Profile: Hitting the right D&I note

Janeace Thompson - Credit: Pal-Hansen - 0000941

Jay-T has broken a 109-year-old glass ceiling. Why did it take so long?

Janeace Thompson, or Jay-T as she is known, is the first black woman to be appointed director at PRS (Performing Rights Society) for Music, which collects royalties for songwriters and composers.

The fact that in its 109-year history there has been no black woman on the senior leadership team at UK’s biggest music employer makes it a milestone appointment. Thompson was promoted to director of talent, culture and experience in October 2023. It’s a newly-created role at the society, which collects royalties for songwriters and composers when their music is streamed, broadcast, performed or played in public.

The eldest of six children, Thompson was raised on a council estate in Forest Gate, South London. As she embarks on her new diversity & inclusion leadership role, she describes the positive mindset that has propelled her varied career and led to the sound of glass ceilings cracking.

“Drive and mindset are what helped me climb the corporate ladder and the belief that I belong in any space or place just like anyone else,” Thompson says as we sit at the society’s London Bridge HQ inside the iconic riverside Hay’s Galleria. “My parents gave me a lot of love, and I think that ultimately is where my personal sense of self and confidence comes from. I am lucky to have had that in my life as not everyone does,” she says.

Thompson is “really proud and inspired” to pave the way for other black women and be a role model for her 13-year-old daughter, who she describes as her “one and done”. The single mother says: “For me, there is no value in being in a leadership role if it doesn’t open up the space for other people to come on the journey with you. For me, that’s what success in leadership looks like.”

And she credits Andrea Czapary Martin, the first female CEO of PRS for Music, for creating “a real appetite for D&I”. Under her leadership, the society paid out a record breaking £836m of royalties in 2022 and committed to industry body UK Music diversity taskforce’s Ten Point Plan. This includes setting diversity targets and increasing transparency with larger companies publishing data on gender and ethnic pay gaps.

When PRS for Music was founded in 1914, the inspiration came from a black classical composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The South London composer was dubbed the “black Mahler”.

His most famous work, Hiawatha, was among the biggest musical hits of the early 20th century and so popular that it led him to embark on three tours of the US. He was even invited by President Theodore Roosevelt to visit the White House.

But Coleridge-Taylor relinquished copyright of the Hiawatha compositions for 15 guineas, even though thousands of copies of the score were later sold. Coleridge-Taylor died in 1912, aged 37. His family was left in poverty despite the huge success of his work, sparking outrage among the music community.

Music publishers assembled in London and just over a year after Coleridge-Taylor’s death, the Performing Rights Society was founded to ensure songwriters and composers are fairly paid for their music, whenever and wherever it is played. The first member was a woman: English composer and soprano Liza Lehmann, President of the Society of Women’s Musicians.

Janeace Thompson - Credit: Pal-Hansen - 0001006

When I first came here, some of my friends who worked in the music industry were quite worried because they thought it was this place for white men and very non-progressive

Today the society represents the rights of 165,000 talented songwriters, composers and music publishers. Given the society’s founding story, why did it take so long to appoint a black woman director? Thompson shrugs. Perhaps it’s unfair to ask given the discrimination against women and ethnic minorities globally, across history. Plus, things are, happily, shifting at PRS for Music and elsewhere.

Still, things are far from perfect. The latest biannual UK Music report into diversity has found a decrease in the number of employees from ethnically diverse backgrounds at all levels. The proportion working in the music industry who identify as Black, Asian or ethnic minority in entry level positions has fallen from 35% two years ago to 24% and from 20% to 18% at senior levels. The report suggests that ethnic minorities have been disproportionally hit by pandemic-related job cuts.

On a more upbeat note, the figures show there has been an increase in women in the music industry. Traditionally, jobs such as music producer and sound engineer have been male dominated. But the proportion of women in senior roles increased to 45% in 2022, up from 40% in 2020.

Diversity & inclusion are “personal” or a lived experience for Thompson. She explains: “I come from a very diverse family. I was brought up in a household that comprised of different races, (supported people) with mental health issues and we came from a socially deprived background. I also have LGBTQ friends and family members.”

