Recording Academy will launch investigation into Grammy gender bias

Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow said the organization will launch an independent investigation into practices that hamper women in the music industry.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The Recording Academy will launch an independent investigation of the organization’s policies and practices “to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community,” the academy said Thursday.

The announcement is further response to Sunday’s male-centric Grammy Awards show and Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow’s subsequent remark during a press conference suggesting it was the responsibility of women to “step up.”

“After hearing from many friends and colleagues,” Portnow said in a statement issued Thursday, “I understand the hurt that my poor choice of words following last Sunday’s Grammy telecast has caused.


“I also now realize that it’s about more than just my words,” he said. “Because those words, while not reflective of my beliefs, echo the real experience of too many women. I’d like to help make that right.”

As part of the exploration of such biases and barriers, Portnow said, “We will also place ourselves under a microscope and tackle whatever truths are revealed.

“I appreciate that the issue of gender bias needs to be addressed in our industry, and share in the urgency to attack it head on,” he said. “We as an organization, and I as its leader, pledge our commitment to doing that. We will share more information about the steps we are taking in the coming weeks.”

A recent USC study showed that from 2013 to 2018, only 9.3% of Grammy nominations had gone to women, while 90.7% recognized male performers, producers, songwriters and engineers.

Responding Sunday to a question about the on-camera awards also favoring male recipients so heavily, Portnow said, “I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and their souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on an executive level — to step up, because I think they would be welcome.”

The comment was met with an outcry from women and men in the music community, and Portnow apologized the following day saying, “Regrettably, I used two words, ‘step up,’ that, when taken out of context, do not convey my beliefs and the point I was trying to make.


“Our industry must recognize that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced,” Portnow said. “We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music. We must welcome, mentor, and empower them. Our community will be richer for it.”

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