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Open Letter to my APRA AMCOS colleagues on International Women’s Day 2022

Story Published Tuesday 8 March 2022
Kirti Jacobs, APRA AMCOS Head of People and Culture.

Open Letter to my APRA AMCOS colleagues on International Women’s Day 2022

Dear APRA AMCOS Colleagues,

As I sit down to write this letter, severe weather warnings keep popping up on my notifications, which seems appropriate given the troubled times we seem to be navigating.

In this unquiet moment, International Women’s Day 2022 and its invitation to #BreakTheBias provides a welcome pause. It’s made me look back at my almost 20 years at APRA AMCOS and note the significant shifts that have happened within that span of a human lifetime. It’s also filled me with an appreciation for the qualities in our organisation that have made these changes possible. Qualities like our identity as a collective, and our valuing of the individual differences within that collective. We have ever been bridge-people, with a willingness to listen and to act on feedback, even when that feedback is difficult to hear, and an ability to acknowledge when we get it wrong and to strive to be better. It’s what drives our commitment to fostering fairness, transparency, equity and inclusion in all our spheres of influence. It’s what makes us, above all, an organisation with heart.

I remember years ago participating in a discussion about our brand personality. We’d already agreed that if APRA AMCOS was human, it would be agile, astute and fair, but that didn’t quite capture that certain something that we all knew the organisation had. That’s when Sally Howland, then head of membership, said we needed to find a way to acknowledge our warmth, connection and big-heartedness: and the penny dropped – above all, APRA AMCOS was human, in the best sense of the word. And that quality is what’s most visible to me when I reflect on my time here.

That humanity made allowances for the fact that I would need part-time work arrangements to manage both my caring responsibilities and my work aspirations. That same humanity appointed a pregnant woman as its Events Manager (Jana Gibson) knowing that she would be on parental leave six months later, because it recognised the immense value she would bring to the role. Watch those biases breaking ahead of their time.

I remember when I first started attending senior leadership meetings, the senior team at that time was wholly male – Sally Howland having left – and I was a relatively junior staff member, attending to represent what was then known as the Human Resources function. I was so self-conscious of the sound of my heels on the floor outside that boardroom, and the sound of my voice and the effort it took to find it when I was inside the room. And I remember the men – and women, when Jana Gibson joined the team – who opened the doors to those rooms and made spaces in the discussion so I was able to contribute and use that voice. I remember clearly, the day, in 2021, when Dean Ormston told me he wanted the People & Culture function to form part of the organisation’s leadership team. So many rich discussions and bias-breaking, human-centred decisions over all these years:

  • annual gender pay gap reviews and the commitment to reduce that pay gap,
  • the internal gender equity strategy established in 2015 and the parallel gender equity strategy established for women in our membership,
  • paid parental leave and paid short-parental leave,
  • return to work allowances for parents returning to the workforce after parental leave,
  • continuing superannuation contributions for staff on parental leave,
  • supporting the Marriage Equality Bill,
  • flexible working arrangements including flexible start and finish times, purchased leave, time-in-lieu, hybrid working,
  • and then the bias-breaking decision to make paid parental leave gender and carer-status neutral.
  • and the equally bias-breaking decision to make hybrid working arrangements available to all staff, regardless of gender or family status because there are as many ways to be human as there are humans.

When I first became a parent in a pre-APRA AMCOS lifetime, none of these benefits or arrangements were available. My children are now 23 and 20 years old respectively. In their lifetimes, this organisation has made changes that have eased the financial burden on APRA AMCOS parents who choose to spend time with their new babies and has made it possible for them to do this together, rather than spend the first few difficult months of parenting alone and in isolation. It’s also made headway in helping ensure that parents don’t wind up in retirement worse off because they took a year off to look after their newborn children. Of the 16 APRA AMCOS parents who took up our parental leave benefits in 2021, four were men. Bravo, men of APRA AMCOS: you’re breaking a critical bias that has been limiting everyone for centuries: that caring is women’s work only.

Importantly, we do the painstaking work every year of reviewing each role and assessing it against market salaries, to ensure that we’re offering equal pay for equal work. As a result of this focus, our gender pay gap of 6.7% is half the Australian gender pay gap of 13.4%; and 29% less than the 9.4% gender pay gap in the Arts and Recreation Industry.

This throws into sharp relief the fact that while we can offer this to people who work at APRA AMCOS, our writer members do not enjoy this same level playing field in our industry. Women still only constitute 22% of our writer membership and so have a significantly lower share of music royalty revenue. We’ve done sound research to identify the barriers to their participation in our industry and, within our spheres of influence, are doing the long deep work to help shift these barriers, open doors and build capability and opportunities for self-determination.

The work is still far from done.

Some biases we see in others, but neglect in ourselves. I had worked here for 17 years before a young man in our Membership team learnt that my name is pronounced differently and called me by that true name. I shall never forget that day and how it made me feel. I had forgotten how it sounded. Thank you, Andrew Tuttle. I shall always remember too, with deep love, Leah Flanagan, the day you said to me: “Kirti, you’re a woman of colour, how are you experiencing this discussion?”, pulling me immediately into my whole self, feeling seen in a way I had not even noticed I was missing. It’s made me wonder how many others in our community are still waiting to be called by their true name, or be seen for their whole selves? What rich possibilities would we invite in if we broke these biases?

In his book, “Sand Talk: How Aboriginal Thinking Can Save the World”, author and Deakin University Senior Lecturer in Indigenous Knowledge, Tyson Yunkaporta, describes an Indigenous pronoun that is not easily translatable into English. In addition to words for You and Me, there’s the kinship pairing of “Us-Two” and the irreducible wholeness of “Us-All”.

Us-All. It’s why we’re a founding member of the national Music Industry Review – because while talk about safe spaces is common now, there are many spaces that still feel unsafe or exclusive in our industry; there are voices that our industry still can’t or won’t hear. And, finally, it’s why we have an Equity Action Plan and why we’re working on a Reconciliation Action Plan: because #breakthebias is not just a slogan for us for one day, as bridge people, it is the bridging work we need to do that enables Us-All to step into the promise of our collective identity.

Happy International Women’s Day, everyone.