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Women chronically disadvantaged in the Australian music industry

31 July 2017
Fixing gender-based inequality in the music industry

New research by the University of Sydney has found women in the Australian music industry are "chronically disadvantaged", in terms of who 'makes it' as a success and who 'makes the decisions' at the board level.

Women in the Australian music industry face a double-barrelled disadvantage according to a new report from the University of Sydney’s Women, Work and Leadership Research Group at the Business School.

The Skipping a Beat report released today found that gender-based inequality in the industry operates on two dimensions: in terms of who ‘makes it’ as a performing success story and who ‘makes the decisions’ impacting the industry.

Lead author of the report Associate Professor Rae Cooper said, “Whether it be radio playlists, festival line-ups, industry awards, major industry boards, male artists and voices overwhelmingly dominate the Australian music industry.”

Despite recent global success stories of female music artists including Tina Arena and Sia, the new report found labour markets and occupations in the Australian music industry are heavily skewed towards males: women represent a third of all employed musicians.

“When we look at the gender breakdown for more technical roles such as sound engineering and music production, the gap becomes even wider,” said Associate Professor Cooper.

Women in the music industry are not only confronted with the ‘glass ceiling’, but also ‘glass walls’, where women congregate in occupations and sectors where the majority of employees are women.
Associate Professor Rae Cooper, lead author

One of the only women to be voted on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) board as a Director in her own right, Vicki Gordon, said sound production is particularly susceptible to the ‘glass walls’ effect and has traditionally been the territory of men.

“Most of the women I know in the music industry have a horror story about discrimination at the mixing desk,” said Vicki Gordon.

“When I was tour manager for one particular male band, I was constantly referred to as their ‘mother’ by male industry practitioners and exposed to pornography and sexist behaviour which denigrates women, both on the road and back stage. Sexist behaviour just undermines the value and important role women play in the music industry.”

The report found female music artists received significantly fewer industry awards than their male peers. Of the 367 musicians featured on triple j’s Hottest 100 only 20 were female musicians. The ARIA Hall of Fame has a similar gender disparity, with a total of 11 female artists among the 75 inductees.

The authors of the report, Associate Professor Cooper and PhD candidate Sally Hanna-Osborne from the University of Sydney Business School and Dr Amanda Coles from Deakin University’s Business School, write “women are chronically under-represented in key positions in the music industry.”

Analysing the four peak industry bodies in music publishing, the report found men held 83 percent of board positions. 

“Representation at the board level matters,” said Associate Professor Cooper. “These are the bodies making key strategic decisions that affect the whole industry and without a seat at the table, the interests of women might not be considered in the decision-making process.”

A woman with headphones on, listening to music.

The leading peak body representing the interests of the recorded music sector, Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), currently has no women on its board, and to the report authors’ knowledge there have only been two women board directors in its history: one of them is Vicki Gordon.

“I cherished my time as an ARIA Board Director. It was one of the very few times in my entire career I had any real power or influence to create change, however, I often felt invisible,” Vicki Gordon said. “The room was almost always addressed in relation to the ‘Gentlemen’ present.”

The authors make a number of recommendations in the report to achieve an even playing field for women and men in the industry. Associate Professor Cooper said it is critical that the industry takes steps to increase women’s representation at the board level.

“We know from international research that organisations and industries with gender diversity at the senior leadership level perform better not only in terms of connecting with their customers but with business innovation,” said Associate Professor Cooper.

“It makes good business sense for the Australian music industry to increase gender diversity in key decision making roles.”

Gender equality criteria should be considered when deciding on public funding outcomes, according to the report authors. Screen NSW introduced a requirement that all drama series must include female key creatives on the team and saw an increase in female directors from 22 to 56 percent over one funding cycle. 

“Public funding by its very nature should be used in the public interest.” said Dr Amanda Coles from Deakin University. 

“Funding bodies have the power to create a stronger, more dynamic music industry by introducing gender equality criteria. Inclusive, representative music industries are the foundation of a rich and diverse music landscape. The Australian music industry must catch up to the changes happening across the creative industries more generally.”

The report, Skipping a beat: Assessing the state of gender equality in the Australian music industry, was funded by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). 

Katie Booth

Assistant Media & PR Adviser