CRS Session Rewind: ‘Women In The Industry’
March 14, 2016
Hey, remember that time last month when I boldly declared women the overall winner of this year’s Country Radio Seminar (CRS)? That decision was based on their large presence at every level of CRS; not just with numbers, but with their impact, as well. Female artists, attendees, panelists, and CRS leadership (i.e. Agenda co-chair, staff, and moderators) were the star of the show – not only on stage singing and playing, but at the podium too, representing our format and the issues we all face in 2016 and beyond.
One of the most talked about sessions was “Women In The Industry: Breaking Barriers and Balance.” The loud buzz among attendees after that panel came from both males and females, and the rating for it – which is still accessible on the excellent CRS App – was a strong 4.6 out of 5 stars. In addition, the verbatim comments for this session contained nothing but raves. I was moderating a concurrent panel and not able to see this one, but thanks to the wonders of technology and, ta-da! – the efforts of yet another talented woman in the industry, CRS Creative Dir. Kristen England – this and nearly all the sessions from CRS 2016 are now available for streaming at CRB.org. If you were at CRS, part of your registration entitles you to access to this audio (All Access Net News 3/8) which is worthwhile to go back and review for panels you missed, or even ones that you saw.
I acted on my own tip above and went back to hear the session everyone was talking about. I’ll highlight some key points here in a minute, but first a quick back story you may find interesting. When planning CRS 2016 last summer, the most ardent proponent for discussing the challenges women sometimes face while balancing a growing career and family was … wait for it … UMG Nashville Chairman Mike Dungan.
As if there weren’t already a line wrapped around the Sun Trust Building in downtown Nashville filled with Mike Dungan fans and people who wish they worked for him, now every aspiring female music industry exec can jump on the bandwagon. But in all seriousness, Dungan shared with the Board and Agenda Committee his experiences of managing female employees who are torn over how to become successful at work while having – or considering having – children. These are excellent employees that he would hate to lose. Surely other companies had similar situations, so providing some answers to CRS attendees was genuinely important to Dungan.
E.W. Scripps VP/Programming and Market Mgr. of its Wichita cluster, Beverlee Brannigan, who also serves on the CRS Board of Directors, was the ideal choice to lead the discussion. That’s because she’s a role model in our business, regardless of gender. A Country Radio Hall of Fame member, she started her career on the air, then rose to a PD position during a time when few women were ever considered for that role. She has since risen to her current position, managing a cluster and leading programming for an entire radio division.
Brannigan’s experience and perspective was valuable in shaping the discussion; early on she cautioned against a panel she feared would digress into a “woe-is-me” session. “It doesn’t inform the conversation,” Brannigan explained to me this week. “I was on those panels in the early 80s – I'd like to think we've made some progress. Actually, I can guarantee we have.” The more interesting talk would be HOW women have succeeded, said Brannigan. “I bristle at the concept that ‘women in the industry’ and their experiences are singular. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Family situations, experiences, and goals differ greatly from person to person.”
The panel assembled was also stellar: former Scripps/Tulsa OM Jules Riley (now focusing on her voiceover career); Premiere Networks President Julie Talbott; Red Light Management’s Kerry Edwards, who manages Luke Bryan; Warner Music Nashville VP/Promotion Kristen Williams; and CBS Radio/Houston Market Manager Sarah Frazier. That’s an impressive collection of successful industry leaders, all of whom had to navigate their own, unique path to the top.
And all of them agreed: having a mentor and/or someone who championed them early on was critical. As an Account Executive, Frazier had a Sales Mgr. who helped her out. Williams specifically name-checked Warner Music Nashville Chairman John Esposito who, when she was still a regional told her, “you’re a diamond in the rough.” That instilled confidence, said Williams. “It helped me find my voice. I didn’t see that in myself, but then I realized he was right; now I’m comfortable speaking my mind in many meetings where I am the only female in the room.”
Edwards remembered, “I didn’t believe in myself, but I believed in my product,” a feeling that dated back to her time in the A&R Department at Sony Nashville. She said then-Sony execs Tim Dubois and Mike Dungan were believers and confidence builders, as was Luke Bryan. After several years and much prodding from Bryan, she finally – and somewhat reluctantly – agreed to become his manager, but only after consulting with Mike Dungan, and getting his assurance that he signed off on the idea. Talbott advised the room, “choose your bosses carefully – they’re the ones who can believe in you. You need to have people that are rooting for you – and then you have to work hard not to disappoint them.” Added Riley, “You have to know what’s right for you – if you don’t connect with your manager, it will be a struggle every day.”
A big portion of the conversation turned to the very point Dungan originally identified as the session was hatched: that delicate balance working mothers must maintain between their jobs and family matters. All of the women agreed this is the hardest thing to accomplish, and admitted to feeling as though they achieve much less than 100% a lot of the time.
“You just keep working on both things – being the best parent and worker you can be,” said Talbott, whose children are now grown. As for her decision to be a working mother when her kids were young, “I could not have been as happy a parent if I had stayed home,” added Talbott.
“When you’re doing what you love, and they see that, they realize that’s what makes you get up every day,” said Edwards, who has two children under the age of 15. “I hope that’s an example for them to go after their own passions.”
Frazier mentioned making time for family between 5:30-8:30pm, and letting co-workers know she will not be available via cell or text messaging. Even so, she says, “sometimes I feel like I’m not doing anything right.” After blocking out that time, and only after her daughter has gone to bed, Frazier catches up on email. That elicited laughs from all panelists, as Edwards joked that her staff can usually expect a rush of emails at approximately 10pm every night, after her kids are down for the evening.
There were some outstanding questions from the audience too, including one attendee who asked how the panel worked through moments of self-doubt. Frazier’s reply: “You don’t have to be the first person in line to make yourself unhappy.”
Another audience member wondered, now that each of the panelists is in a leadership position, is it easier or harder for women to find their own path. “It is very hard,” said Frazier. “And some women choose not to do this because of that, so they opt out.” Edwards suggested “find out what makes you get up and go every day” as motivation.
Brannigan shared with me her takeaways after leading the discussion. “Never underestimate the power of encouragement. Some of our panelists had not seen a woman do their job before, and it was mentors and people cheering them on that gave them the confidence to take a leap. You need to take control over the career growth you want. Sarah Frazier told how she informed her sales manager that part of their one-on-one time each week would be spent addressing her aspirations to grow into a sales manager.” And, reiterating what Talbott had shared early in the conversation, Brannigan added, “who you work for is very important. You may need to fire your boss and find one who will support your growth.”