Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2021: Maria Panayi, TikTok

Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2021: Maria Panayi, TikTok

During this year’s Women In Music Awards, we inducted a further 14 game-changing industry executives (including two posthumous awards) into the Roll Of Honour, in association with TikTok.

They join the pantheon of previous honourees, including some of the biggest names in the business, from Emma Banks and Sarah Stennett to Kanya King, Rebecca Allen and Stacey Tang, that have been selected since the awards began in 2014. 

The Roll Of Honour aims to highlight the breadth, depth and variety of individuals who are game-changers in the music industry, with their activities consistently benefiting women, or focusing on empowerment/gender disparity.

Following the Women In Music Awards ceremony, Music Week is running Q&A interviews with all of this year’s Roll Of Honour inductees.

Maria Panayi leads TikTok's music marketing and strategic partnerships across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, helping TikTok connect with the industry and the audiences it serves.  

A passionate campaigner for diversity, equality, and inclusion, Maria feels strongly that all organisations in the music business must use their influence to build and shape a more inclusive future for the industry. She is co-chair of Women @ TikTok Europe employee resource group, a collective of 1,000 people who are building a culture at TikTok for women to thrive.   

Here, Maria Panayi opens up about industry achievements, mentors and offers advice for the next generation of executive talent... 

How do you feel about joining the Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour?

“This is a huge honour - I’ve had an incredible year at TikTok and a good 15 years working away in different corners of the industry before that - so it feels very humbling to be recognised and to join so many phenomenal women who have blazed a trail in music.”

How do you look back on your early years getting into the industry?

“I was always brought up to believe that if I worked hard enough, there were no barriers to what I could achieve. I got this from my mum, a nurse, who had three jobs to raise three of us on her own. I’ve worked since I was 14 in every job imaginable and put myself through university doing summers in Middlesbrough job centre as a benefits advisor - this was the most important job I've ever had as I connected with people at their most vulnerable and taught me important lifelong lessons in compassion, empathy and treating everyone with kindness and respect. It got me to where I am today and still rings true.

"At the very start, I got into music with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work. My earliest days were spent in a different landscape where sexism was so overt and I was certainly underestimated and overlooked at times. I had major impostor syndrome due to the fact I didn't see or hear enough people like me represented in the rooms I entered, I still haven't fully overcome that. At that time I drowned it out by saying yes to every opportunity and taking every call and meeting - that opened a lot of doors.

"After getting some great breaks working freelance across Red Bull, MOBOs and Asian Music Awards, I felt it was time to start earning a regular wage. For a few years, my family were worried I didn’t have a real job, so when I started at M&C Saatchi, working across marketing activations and strategy for some of the biggest brands in music and entertainment and turning up at places like the BAFTAs, they were overjoyed - I used to take the M&C Saatchi branded umbrellas home up north with me as presents for everyone! I spent five and a half years at Sony Music after that, but it’s at TikTok where I’ve felt most at home and am so excited by what we're achieving together.”

Did you have a mentor at that stage?

“I didn't really have a mentor, rather a trusted collective of people I worked with who went on to become lifelong friends. One of the most important people in my life is Leroy Harris (Spotify) who I first met when we worked on T in the Park together, at the same time as Claire Ruddock (ex Red Bull) who I've collaborated with for years and is a great friend and coach. Sera Holland (CEO at Ketchum) was my first real boss, an incredible role model and someone I still call on to this very day. I still work closely with Jodie Fullagar (MD at M&C Saatchi), who does so much to drive positive change within the creative industries and has always been so supportive of me.”

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

“There have been loads of different wins which have been significant at different times in my career. I remember standing on stage looking out to 70,000 at T in the Park people for the first time and feeling on top of the world. Red Bull put their trust in me very early into my career and looking back on moments like Culture Clash, Notting Hill Carnival and Revolutions in Sound will always feel really special.

"I'm really proud of being able to flex into different spaces within music and entertainment and carve out a career which has taken me to TikTok, the most exciting and culture-shaping platform which is breathing a new life into music. On a personal level, being a mother is the most important and hardest job I'll ever do - I started at TikTok with a small baby during a global pandemic and it's made me realise how strong and resilient we are as women.”

What advice would you offer young women to help them enjoy a successful career in music?

“Support other women in the industry and don’t be afraid to say no - no to glass ceilings, no to the gender pay gap, no to being spoken over in meetings, no to situations that you feel are wrong or make you feel uncomfortable. We need to work together at every level to champion change, and it's coming…”

Everyone needs to come together and use their collective power and influence to tackle inequality now

Maria Panayi

What’s the best advice you’ve ever had?

“People will never forget how you made them feel.”

What’s your biggest lesson from 2021 so far?

“When we come together as women, we're an unstoppable force, but more needs to be done to tackle gender imbalance and we can't and shouldn't have to do this on our own. Everyone needs to come together and use their collective power and influence to tackle inequality now. We need to safeguard the new generation of women coming through and ensure we aren't having this same conversation in 10 years' time.”

Is there a young woman you'd like to shout out who you think is a rising star in the industry?

“The whole team at TikTok are world class and I’d also highlight an incredible rising star, Janay Marie Myers-Davis, who I first worked with at Sony and is now part of the Partnerships and Community team at TikTok. Janay led our partnership with Stephen Lawrence Day foundation to help bring Stephen's story to the TikTok community and is a key figure in the Black Creator Trailblazers programme at TikTok, which is designed to nurture and develop talented, emerging Black creators and artists. Above all of this, Janay is a hugely valued and loved member of the TikTok family, to see her grow and develop has been a massive privilege.”

Similarly, is there a young woman artist whose music you're enjoying right now/excited about?

“Baby Pink is an alternative R&B artist and producer based in East London and making huge moves - behind everything she puts out is a really authentic message of empowerment. She's on a path to great things - check her out.”

Click here for this year’s full list of Roll Of Honour inductees. The full list of inductees is available here.


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