The Recording Academy has appointed Time’s Up co-founder and former Michelle Obama chief of staff Tina Tchen to helm a taskforce investigating gender bias in the music industry and within the academy itself, Billboard reports. Tchen’s appointment follows Recording Academy president Neil Portnow’s comment that female artists need to “step up” if they want to be more prominently represented as performers, award nominees, and recipients at the Grammys. Women were particularly overlooked at the 2018 Grammys with Alessia Cara being the only woman to receive an award during the live show and Album of the Year nominee Lorde not getting invited to perform as a solo act. He later walked that remark back after getting called out by artists, music industry executives, and fans alike.
Tchen will head a team of about 15 to 20 people dedicated to recognizing “the various barriers and unconscious biases faced by underrepresented communities throughout the music industry and, specifically, across Recording Academy operations and policies,” the Academy announced in a statement.
Although Tchen is a newcomer to the music business, Portnow claims that he chose someone outside of the recording industry on purpose to avoid the conflicts of interest with which a seasoned record company executive might be saddled. Tchen and Portnow became acquainted during Tchen’s eight-year tenure in the Obama administration when the two worked together on the In Performance at the White House music series events.
“The fact that she lacks business ties to the music industry ensures her objectivity as chair,” the Academy president said in a statement. “In this moment, the Recording Academy can do more than reflect what currently exists; we can help lead the industry into becoming the inclusive music community we want it to be — a responsibility that the board and I take seriously. Tina Tchen is an accomplished advocate for women and impact-oriented leader versed in convening disparate stakeholders for a common purpose.”
Tchen discussed her relevant experience, which included co-founding the the White House Council on Women and Girls with President Obama and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. From Billboard:
The council included all of the federal agencies and all of the major White House policy offices.
[Working at] the largest employer on the planet essentially, we put a tremendous emphasis on gender and diversity with working family issues a big part of our overall agenda. We hosted the first ever White House summit on working families in 2014 to promote policies and practices like equal pay and paid leave; the kinds of things that would break down barriers to true diversity in leadership, the work force and entrepreneurship across the board. We followed that up with the United State of Women Summit that we did as our concluding event at the end of [Obama’s] eight years in office.
The scope and membership of Tchen’s task force is expected to be more clearly defined in the coming weeks.