Carla Marie Williams is a songwriter and founder of not-for-profit organisation Girls I Rate, which connects women in the music industry so they can hold each other up. She’s written for Beyoncé, Kylie Minogue, Sean Paul, Britney Spears and many others. Here, on International Women's Day, she guest-writes a piece for Noisey about the work the industry can do to inspire women to pursue careers not only as performers, but as part of the creative and executive teams behind the scenes.
When I started out in the music industry, about 15 years ago, black female artists and songwriters were few and far between. Now, you can barely whisper the words “mate have you seen this week’s New Music Friday” without seeing the likes of Ray BLK, Little Simz, Ester Dean, Jin Jin, Nao and of course Beyoncé (who I co-wrote Lemonade’s “Freedom” with) represented. They’re a well of incredible talent.
But from the outside, it can feel impossible to break into that world. I’m just a girl from around the way in Brent, northwest London. I started off writing poems about boyfriends and feelings. Writing words was my release and a way of saying the unspoken. I then went on to work with Xenomania, a pop production company who nurtured my pop sensibility in my early twenties. In two years I’d written a string of top 10 hits with them and Girls Aloud.
But ultimately it wasn't until I got to work with Beyoncé that my motto “anything is possible” came into effect. The day she walked into the studio and we started singing and writing together, I made a vow to encourage as many women as possible to chase their dreams and celebrate their successes – every last bit of them.
Growing up I only ever really knew of two women songwriters: Diane Warren and Cathy Dennis. When I asked myself why that was, it seemed to come down to programming; as women we’d been mostly pushed to be artists. But it seems a shift has begun, of which I’m proud to be a part of, as founder of Girls I Rate. Now, an aspiration to do something different in music beyond working as a performer has started to emerge on a bigger scale. Representation plays a major role in desire, after all: if you don't see good representation behind the scenes then how do you believe it is possible?
With the rise of grime and afrobeats, women are still under-represented. I see major platforms who push the culture but only for “the mandem”, so even on the underground it’s a fight for women – young ones in particular – to get heard. You have to earn a huge amount of respect among men to get pushed by them. In grime, hip-hop, dancehall, afrobeats (all male-dominated genres) male privilege has a huge part to play in the advancement of women. So I call for more men across the industry to step up and open more doors and support more talented women. As an advocate for gender equality, the irony is that men have often used their male privilege to support my journey and open doors for me in my career. For that I will always appreciate the power of the male ally. I truly believe men have a huge role to play in the women’s equality movement for this reason.
On the flip side, over the last two years I have been observing the men and women around me and I definitely feel that women often fear taking risks and can sometimes lack the confidence that society prizes and pushes in men. That is because they don’t get supported enough to succeed. They’re socially conditioned to please others, to bend to what other people want, lest they’re labeled “difficult” or, the old classic, a bitch. Women fight to get a seat at the table and when we get it, we don’t always support each other because we’re so used to being set up as each other’s competition, as if there’s only room for one of us.
So I started Girls I Rate in 2016 because I wanted to come up with a solution for all of this lack of representation, sisterhood, role models, opportunity and platforms. It is great to see women within my organisation encouraging and celebrating each other. I find at times we are scared to actually work together, to come together. With more prominent sisterhood, where we’d be happy to volunteer our time and actually build for the long term as opposed to our own short-term goals and aspirations, I’m sure we can achieve more. I want Girls I Rate to make a difference. The results speak for themselves: two years in, 2,000 members later, having hosted events and programmes that engaged hundreds of women and young girls, it feels as though change is happening.
We host female-only events and run Girls I Rate Arts Academy weekend programmes, aiming to educate young women in all aspects of the business. We are actively seeking funding for our programmes so they can run on a weekly basis and house as many young women as possible. We call them the GIR Future GI-army! And this isn’t just about work I oversee: I’ve decided to write and produce All My Girls, an empowering EP that will feature all women-identifying artists. Hopefully it can act as a template for ways in which to involve more women-identifying producers, engineers and writers in a release.
Recently, the London Power 100 List was revealed and out of 100 people, 36 were of a black or minority ethnic background, six were women – three of whom were black. To see this was very disheartening but it also fired me up to push for better representation on next year’s list. I’m here for it.
Carla's All My Girls EP is due out in April, with its title track out on 30 March. You can find out more about Girls I Rate on their site, their socials, and about Carla in particular on her site. She hosts an International Women’s Day gala dinner tonight in central London.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.