Why gender diversity in the audio industry needs attention

Jean-Baptiste Thiebaut

By Dr Eddie Dobson

Yep, the audio industries have a long and established history of misogyny, exclusion and deep sense of male entitlement. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, or feel like it isn’t happening, or you really think that there are more important things to focus on (including other areas of women’s rights). Perhaps you’re aware but not sure what can be done.

Or maybe you’ve simply been blinded by your privilege (and freedom to focus on other things). Or your I’ve never seen it so it can’t be realism. Before you start a comments thread saying that girls and gender diverse people aren’t interested in audio (honestly yawn) please don’t embarrass yourself, just sit on your hands for a minute and keep reading. The situation is systemic, social and quite honestly diabolical.

How do we know there is a problem?

University of Southern California’s most recent Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Report revealed that only 2.6% of producers (for 500 songs on the Hot 100 Year-End Billboard Charts between 2012-2019) were women. That’s 29 women to 1093 men. Analysis of UCAS applications to 38 Higher Education degree courses over a 10 year period (when applications grew by 1400%) showed a 90% male demographic (Born & Devine). Female Pressure’s Facts Surveys (total data from 322 festival editions of 182 different festivals), from 2012-2017 shows an overwhelming male dominance of the global music scene.


I won’t go on but I really could because quite a few people (usually women*) have derailed their music careers in order to research and publish books: Women in the Studio: Creativity, Control and Gender in Popular Music Sound Production by Paula Wolfe; Gender in Music Production edited by Hepworth-Swayer, Hodgson, King and Marrington; Towards Gender Equality in the Music Industry edited by Strong and Raine; and Women in Audio by Leslie Gaston-Bird.


To make this clear, I’ll summarise – society and audio culture needs to change in order for women and gender diverse people to exist and remain present in all physical and virtual audio spaces. Change means addressing explicit misogyny and often more elusive unconscious bias, basic human values about how we treat our peers. It means presenting studio environments that are comfortable for everyone using them as Grace Banks explained in Off The Record: How Studios Subliminally Silence Women for The Quietus.


Change means recognising the leaky pipeline within education, where younger people aren’t seeing relatable role models, or feeling like a career in audio is plausible because they’re already experiencing subtle clues from a world that bases careers, skills and capability on a persons gender, from the second we are born! It means acknowledging that men talk about he, him and even the gentleman’s club when referring to their community and spaces of audio production.

What’s the big deal if girls don’t want to do it?
If you’re wondering about this, you’re still missing the point. Too many women become exhausted with the constant pressure to outperform male counterparts, with tokenism, with being unable to just chat audio because their gender has become a more unique point of interest in the all-male space.  So let’s consider the economic situation because, after-all we’re talking about an incredible range of professions when we cluster the audio industries. If we look at the creative industries as a whole, according to the UK Creative industries website in 2019 was valued at £115.9bn a year. In 2018 the value of service exports has been recorded at £35.6bn and we know that most of these industries include audio.

We have a responsibility to create industry career facing pipelines for people of all genders, and as women and people of diverse genders have been pushing hard against a range of now very well documented barriers there is proactive work to be done. 

We haven’t even started to touch on the issues affecting women and gender diverse people differently: race, disability, transgender discrimination. When considering discrimination, it is important to view this issue through an intersectional lens as experiences of discrimination are more or less layered.


What are we doing about it at Music Hackspace?

We at Music Hackspace are listening to women and gender diverse people on this issue of creating diverse and inclusive learning environments, and we have been working on this issue for some time. Our ongoing commitment to inclusion and diversity is reflected in our goal of achieving gender parity. In practice this means that for each man we seek out and recruit two women, and so far 36% of our attendees are women. We also invest in careers by offering training for artists looking to build their teaching portfolio, and we hope to inspire others in the audio industries to take the same positive action.

We’re not going to shy away from this and imagine that it is a problem for someone else to address (or continue to ignore), so we hope others will feel motivated to do the same. The Yorkshire Sound Women Network have recently launched their gender diversity and inclusion training, which leads to Volume Up Kitemark accreditation. We hope you will join us in exploring such initiatives.

* in this post we talk about women however the audio industries are basically not gender diverse; the issues facing the trans community are complex, indeed increasingly dangerous at the moment – so as a fundamental bottom line we include transwomen as women and also support non-binary people as part of this marginalised community in audio.