Kate Duncan is the CEO of The Push Inc, an Australian youth music organisation. Her previous professional achievements include positions within youth and music services at various levels of government. Today, she shares her insights on women reshaping the music industry and reflects upon her career.
Your experience spans across work with various councils and corporations at different scales. How instrumental do you believe community based programs are to solving global issues?
Having worked across all levels of government, community organisations and associations throughout my career, it’s given me a pretty deep insight and understanding of the unique value and challenges each of them have.
My time working in local government really helped me to realise the level of impact and important role council can play in transforming a person’s life.
It’s funny, because in most instances if you asked someone about what local government does, they’d probably say bins and rates – but working as a youth worker in council made me see how as the most accessible level of government, it can play a super important role in directly supporting people who otherwise wouldn’t have the skills, networks or awareness of how to navigate services that might be delivered at a state or federal level.
I guess it’s also a reflection that local government has the capacity to be truly responsive to the unique needs of their local community. This might be across services for children, young people, low socio-economic communities, our aging communities, newly arrived communities or communities with a disability. While all levels of government do support these communities to some extent – it really felt like the further removed you were from direct service delivery, the less meaningful impact it had.
In my opinion, this couldn’t be truer than with the youth sector. Across all levels of government, youth services isn’t mandated in the way it is for children’s, disability or aged services. Because of this, it’s always the last service to be considered in a budget, and rarely has the resourcing required to meet the demand.
Yet that time in someone’s life is a period of transition. It is a time when you can really go one of two ways in your journey, and if you haven’t got supports around you, or you haven’t met your people, or aren’t engaged in education or training, the consequences can be devastating.
Nationally, our youth mental health rates continue to rise, as do our youth unemployment rates, and yet governments continue to invest huge amounts of money into reactive approaches in responding to this – rather than looking holistically at what could be done through preventative measures, such as local community programming that engages with young people in a meaningful way – supporting young people to have a sense of purpose and connection to their community.
In less than two years you were promoted from the creative producer to the CEO of The Push. Could you describe any challenges you experienced whilst making this transition and how you were able to overcome them?
Navigating the journey into the position I’m in now definitely wasn’t easy. I think particularly with the added complexities as you point out, of transitioning from being in a role that I’d worked alongside my team members for a few years, then suddenly overnight I had a whole bunch of new responsibilities and with that, decisions that would go onto directly impact staff who were also my friends was super challenging and at times very upsetting.
Being a CEO wasn’t something I’d ever imagined or planned for. While I am still so incredibly grateful for being offered the opportunity to lead The Push, most weeks don’t go by where I don’t question if I have anything of value to add in a meeting, surrounded by people who seem to have way more expertise or experience than me.
I think imposter syndrome is still massively real amongst women entering leadership roles, particularly in the for-purpose sector. So many of us end up in these roles with very little training and development prior to becoming leaders – yet we are expected to immediately have the confidence and deep understanding of how to manage a range of complex issues and stakeholders.
For me, the biggest supports have come from outside the contemporary music sector and learning from leaders who perhaps provide new ways of thinking across issues that aren’t sector exclusive. It’s frustrating that as an industry we can be quite siloed in our approach to working – I think we have so much to learn from outside the contemporary music sector, and I see those new perspectives being integral to our growth and sustainability into the future.
In 2018, The Hack found that within the Australian music industry, there’s equal representation amongst students (47% of undergraduate music students are women) with even a greater proportion of women taking up music subjects in year 12 (54%). However, professionally, only 29% of those listing it as a job were female. Have you seen this represented in your extensive work with youth in music? What unique challenges do women face with the transition into professionalism?
Yes, it’s something that we see consistently in the work we do at The Push, with around 70% of young people participating in our programs identifying as female. However, while we have had really great success rates in supporting young women with pathways into paid employment, it can’t be denied that there is still an over-representation more broadly of men across the sector, particularly in leadership roles.
It’s been interesting navigating this through my own journey over the past 2-years since having my first child. I was in a position to be able to return to work after 10-weeks, while my partner became primary carer of our son, Jude. Our experience is still pretty unheard of, and not exclusively in the contemporary music sector, but more broadly across our society.
While I was pregnant, I read Annabel Crabb’s book Men At Work and was shocked to read that less than 5% of fathers in Australia are primary carers. Unfortunately, until more workplaces have paid parental leave programs that are specifically designed to ensure parenting, career breaks and flexible working are shared between men and women it will continue to be a huge barrier for women’s career progressions and engagement in the workforce.
The Push runs a Music Industry Mentoring program. How important do you believe having representation of diverse figures is within the industry?
Unfortunately, I feel like the contemporary music sector is still so far off from being truly representative of our communities across Australia. Not just through a gender lens, but of cultural backgrounds, abilities, sexualities, socio-economic backgrounds, ages and locations of where people live, work and study.
While I do think there has been a concerted effort to address this over the last few years, it’s still undeniable that barriers exist for large segments of our community to pathway into a career or participate more broadly. I think there’s also great truth in the phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see.”
Again, following on from what I was saying before about learning from outside sectors – I think we have so much to learn from sport in this space. The Australian Government 2030 Sport Strategy states a strategic priority of:
“A diverse sports sector, from the playing field to the boardroom: promote a diverse sector which represents our population. A varied range of sports opportunities has the greatest chance of getting more Australians active and producing better, well-rounded athletes.”
Sure, I’ll admit, there are differences between sport and music, but both have same the opportunity to address barriers to participation and foster pathways to employment. Unfortunately, in 2021, I feel like one of these sectors is doing it much better than the other.
This is where I see The Push playing a really important role into the future, particularly through the Music Industry Pathways program you mentioned. With deeply embedded local community partnerships, The Push is uniquely positioned to connect with young people across many genders, cultural backgrounds, abilities, sexualities, socio-economic backgrounds, ages and locations – and provide a targeted and responsive approach to supporting any young person that wants to participate in contemporary music with the skills, knowledge and networks to do so.
What are some of the most rewarding moments that you have had in your current position?
Gosh! What a hard question! I guess I’m so lucky that I genuinely feel like every day in this role is rewarding, knowing that The Push is playing a super important role in working towards equal access of contemporary music for every young person in Australia.
Whether it is delivering a one-on-one song writing session online via Zoom, or being amongst thousands of teenagers as they have their first live music experience at one of our all-ages events – I feel truly grateful that I get to directly see the impact our programs are having for thousands of young people across Australia.
Do you have any advice you could give to young women looking to follow in your footsteps?
Make a plan, build your community, have clarity in what you’re working towards, use your journey to make things better.