‘Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman,’ sang Tammy Wynette, but today, on International Women’s Day, the question is ‘Is it harder to be a woman than it should be?’
This year’s theme is Inspiring Change, and alongside issues of women’s welfare around the world, inevitably International Women’s Day forces us to look at where there are still glass ceilings for women, particularly in the workplace.
For a long time both the worlds of business and of classical music have been heavily dominated by strong male characters. For all the Beethovens, Mozarts, and Bachs, can you name a female composer in history? It’s not that women aren’t there, it’s just that in the past they weren’t necessarily recognised or acknowledged.*
But that is changing.
Take, for example, the post of Master of the Queen’s Music. A little like the role of Poet Laureate, the Master’s brief is to compose pieces of music for the Queen to mark big state occasions. The current Master is Peter Maxwell Davies – like all the Masters before him, a man. But as he comes to the end of his ten year tenure in the post, The Independent journalist Claudia Pritchard put forward the idea that the role could be more than satisfactorily filled by one of the many eminent female musicians and composers in this country. Could there be a Mistress of the Queen’s Music? A Carol Ann Duffy of the musical world?
One of the musicians Pritchard suggests as a worthy successor is my (Ben’s) university academic supervisor and the former head of the music department at York University Professor Nicola LeFanu, a woman who was incredibly encouraging to me. One term I found myself as the only man studying a Music and Gender course as a result!
In the world of business, initiatives like McKinsey’s Remarkable Women Programme which followed the book How Remarkable Women Lead by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston, and books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In have led to new models of business leadership. More importantly, when successful women like Sheryl Sandberg speak out encouragement, and when women are appointed to key roles (like that of Mistress of the Queen’s Music), it does inspire change.
Regardless of gender, when we encourage people to be all they can be, and create an environment where they can use their skills, talents, and expertise without hitting a ‘glass ceiling’ it creates a culture where everyone, not just women, can be free to fully contribute. Whether it’s a small musical ensemble or a multinational organisation, the encouragement and the opportunity to give your best is vital.
* One of the great historical female composers was Alma Mahler nee Schindler, who was married to Gustav Mahler. Listen here to the acclaimed mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly singing Mahler’s composition Die Stille Stadt.
We are delighted to hear that Judith Weir has been appointed as the Master of the Queen’s music. So the glass ceiling is being cracked!