Having created a gender balanced line-up for Strawberries & Creem, and focused heavily on female safety at the Cambridge festival, S&C Productions head of partnerships Chris Jammer is calling on the wider industry to do likewise.
The Keychange pledge has seen more than 500 events commit to programming gender-balanced line-ups by 2022. The time for our industry to stand up, enact change, and be held accountable is now.
We must all play our part in combating this prevalent, society-wide inequality – the repeated under-representation of female artists and stakeholders. We can then move forward to tackle other pressing issues, such as those surrounding women’s safety, and challenges facing those of other, marginalised, genders. Representation is key for safe spaces.
With a music industry that has historically been stacked against non-male recording artists, generally creating more top sellers who are men than women – especially in the urban and dance worlds – you can see how the cycle can become entrenched when promoters only book the biggest names.
It shouldn’t be difficult; it just boils down to booking more women. Given the wealth of amazing female talent out there, there is really no acceptable reason not to have a gender-balanced line-up. As promoters, we all have a responsibility to contribute to that positive change but the conversation needs to be taken more seriously, and we need to act more decisively to achieve gender equality on all line-ups.
Festivals are defined by their line ups. Not only do they provide the soundtrack and showcase the music policy, but they also give an indication of the values and ethos of the event. This has a ripple effect across the entire infrastructure – from suppliers, to onsite staff, to festival attendees. The atmosphere for us at Strawberries & Creem in September was noticeably changed because we placed equality, diversity and inclusion at the forefront of what we stood for – starting with the line-up. The festival felt friendlier, the mood more positive, and this was strongly attested in the feedback we received from attendees and staff.
“There is a wealth of evidence to suggest a positive economic case for diversity and gender equality on line-ups.”
We also doubled our attendance at Strawberries & Creem last year compared to 2019, with 65% of these ticket buyers being women. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest there is a positive economic case for diversity and gender equality on line-ups – quite the opposite to what some voices and event bills in the sector would suggest.
By consciously refreshing their talent pipelines every year, and looking beyond proven male-skewed ticket sellers, events are able to move with the times and avoid becoming stale. Being a vibrant, diverse, evolving festival encourages customers to return year-on-year, while also attracting new audiences because people are increasingly looking for different experiences and choosing more progressive brands.
In choosing to curate unbalanced line-ups, event operators damage their ability to achieve what is required on site to make their space safe for women and marginalised genders.
Teaming up with gender equality champions UN Women UK – with S&C 2021 being the pilot event for their Safe Spaces Now: In Music initiative – we have been able to start laying the foundations required to improve women’s safety at our festivals. However, creating lasting change will require an industry-wide effort.
We encourage festivals, events and organisations committed to equal representation and safety to sign our pledge to support Safe Spaces Now: In Music. The industry is moving in the right direction but not quickly enough; this is an issue of urgency, with sexual harassment and abuse more prevalent than ever.
Now is the time for us all to strive towards gender equality, balanced line-ups, and safer spaces across every part of our industry.