Study reveals soaring successes and lingering struggles for women, especially women of color, in music


With the observance of Women’s History Month in full swing, the music world has finally begun to recognize female artists’ vast contributions.

The latest report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reflected on the strides forward and the persistent obstacles women’s professionals in the music industry face.

The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and Associate Professor of Communication Stacy L. Smith conducted the study, which included 1,200 songs from the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts and provided a detailed analysis spanning 12 years. Its scope encompasses the roles of artists, songwriters, and producers while delving into Grammy Award nominations across six major categories.

The study’s findings painted a nuanced picture of progress and disparities within the industry. Notably, there has been a marked increase in the representation of women artists, reaching a 12-year high of 35%. Researchers said this surge, particularly evident in the rise of individual female artists claiming over 40% of spots on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart in 2023, signaled a positive shift. However, despite the gains, the study authors noted that it’s crucial to recognize that women still occupy less than a quarter of artist roles overall, underscoring the need for sustained efforts toward greater inclusivity.

Behind the scenes, there have also been advancements. The study revealed a significant rise in the percentage of female songwriters, climbing from 14.1% to 19.5% in 2023. The increase is largely attributed to the contributions of women of color. Similarly, while the number of women producers reached a modest high, significant challenges remain in achieving equitable representation in these roles.

The study’s key findings center on the crucial role that women of color have played in advancing change within the sector. Accounting for a staggering 65% of female artists on the charts in 2023 and making significant gains in songwriting roles, women of color have been instrumental in shaping the industry’s trajectory. Jay-Z’s Grammy speech, in which he questioned why his wife, Beyonce, hadn’t won Album of the Year honors despite being arguably the most successful female music star in history, underscored the lack of recognition for women, particularly in prestigious award nominations.

The study authors wrote that efforts such as “She Is The Music,” “Spotify Equal,” and “Girls Make Beats” have been crucial in fostering inclusivity and providing platforms for women, including women of color, to showcase their talent. However, they said there remains a need for collective action to dismantle systemic barriers and biases that hinder women’s progress, particularly those from marginalized communities.

“As the industry continues to evolve, it must strive to amplify women’s voices, focusing on women of color and ensuring that diversity and representation remain at the forefront of its agenda,” the authors concluded. “Only then can the industry truly reflect the richness and diversity of talent within its ranks and pave the way for a more inclusive future.”

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