Thompson grew up with her mother, a full-time mum, younger brother and stepfather, a painter and decorator. Her father, who had four more children, was always involved in her life, though he lived apart. “I was the first in my family to go to university and the first to buy a property,” she says.

After leaving school, Thompson ran retail outlets for Yves St Laurent, Louis Vuitton and Harrods. She aspired to be a fashion journalist. As a mature student, she studied for a degree in English and Media Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Aged just 28, she was appointed editor of the Barbados Advocate, a post she held for two years. During this time, she worked with the late Sir Anthony Bryan, the first Black publisher to own the daily newspaper since it started in 1895. “I went in as editor and became his number two in a short time,” says Thompson.

She lived in Barbados on and off in total for about 12 years. “My mum was originally from Barbados and I have some family there but work took me there,” she explains. In 2008, she switched from retail to recruitment. “Recruitment has been part of my role for over 20 years but in a professional capacity for around 15 years,” says Thompson. Since 2017, the experienced D&I leader has worked at CentralNic, Addison Lee, JCDecaux and Thompson & Ward.

In May 2022, she moved to PRS for Music to take up the new post of head of inclusion and employee experience as it strived to become a more diverse employer. The society employs 484 individuals. While there has been a rise in recruitment of new starters from ethnic minorities, the proportion in senior positions remain much lower. The figures show 25% of staff are from an ethnic minority compared with 14% of senior leaders. Meanwhile, 45% of the workforce are female and 40% of managers, excluding the board.

Thompson says: “When I first came here, some of my friends who worked in the music industry were quite worried because they thought it was this place for white men and very non-progressive. But I was quite impressed at how far the business had come under the leadership of Andrea Martin, our current CEO, and to find there was a real appetite for D&I. I thought it was very fertile ground. That doesn’t mean to say there was not still a lot of work to be done but it meant the challenges are slightly different.”

Thompson recognises PRS for Music needs to get its own house in order. “I think it is very important we take the lead because we are a very prominent organisation. And, hopefully, our example will encourage others to follow.” Thompson, representing the society, is a member of UK Music’s diversity taskforce. They have shared targets to increase ethnic minority representation to 30% and gender balance to 50% at every level.

Like the other organisations signed up to the Ten Point Plan, the society is being held accountable through regular monitoring. Figures are published annually, including pay gaps. Additional targets for staff with disabilities at the society will be set in 2024.

Moves such as redacted CVs and two-people interview panels have helped with more diverse hiring. Role requirements are agreed up front, so goal posts aren’t moved by hiring managers depending on the candidate sat in front of them. It’s important to recognise there can be bias, says Thompson, such as preference for certain schools and universities or socio-economic background. She is firmly of the opinion talent isn’t limited to those with degrees.

On achieving change, she said: “I think accountability is key and honesty, remembering that denial is the heartbeat of prejudice.” PRS uses apprenticeships to upskill and hire underrepresented groups. Meanwhile, a new work placement scheme includes the long-term unemployed and ex-offenders.

Janeace Thompson - Credit: Pal-Hansen – 0000826

Talent can look like, sound like, be like and act like many different things. Hire for potential and focus on skills

Asked what inclusion looks like, she says: “For me, it’s about ensuring that everybody has a voice, that nobody is overlooked and we are intentional about who we include versus who we have traditionally excluded.” Building an inclusive work culture is her guiding ‘north star’.

“People need to feel safe to be able to speak up, to challenge.

I think that is essentially how we can achieve better innovation and creativity.” Thompson is passionate about coaching and mentoring for women and ethnic minorities, among others, to help them progress up the leadership ladder. “It’s about overcoming imposter syndrome, owning your own space, building confidence … so many things.

“I don’t want anybody to get a job because they are from some underrepresented group but because their value is recognised, and they get in on merit and not because of some diversity quota.” Positive discrimination, she reminds me, is illegal but positive action isn’t.

Thompson is happy to have been promoted to director level after 18 months as head of inclusion and employee experience. “The fact that I didn’t come in as director and grew into the role meant I got it on merit based on the impact I had.”

If she has one message for recruiters about D&I, what would it be? “Talent can look like, sound like, be like and act like many different things. Hire for potential and focus on skills. Remember that just because someone hasn’t done something doesn’t mean they cannot, and that’s important.”

Image credit | Pal Hansen

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