A Clear Voice Over Time Increases Visibility and Productivity at the 2016 Grammy’s

(Tags: Leadership, Performance, Equity)

I am on the road here, but want to discuss significant progress on minority (especially black) award nominations, greater visibility, and a significant number of awards on last Monday night’s 2016 Grammy Awards. This is especially meaningful compared to the Oscars awards show (which broadcasts on March 28th), which strangely achieved virtually no black nominations during the past two seasons. The leaders of the Oscars clearly have a lot to learn from the Grammy organization. I am interested in how this difference in leadership can inform other industries. Many industries still have boards consisting largely of white males. Early research is showing that when women are in c-suite leadership positions they are bringing greater success and higher performance of key performance indicators. Yet we are still hearing about “equal pay for equal work” as if it is a new idea because it hasn’t been achieved yet.

The further inclusion of minorities in music is transforming the musical palette. Minorities are being recognized in greater numbers in the music business because of a more diverse voting group. The Oscars are so busted (a phrase featured in the movie American Beauty-1999). The Oscars Leadership are set in their ways and apparently hold on to rigid criteria for who votes, thus excluding minorities. Zero is hard to argue down folks and this sounds strangely similar to how national voting has a history of tremendous bias. A common excuse of the Academy Awards Leadership is to say something like: “Oh, we wish we had better applicants, but alas there aren’t any.” This is how the “game” has been played for a long time. Really? Their brand is deeply hurt and they know it. It is clear that the Oscars leadership will try to market their way out of this PR crisis as famous stars demand a boycott of the Oscars. So far they have returned to Chris Rock as MC for the awards ceremony. Amazing actors like Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan have been snubbed and the Academy will try to save face, but it’s really too late to fix this by the broadcast. The long term remedy will take time. Messing with one’s brand is not a wise move in business. My prediction is that a leader of the Academy will speak briefly about all the things the Academy is doing to foster equity during the ceremony. So why has the music business gotten the joke and the Academy instead continues to forego inclusion and maintains their innocence? They say it’s not their problem, it is the lack of minority talent or that a minority star cannot attract an audience.

One minority nomination (for Best Original Screenplay) from the Academy this year is for the movie Straight Out of Compton, the story of the ceiling-breaking band, N.W.A. However, the nomination goes to two white writers. None of the black actors received nominations, including the talented movie star and real-life son of the original N.W.A. member, Ice Cube (a.k.a. O’Shea Jackson, Sr), who wrote nearly half of the lyrics for the early albums. The young star is O’Shea Jackson Jr., ironically born in February 1991, the year N.W.A disbanded because of a corrupt manager and the soiled relationships resulting. 1991 was also the year I moved to Chicago may I add. It was 25 years ago and in some ways not much has changed regarding oppression for young black men. For example, the incarceration of young minority men for non-violent crimes is still a problem, but what has changed is people are more aware of the prison nation and they have a stronger voice for the need for equity.

On a positive note, last week the Grammys actually produced large numbers of minority nominees and winners. Some say the big awards still went to white artists (like Taylor Swift), which may be true, but the fact remains that the numbers and quality of minority talent was staggering. Highly talented minority nominees, those honored, or winners included: the brilliant Kendrick Lamar, host LL Cool J, The Weekend, Andra Day (channeling Amy Winehouse), Pitbull, Earth Wind and Fire, Natalie Cole, Ruth Brown, Lionel Richie, Ice Cube, Demi Lavado, Bruno Mars, D’Angelo, Buddy Guy, Angelique Kidjo, Ricky Martin, Ruben Blades, Linda Ronstadt, Hamilton (the hip-hop musical) and more. The amazing Amy Winehouse won a posthumous Grammy for the music in the film Amy. A week or so earlier at the Super Bowl, Beyoncé Knowles performed her activistic new song “Formation” with costumes inspired by the hair and clothing (and politics?) of the Black Panthers. The music video for “Formation” also criticizes oppression by some police with the image of Beyoncé atop a sinking police car in the flood waters of Katrina while she sings her lyrics of power and calls for an end to bigotry.

Ms. Knowles achieved the remarkable: mainstream exposure as one of the three half-time artists during the Super Bowl as she sang her new song and her dancers formed an “X” allegedly of Malcolm X fame and then simultaneously releases the song’s video demonstrating concern about continued oppression of young men of color no differently than the original N.W.A. artists did between 1986 and 1991. The similarities are substantial, yet few are asking for the arrest of Beyoncé as they did for N.W.A. For the first time Beyoncé emerges as a force to influence general society. Interestingly, the word formation is defined in the Free Dictionary as “A specified arrangement or deployment, as of aircraft, troops, or players on a sports team”. The word has an aggressive meaning that she only half-hides in a Madonna-inspired brilliant political video that is her own. But the aggression is also about winning fairly and squarely. In a surprise appearance on the Grammies as a presenter, to counter criticism of her Super Bowl performance, she wisely stated: “Art is an unapologetic celebration of culture through expression.”

Time has ticked forward. Again, change takes time. There are so many levels of oppression to unravel. We are not simply discussing music and film. We are talking about talent and fair access for all.

Minority empowerment coaching of executives makes the subtle and hidden continued oppression conscious in clients and allows them to further develop a humble power because they are released from the messaging of hegemony (lessons that teach the oppressed to oppress themselves). Thankfully their organizations and industries now can benefit form the resulting energy, innovation, leadership, and the productivity of inclusion.

To conclude with some humor: Kanye West recently tweeted “To Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, New York Times, and any other white publication. Please do not comment on black music anymore.” Well, I don’t work for those publications so I gave it my best shot.

The lesson here is for people to continue their gentle and sometimes aggressive (formative) struggles to be seen and heard. Results are coming in so keep up the good work. Now any effective leader has to figure out how to adaptively encourage inclusion to achieve optimal engagement, innovation, and productivity. Oppressive presidential candidates beware – inclusion is beginning to demonstrate that everyone benefits.


“On issue of race, Grammys leap past the Oscars, then stumble”, LA Times, Steven Zeitchik, February 16, 2016



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