Heather Lowery is Normalizing Female Leadership
Doing what it takes to Femme It Forward in the music industry.
Heather Lowery was at a major music event, waiting to meet with a music manager, when a male passerby mistook her for a groupie. At the time, she was Vice President of Talent and Touring for Live Nation Entertainment.
"Who you with? Who you with?" asked the man. "Whose girl are you?"
Without skipping a beat, Ms. Lowery responds, "Who are you with? Can I see your credentials?"
In the YouTube interview for Live Nation where Ms. Lowery recalled the incident, she lamented that there are not a lot of black women leaders in the music industry. As a result, the default response to seeing a black woman backstage at a music event is to assume that she was an assistant or part of someone's entourage, not the one in charge.
Make no mistake, Ms. Lowery is definitely in charge. When she was VP for Live Nation, she had the clout and bona fides needed to push women leaders to the fore of the music industry. Now, as President and CEO of Femme It Forward, she has the platform.
Femme It Forward, a joint venture with Live Nation, was formed to celebrate, educate, and empower the music industry's female visionaries. Femme It Forward has already made an impact, working with powerhouses like Missy Elliott, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and Megan Thee Stallion to put on events that celebrate black women in music.
Leadership is an amorphous thing, defined more often by what it isn't rather than what it is. In working for more recognition for female leaders in the music industry, Ms. Lowery is adhering to the one of the Golden Rules in leadership: Pay attention to what I say but, more importantly, watch what I do.
Be a Force
The music business is unrelenting. You have to have knowledge and tenacity. The music business is big business so you also have to be fearless. However, given the tendency to view women as "assistants" and not people with real power, getting ahead requires more than just hustle for women of color.
To raise the profile of black female artists and leaders in the music industry, women have to be a force. They have to have to be powerful, whether they hold actual power or not. Ms. Lowery exemplifies authority. Billboard Magazine knew exactly what they were doing when they named Ms. Lowery to the 2020 R&B and HipHop Power Players List.
Ms. Lowery puts her influence to good use. One recent example was Ms. Lowery's efforts to include women in Verzuz.
During the worldwide pandemic in 2020, Verzuz, a webcast series of battles between musicians, was one of the avenues that kept live music going when in-person concerts were impossible. However, most of the battles were only between men. Ms. Lowery helped changed that.
Ms. Lowery approached one of the producers of Verzuz to work with them to get more female artists involved in Verzuz. The producers agreed to see what Ms. Lowery could bring to the table.
Her response: Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.
Prior to that first female pairing for Verzuz, the highest number of concurrent views for any battle was the rematch between Teddy Riley and Babyface (500,000 concurrent views). The Erykah Badu-Jill Scott Verzuz smashed that record with 700,000 concurrent views.
And then: Brandy and Monica. The Brandy-Monica Verzuz set another record at 1.4 million concurrent views.
Those numbers were undeniable and served as proof that Ms. Lowery's efforts on behalf of black female artists weren't misplaced. It also made explicit what Ms. Lowery already knew. Female artists could not only step up and perform, but female artists could also be just as successful as male artists on any platform.
Lift Up Other Women
True leadership is not only concerned with getting a good result today, but also looks toward shaping the future. Not tomorrow or a few years from now, but a generation down the road.
One of the most precious things that a person with power has to offer is their time. Ms. Lowery and Femme It Forward understood this and created a way to ensure that the knowledge and experiences of today's music executives have a path to tomorrow's female leaders.
In December 2020, Femme It Forward announced the Next Gem Femme Mentorship Program. The program's goal is to accelerate the career advancement of women of color and increase the overall gender equity in the music industry. Of the planned 200 mentees, Femme It Forward plans to award half of the slots to applicants from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
This mentorship program is a long-term commitment that Ms. Lowery, Femme It Forward, and the mentors are making to the future of women leaders in music. It is anticipated that the mentor-mentee relationships will run for a minimum of one year, with possibilities for growth after the conclusion of the year.
Fight for Justice
Ms. Lowery also recognized that the fight for justice and the fight against injustice are closely tied to education. It is in that spirit, that Ms. Lowery started Revolutionary Reads.
Revolutionary Reads is Femme It Forward's official book club. Participants, who hold the discussions online, discuss the inequality and violence faced by black women and the next steps to address those issues. The online book club hopes to assist women of color in finding a community that will support them and help them cope with the effects of racism in America.
The program is unlike most book clubs because it provides a safe place to have honest conversations between women from a broad cross-section of the community, from music executives and music luminaries to activists and members of the clergy. The discussions are not just theoretical but pull from the experiences of the women and focus on actual steps to advocate for a more equal and just society.
Leading the Way
Leadership requires vision. Vision requires perspective. Ms. Lowery worked her way up to the apex of the music industry and, along the way, she has seen the inequality in her industry. She has even experienced it. Her ideas have been dismissed and she has been underestimated. But she has also learned the tough lessons and she has thrived.
Music has always been a precursor of change. Music has led the way. Ms. Lowery, through her work through Femme It Forward, is working to smash the perceptions that women are not leaders in the music industry. She works to ensure that women take their rightful place as an equal partner not just in the music industry, but also in society.