After Recording Academy Released Its Diversity and Inclusion Task Force Report, Top Officials Measure Progress

Harvey Mason Jr.-Getty-H 2018
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"I know we're not perfect. I know there's work to be done. But some of the projects and programs that we do are incredible."

While the media and industry have been focused on the turmoil at the Recording Academy sparked by the organization putting its President/CEO, Deborah Dugan, on administrative leave Jan. 16, academy staffers have been working toward meeting the recommendations made by the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

The Academy put the task force recommendations on its website Dec. 12, together with a summary of what progress it had made toward meeting the goals. Billboard checked in with Harvey Mason Jr., chair of the board of trustees and interim CEO of the Academy, and Laura Segura Mueller, vp membership and industry relations, for an update on progress that has been made in the two months since the summary was posted.

Actually, the term "task force recommendations" is somewhat misleading. Seventeen of the 18 recommendations have been endorsed by the Academy's board of trustees and have the full weight of being Academy goals and objectives.

"These are things we've been working on for a while now — well over a year," says Mueller, who has been, and will remain, the Academy's point person working with the task force. "These are Academy protocols at this point."

The next Academy leader would have to implement these protocols. "A new President/CEO certainly couldn’t undo the work," Mueller says. "They could improve upon it if they think we haven't gone far enough…. I think everyone wants us to be more diverse. It's how we're operating moving forward and have been for a few years now."

Mason sent a letter to the entire membership of the Recording Academy on Jan. 26, the morning of the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. In that letter, he identified five key Academy initiatives that are in various stages of implementation. Here's where those initiatives stand now.

Hire a diversity and inclusion officer at the executive level. In his letter, Mason said this would be done by late April. "We're looking," Mueller promises.

Establish and fund a fellowship at a university. In his letter, Mason said this would be done by late May. The purpose of the fellowship would be to monitor the Academy's compliance around diversity and inclusion issues. "We're talking to universities now," Mueller says.

Create a fund to be distributed annually to different "women in music" organizations. The fund will be managed by the diversity and inclusion officer. In the past year, the Academy has given $25K to She Is the Music and $20K to Women's Audio Mission.

Work on getting these changes written into the Academy's official documents. The Academy is considering putting the language about a commitment to diversity and gender parity into the charters of its governance and awards committees. "We're talking about adding it to our governance manual as well as making sure it's in each of those charters for the standing committees. If it's in the charter, a committee wouldn't be complete until it met the requirements," Mueller states.

"We want to do it in a manner that will endure," Mason adds. "If we get it in the governance manual and bylaws, that will have long-lasting and really durable effects to how we intend to go forward. We want it to outlast any one individual leader at the Academy. We want this to be part of who we are."

The Academy is also exploring changing its governance manual so that the board of trustees would officially have responsibility for the Academy's progress on issues of diversity and inclusion. "The task force wants us to change our governance manual [so that the board oversees diversity efforts] as an official part of their duties," Mueller says. "Both changing of the charter and changing of our governance manual lies within our planning and governance committees. They're meeting in March."

Meet again with the task force before the end of March. "We're going to be meeting again with the task force within 45 days to make sure they're updated on everything; understand everything that's going on. We want to be transparent and upfront with them about all of these things," Mueller says.

The timing was Mason's idea: "They sent me an email saying they wanted to have a review session with me in 90 days," Mason said. "I said, 'I'd like to meet with you in 45 days to show you our progress, and at that point we can discuss next steps.'"

There's a perception in the industry that the task force was formed as damage control following former President/CEO Neil Portnow's infamous "step up" comment at a post-Grammys press conference in January 2018. "It had to have been some kind of a reaction because it happened right after the comment," Mason says. "But I think it was something that the Academy had been working on already, too. The whole 'step-up' thing was a wake-up call. It wasn't just the Academy — it was the industry. Once we got into it, we realized that this is a major problem that we're all facing that needs attention. A lot of that work was started before the task force report. Now that we have such a comprehensive report [as the 47-page task force report], it's something we can point to like a north star for us."

The members of the task force are not compensated in any way, according to Mason. He says they didn't even get Grammy tickets.

Mason has been a trustee of the Recording Academy for a decade, but he is in his first year as chair of the board of trustees. "I ran for chair on a platform of change and improvement to the Academy. I came in with an agenda that I really wanted to accomplish. Nothing has changed or shifted my focus. The CEO issue was something we had to deal with; it was a setback for us, but it had nothing to do with me as chair or my agenda."

Mason became interim president/CEO when the Academy's executive committee voted to put Dugan on administrative leave in January. He doesn't appear to want the job on a permanent basis.

"I'd be honored if people thought I was doing a good enough job to be considered for that, but I'm a producer," he says. "I have a lot of things going on in my career and things I want to accomplish. I would be honored, but I don't think I'm the person that should continue in this position."

The only task force recommendation that the Academy did not endorse was its call for ranked-choice voting. There wasn't enough time to implement it for the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, but the Academy will consider it for the upcoming 63rd awards. "We'll be meeting in March/April with a group of experts, including representatives from the task force, to assess in more depth the benefits of ranked-choice voting," Mueller says. "It's still being explored."

The Academy has a goal of doubling its female membership — from 2,500 to 5,000 — by 2025. "We added 563 female members in our first year, so we're well on track," Mueller says. "But we can't take a break on things like Women in the Mix and supporting these organizations that are trying to help get more females into the producing and engineering field. We want to continue to invest in the pipeline so we can influence that."

The Academy has committed to a "diverse slate hiring requirement" at all levels of the organization. "We commit that at least 50 percent of the candidates for every position are from one of those diverse factors," Mueller says. [Candidates would meet the requirement if they were female, nonwhite or age 39 or under.]

The Academy has boosted what it calls "engagement opportunities" for professional members, people who work in the music industry but who aren't voting members. Professional members can now vote for trustees, governors and chapter officers and can recommend voting members. They just can't vote in the Grammy Awards process.

"There was discussion of that when we were meeting with the task force," Mueller says. "They were curious about why professional members can't vote. It's so core to who we are at the Recording Academy. The Grammy is a peer award and a creator's award. That's fundamental. That wouldn’t change. The Task Force understood that. But we still need to engage [professional members]."

The Academy has hired a senior director of membership outreach, Kelley Purcell, who was formerly executive director of the Los Angeles chapter. The Academy has also hired three new professionals in the area of membership outreach.

Various independent investigations are looking into allegations of wrongdoing, including voting irregularities and lavish spending. "My feeling is that they're getting close to conclusion," Mason says. "My hope is that it will be sooner rather than later so we can cut down on some of the speculation that's out there. I've already committed to making the results public. I am very focused on making sure those investigations come directly to me with real answers and real information so if there is anything, or even a hint of something, I can address it."

While the past month has been hard for Academy officials, Mason sees better times ahead.

"I'm confident we can build a 21st century Academy, which is really my goal here for the next few months. I want to make sure we're embracing the history and heritage of the Academy. At the same time, I think we can be better. I think we can be more nimble. I think we can make some adjustments to be [more] responsible.

"I really think what we do is important," Mason says. "I know we're not perfect. I know there's work to be done. But some of the projects and programs that we do are incredible."

This story was originally published by Billboard.