At the famed Chateau Marmont, Chief Content Officer of Spotify, Dawn Ostroff, took the stage alongside Dr. Stacy Smith of USC’s Inclusion Initiative, for a conversation on inclusion within the music industry.

In a continued effort to ensure women have a seat at the “table”, Ostroff said she was proud to announce Spotify would be backing USC’s inclusion research for another year.

Journalist and Dean of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Willow Bay, introduced the two prior to acknowledging all of the powerful women music executives in attendance on Jan. 22.

The event comes amidst the latest release of USC’s Inclusion Initiative, which uses data-driven research to pin-point industries lacking in diversity in music.

They all spoke on the lack of inclusion of women in the industry, the positive change in numbers over the last two years and expressed excitement about continuing to raise the bar.

“Stacy and I are incredibly proud to stand alongside you all to demand to push for desperately needed change,” Bay said.

The room was lit low with hues of pink and orange and placards of statistics from the Inclusion Initiative’s research were arranged throughout the space. "8% of female producers of color have made it on the charts since 2012,” was etched on a full length mirror; "39% of female songwriters and producers say they’ve been sexualized at work,” was posted on a cocktail table.

Though the statistics are alarming, Smith who led the research, donning a sweatshirt that read “Inclusion Rider,” informed the crowd of the significant improvement from prior years that data was released.

“Within two years female artists rebounded on the charts, we’ve seen an eight-year-high in the percentage of women as female songwriters on the charts,” she said to the crowd full of trailblazers.

For Smith, this progress is just the tip of the iceberg. She challenged the women to continue to fight for diversity, but to also broaden that narrative to include people of different races, those with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community. “We need everyone at the table,” she said.

Ostroff, echoed Smith’s excitement for the progress made, but was adamant about continuing to change the narrative and support efforts that promised to do the same.

“It’s up to all of us to ensure that the writer of your next TV series, writer of the theme song of a show could be a woman,” she said. “The script writer of your next podcast or the director of the documentary you’re doing, could be a woman."

The women in the crowd cheered and applauded Ostroff’s call to action.

She further emphasized her point by quoting Alicia Keys, music artist and founding member of She Is The Music, a non-profit organization that advocates for women in music. "We need to make a conscious effort to include women as an intern, as a writer, as a producer,” she read. “Because if we won’t, who will?”

The conversation about inclusion didn’t end that night. Bay and Ostroff hosted a forum full of Annenberg students looking to gain insight and ask questions about Spotify and its inclusion efforts on Jan. 23. This discussion came as part of the “Lunch with a Leader" series.

Bay asked Ostroff questions about her start in the industry, why she began working at Spotify and the vision for the company surrounding its focus on podcasting. She delved into the data found by Smith and the Inclusion Initiative and asked Ostroff to share her thoughts from the night prior, to the room of students soon breaking into the media workforce.

Willow Bay and Dawn Ostroff talk to Annenberg students during the
Willow Bay and Dawn Ostroff talk to Annenberg students during the "Lunch with a Leader" series at Wallis Annenberg Hall. (Photo by Natasha Brennan)

“My take is that it is pathetic that we are still talking about this,” she said. "I started in a business that had the same conversation, it’s sad we are still here.”

The packed atrium grew even more silent as she spelled out the difference in representation since joining the company in 2018. Gender equality is now visible throughout hallways and offices at Spotify with 51% of its employees being women, she said.

"Women need to be more fairly represented,” Ostroff said. “We’re not there yet, there is much more opportunity to be had.”

She challenged those in positions of power to not only hire but also include those from underrepresented communities.

“My dream is that you will not all be sitting here 20 years from now having this same conversation,” she said, adding she had high hopes for the future.