How to Create an Effective Women’s Mentorship Program in the Music Business (Guest Column)

In the music industry, I’ve realized how important it is to open doors for others. Being a Latin woman in this industry means running into quite a few locked doors. These barriers aren’t just about missing opportunities; they often come down to gender or where we come from, making it feel like we’re all scrambling for a key that’s hard to find.

After nearly 15 years in this field, we’ve been lucky enough to enter rooms we never dreamed possible. Having secured a seat at the table and pushed open doors that were once closed to us, we feel a deep responsibility to keep those doors ajar for others. This journey has highlighted the unique hurdles women face in the music industry and has motivated me to ensure these doors stay open, particularly for other women aiming to make their mark and overcome the challenges we once faced.

In the MIDIA Women in Music 2022 survey, when respondents were asked what would encourage women and other “non-male gender identities” to grow in the music industry, mentoring and coaching opportunities were overwhelmingly the top response. It’s a resource I wish I had when I was coming up through the business, as I often faced a lack of access to other women, and particularly fellow Latinas, who could help guide me throughout my career. I was fortunate to have lots of great colleagues who inspired me but I was always craving that deeper connection and a safe space to have open conversations with women in this industry who have stood where I did or could offer fresh perspectives.

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As a foundational team member at Symphonic Distribution, I’ve navigated the challenges of expanding a business within a small music market. As a Latina, these experiences have equipped me with the insight to provide the mentorship opportunities I always wished were available to me, to others. With the launch of the Women Empowered+ Program at Symphonic, we’ve created a testament to the belief that mentorship can change careers and lives, particularly for women.

Since beginning the program in 2022, we have connected 165 mentors from companies across the music industry with 340 mentees spanning the U.S., Mexico, Latin America, South America, Europe and Africa. This initiative reflects our commitment to dismantling the barriers that disproportionately affect women in music, providing them with the guidance, support, and opportunities they have historically been denied.

As we prepared to launch our third year of the program this March during Women’s History Month, I began reflecting on what we have been doing well and what we could do better going forward — not just at Symphonic but in the industry in general. With this perspective, I’d like to share some suggestions and insights aimed at creating effective mentorship programs for women and diverse genders in the music industry, for companies committed to making an impact.

Structure Objectives and a Matching Protocol

Define the program’s objectives upfront, ensuring both parties have a mutual understanding of their roles, expectations, timeline and time commitment. Launch the program with a clear framework, pairing mentors and mentees based on complementary interests and career goals. We created a simple Airtable form with all the details we felt were needed to fully understand each of our mentors and mentees.

Resources, Support and Honesty

Provide training and/or resources to prepare participants for effective mentoring relationships. The cornerstone of an effective mentorship is confidentiality, fostering an environment where open and honest conversations can occur, grounded in trust and mutual respect. Maintain a support system for addressing challenges, while allowing flexibility to meet diverse needs and schedules. This ensures the program is both supportive and adaptable to individual circumstances.

Feedback and Community Building

Implement a continuous feedback loop to refine the program and recognize participants’ efforts and achievements through the program through surveys. Foster a community of past and present mentees and mentors to encourage networking, shared learning and ongoing support, enhancing the overall impact and sustainability of the mentorship initiative. This can be done via Facebook Groups, Slack, Whatsapp or any other community-building platforms. We discovered that some of the mentors and mentees can help by being the community manager for these.

By bringing the next generation of female music executives up through your mentoring program, we are in turn training the next generation of mentors who will be able to reach out and continue to help bring people in. Whether mentoring or being mentored, we are all contributing to the common goal of making things better for those who come after us.

As we gear up for another year of fostering connections and growth through the Women Empowered+ Program, I’m reminded of the transformative power when we choose to support and uplift one another. We encourage every company in the music industry to create similar programs to cultivate more diverse talent and hope our experience can be a guide for others to take action and inspire even more women to join our industry. In a world where the music industry’s doors seem heavy and unwelcoming, let us be the force that opens them wider, inviting in the voices of women who have waited for their chance to be heard. Together, we can ensure that the next generation of female talent finds a nurturing space where their goals are encouraged, supported by a community that understands the unique challenges they face and believes in the power of mentorship to change not just careers, but lives.

Janette Berrios is the vp of corporate marketing for Symphonic Distribution, a leading independent music distributor with a global presence. She was included on Billboard‘s prestigious Indie Power Players list in 2022 and 2021 and was honored with the “Wonder Women in Latin Music” award presented by the LAMC and Amazon Music.