When the music industry halted business in June to reflect on systemic racism, former BET Networks chairman/CEO Debra Lee knew exactly where she wanted to get to work: corporate boardrooms. “That’s where the power is,” says Lee, who in January launched consulting firm The Monarchs Collective with the goal of putting more Black women in those advisory and leadership roles. “It’s amazing how many people don’t know about boards or the benefits of serving on a board.”
Serving on a board gives executives access to an array of perks that boost careers and bank accounts: fees, company stock and invaluable networking opportunities. Acting as a fiduciary to the shareholders of public companies, board members can also use their authority to fire senior executives. The 2020 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index reported that the average total compensation for non-employee directors (excluding independent chairs) is around $308,462, which mostly comes from stock grants, as well as cash payments.
Having diverse boards pays off for businesses too. A 2020 McKinsey & Company report found that companies with leadership in the top quartile for gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were respectively 25% and 36% more likely to have financial returns above the industry median.
The music industry hasn’t been leading the charge, however. Public music companies such as Live Nation, which has two female members and two members of color on its 12-person board of directors, published open letters in June and July that pledged to diversify further. Spotify’s 10-person board has three female members and two members of color. SiriusXM had no one of color and only two women until its new CEO, Jennifer Witz, and Apollo Theater president/CEO Jonelle Procope joined the 14-member board in the past year. And Warner Music Group, which went public in June, had no one of color and only one woman on its 11-person board of directors until Ceci Kurzman, founder of Nexus Management Group, joined the board in October. (The boards for Vivendi and Sony Corp., the parent companies of Universal and Sony Music, also have room for improvement when it comes to mixing up their ranks.)
The lack of diversity on music industry boards is “really heartbreaking in an industry that’s built on the backs of Black music and Black artists,” says Lee. “If we’re not addressing all companies on that level, things are never going to change.”