ESNS Editorial: Want more women represented in the music industry? Safety is key.


Dieuwertje Heuvelings reveals how safety lies at the heart of a more accessible, inclusive and creative playing field

Research and experience shows us that the music industry is still largely dominated by men. Both in the Netherlands and internationally, we find ourselves asking: How can we make the playing field more accessible and equitable for women and different gender identities? Made in collaboration with ESNS, music professional and podcaster Dieuwertje Heuvelings spoke to five women in the Dutch music industry to explore first-hand experiences and examine ways to shift towards a more inclusive environment. One answer shines bright like a beacon of hope: If we want to diversify the workforce, Dieuwertje Heuvelings argues, ensuring and improving the safety of everyone in the industry is the way forward. 

Read more about the WoMentor podcast and upcoming panel below.

Interview by Roxy Merrell

You have experienced being a woman and music professional in the sector yourself – as a playlist editor at spotify, an A&R at Artista Records, music supervisor, and a published author.

Now, you’ve recorded an insightful podcast for ESNS with women in the Dutch music industry. Can you tell us what sparked this idea?

I wanted to make the WoMentor podcast (Dutch spoken) because I noticed that once I began having these conversations openly, honestly and vulnerably, it opened my eyes and ears to the fact that all of us – self-identified women – experience sexism in this masculine industry. “Not all men” they say, but what I’m really confident in saying now is: all women experience this.

What I’m referring to is anything from micro sexual aggression, such as the discomfort of a flirty DM from a colleague, to really traumatising events that can happen. Once I realised this was a shared experience, I began talking to other women about it. That’s when it dawned on me: We need to have these conversations. Not just behind closed doors, not only in exclusive panels, but on a much wider and more accessible scale.

What did you set out hoping to achieve with the podcast?

I wanted the podcast to provide easy-to-access knowledge on the subject and background information first-hand from various women in the industry – to reveal the magnitude of the situation. The MeToo movement taught us a lot about the abuse going on behind the curtains of entertainment industries, but I really want to uncover that it all starts with micro aggressions.

And if we’re asking ourselves: Why aren’t there more women in the music industry? Why do we have a huge number of music professionals who are women leave the industry every year? An incredibly important answer is that however small, these moments in which women feel unwelcome, uncomfortable, unsafe and made to doubt themselves – that adds up.

Think about how much amazing music we’re missing out because of this!

For WoMentor, Dieuwertje spoke to five inspiring women in the (Dutch) music industry. Tune in to this Dutch-spoken podcast to find out more about the experiences and insights of Max van Bossé (booker), Lotje Horvers (tour manager) Josephine Zwaan (co-founder of production platform rosetta.), Rita Zipora (supervisory board member of Buma Stemra), Tasha Slagtand (artist).

We can have countless conversations about how to get more women on line-ups and in our offices, but if our basic, human needs aren’t being met – safety being key – we’re not going to spark any real systemic changes.

The podcast speaks to a number of different players in the field. Can we talk about some key themes and insights?

The podcast really revolves around the theme of safety. We can have countless conversations about how to get more women on line-ups and in our offices, but if our basic, human needs aren’t being met – safety being key – we’re not going to spark any real systemic changes. 

If women don’t feel safe to go to work, to stay late at the studio, to attend networking events, to travel to certain situations because they have to travel with people they don’t trust – the long and short of it is, then they can’t do their work properly. 

And also they lose a lot of time and energy in warning each other and being cautious and trying not to break or bend any egos that might be there to help them, but have different ideas of what that relationship means. So safety is the key to this whole process.

We need to catalyse a change in thinking…

Yes! The diversity and inclusivity needs to not be a symbolic way of having different people on the team. As long as we don’t understand how to have honest and open conversations about power structures and the lack of safety that comes from it, we will keep creating an unsafe playing field for a lot of us.

You spoke to stand-out tour manager Lotje Horvers – who's worked with Fever Ray, Robyn, Röyskopp to name a few – and founder of Backstage Pass. What can you tell us about tour life for women?

It was such a pleasure to speak to her. We started out tracing the outline of her career, and the experiences that many young women face. Like having the tour van door shut in your face, because you must be a groupie. Or being discouraged as a young girl interested in technical jobs because “that’s not for you, girl.” Or not getting the job because one of the band member’s cheated once and isn’t allowed women close by. 

Next to her work as a tour manager, she started an incredible foundation called Backstage Pass that sets out to increase the diversity and inclusivity of the events sector. Efforts include their project ‘Live Event Careers for Girls’ launched in 2022 to generate interest in live production careers in girls starting out on the workfloor.

When talking about how these intensive live music careers progress, for example wanting or having children or just to slow down, we often overlook opportunities to keep these talented women in the industry.

Absolutely! We discussed how being a mother [of younger children] and a tour manager is pretty much impossible. So a woman can work for 15 to 20 years, have all this professional knowledge and experience, and we just throw it away – because we haven’t figured out how to combine those two things. My take is that those people could really add something to the industry, if we found roles where their hands-on experience can be put to use in a job that doesn’t require them to spend the better part of their time on the road. I’m looking forward to discussing how we can rethink this during our WoMentor panel (Dutch spoken). It all starts with awareness.

Coming back to women who drop out of the industry, why do you think we know so little about this subject?

There are two kinds of professionals departing from the industry: the industry professionals and the artists. Mostly when women artists drop out, it’s quite silently and in the shadows. Women don’t often do a tell-all interview explaining why they can’t be in the music industry anymore. Probably because of the shame around it. Especially if you speak of discomforts or abuse you can’t prove – you’re going to be put up for serious scrutiny.

In the last episode of WoMentor, I was thrilled to speak to Tasha Slagtand. I was a big fan of hers as a young girl, she was like the Dutch answer to Neo soul. It was just so refreshing! I always wondered: Why did she stop making music? Why don’t we ever hear anything about her anymore? I’m afraid that the answer is very often something we won’t be comfortable hearing.

What I am most optimistic about is the fact that women are more vocal about their experiences.

Are you optimistic about our possibility for change?

I am. But sometimes I'm afraid something bad has to happen before people – especially people in power – really understand the issue. What I am most optimistic about is the fact that women are more vocal about their experiences. This helps you grow in your confidence individually, and also empowers us to help others. 

Most of the women I spoke to on the podcast experienced a time that they were the only woman on the team. We talk about feeling this is your unique selling point, and feeling threatened or competitive about other women coming close. For me, it was the moment that I understood that being ‘unique’ wasn’t going to protect me – or help keep other women in the industry safe – that’s when I really realised things need to change.

It’s also important to note that a more diverse and inclusive industry would benefit everyone – including a lot of men who suffer under this macho way of doing things and thinking.

Safety isn’t just key to the human experience, but it’s also key to develop creatively as an artist.

What stands out to you now that you’ve completed the series?

One of the biggest takeaways was something that dawned on me a couple of months ago was that safety isn’t just key to the human experience, but it’s also key to develop creatively as an artist. That’s reflected back at us in the stats: Only 13.9% of Dutch artists are women. 

The crux of it is: We’re not representing and making use of the broadness of the human experience! I’m not talking about women only, but inclusivity in the broadest sense of the word – meaning people of colour, diverse sexual and gender identities, people with disabilities.

Think about how much amazing music we’re missing out because of this!

Presented by: ESNS
Sat 20 Jan - Kelder - 13:00-14:00
Rita Zipora, BAM! Popauteurs - Dieuwertje Heuvelings, Music professional / Teacher / Writer / Podcast host - Lotje Horvers, Freelance tour manager - Josephine Zwaan, rosetta. - Max van Bossé, Melkweg - Tasha Slagtand,
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