Published On: 25 September 2023Categories: Gender Equity
Women and minority genders in music
Report by Dr Felicity Wilcox & Dr Barrie Shannon

On Monday 18 September I attended the launch of the newly published Women and minority genders in music report, authored by Dr Felicity Wilcox (UTS) and Dr Barrie Shannon (University of SA), who conducted research on this topic from November 2021 to February 2023. It was funded by UTS and suppored by APRA AMCOS.The report focuses on over 200 music creators active in many genres and representing diverse genders in Australia (83% of participants) and Aotearoa/New Zealand (16%). You can find the report here:

The study reported on the experiences of not only women but also gender diverse music creators, who made up 6.5% of respondents to the online survey and 15.7% or interviewees.

The key findings:

The research yielded interesting information about what the researchers called the complex ‘matrix of barriers’ that women and minority gender musicians face in their professional lives. By far the biggest hurdle seemed to be that of sexism and misogyny with the other barriers listed in order of reported prevalence.

  1. Sexism, misogyny
  2. Lack of confidence
  3. Gendered carer work
  4. Finances
  5. Music industry issues
  6. Age
  7. Lack of opportunity
  8. Niche genre or area of practice
  9. Geography/location
  10. Racism
  11. Homo-transphobia

Interestingly, of those surveyed, there seemed to be an extremely high level of formal music education however, this did not necessarily translate into work opportunities or success. In fact, the research shows that one of the main negative feelings was of feeling alienated and marginalised, making women and gender diverse people less likely to even want to participate in or apply for opportunities or music jobs. They not only feel less confident applying for jobs in the music industry but feel that they need to prove themselves much more as they are a perceived risk.

Lack of confidence about their own ability is often a major inhibitor for women and minority genders. In particular, a feeling of inferiority and lack of ability when it came to technology was a common perception. However, when digging a bit deeper the research shows 9 out of 10 are using technology regularly in their music but nearly half self-describe as having a ‘basic’ knowledge of technology. Those under 50 were seen to be more confident using technology.

“Instead of making them the problem, how can the music industry leverage and affirm female and gender diverse practitioners’ existing competencies and strong engagement with music technology to increase their confidence, consolidate their skills, and take them to the next level?” (Wilcox & Shannon, 2023, p.43)

The lack of confidence of women is also seen in the field of music production. According to research, one in three women or gender diverse people felt that they were producers but were hesitant to self-describe as such for a number of reasons. Traditionally it is a male dominated area and women were hesitant to say that they were producers due a combination of factors, e.g. due to a lack of confidence and sense of exclusion from a ‘boy’s club.’ Of the women who self-declared as producers, it was largely as a co-producer with men.

Dr Wilcox made a great point that the research has shown that women’s sense of pressure to be ‘perfect’ also contributes to them not trying to go out and produce their own or other people’s music. Another major reason females were hesitant to self-describe as a music producer is because they were not exactly sure what that definition entailed. Sure, they may produce their own or other people’s music, but they were not clear what it is that makes them worthy of the title of ‘producer’.

Accordingly, Dr Wilcox recommended that more access, understanding and transparency is urgently needed as to the role of the producer. She recommended that it could be a topic that APRA could ‘demystify’ and help define and explain to its members. Perhaps the AGSC can take this on board as well.

A disturbing issue that was raised from the research was that women, trying to work in a predominantly male domain in the music industry, often deliberately “de-feminise” themselves to fit in with their peers. Equally disturbing is the attitude that women and gender diverse people are regarded as a ‘high risk’ in terms of employment.

Ageism is another factor of concern for many females and gender diverse people, who often feel they are doing their best work later in life but might be overlooked in favour of younger females or men of any age.

Not surprisingly, primary carers, who are predominantly women (mostly mothers), are financially and time poor as a result of raising their children and spending time out of the workforce. Jessica Wells gave a very clear picture of how this affected her. It was not until she turned 40 (despite a tremendous amount of early experience prior to having children,) that she felt she had to ‘re-launch herself’ into the industry again post-children. She also made the point that ageism worked in reverse for her – when she was in her early 20s working in the music industry, she was not allowed to meet clients but simply had to send scores or recordings as she was perceived as being too young – a factor not helped by also being female.

Although there has been much in the news over the past few years about the “Me too” movement, we still have a way to go.  Felicity drew our attention to the excellent report from Support Act entitled “Raising their Voices” which goes in depth into this particular problem in our industry.

Sadly, there are still many reports of sexual violence and harassment in the workplace which threatens the lives and livelihoods of female and gender diverse people. Very disturbingly, the Women and Minority Genders in Music Report found that over 47% of females in the industry had reported some form of violence or harassment.

This raised the very real question about “what does a safe space look like?” – which the researchers put to participants in their survey. Only 5% of respondents said that they felt safe in their (music) work environment. This is truly shocking. The data showed that ‘safe spaces are diverse spaces’. Companies and individuals need to learn and practice high-level ‘soft skills’ e.g. be very careful in their communication, be inclusive and welcoming to all.

One of the real problems it seems is that performance venues are often not safe spaces at all.

Some of the recommendations from Wilcox and Shannon are to mandate technology as a standard part of music syllabuses and to educate lecturers and teachers about gender biases in the area of technology that inhibit young women progressing in this crucial area.

Their major recommendations:

  1. To establish a music industry code of conduct
  2. To establish an Independent Music Industry Human Resources body
  3. To provide incentives to music businesses to employ and attract female and gender diverse people
  4. Childcare and paid maternity leave
  5. Consider the impact of violence against women and diverse gender people

Male allies – it must be noted that comments were made by the presenters about fantastic male colleagues and mentors – Jessica mentioned some of the key male mentors that have been incredibly important to her in her musical development, as did Felicity.

In summary – it seems that women and gender diverse people often need to build up their confidence in order to participate meaningfully in the music industry. It is not just a matter of skilling up – most are already highly skilled – it is important for them to know and for all of us to realise that they/we have just as much a right to an opportunity and that working in a safe environment should be a fundamental right.

The AGSC’s Gender Equity Committee would encourage members of our screen music community to read the report in full – as it addresses issues related to our corner of the industry with de-identified testimonials from some of its own members providing important food for thought and discussion going forward.

Article by Fiona Loader
Board & Gender Equity Committee Member, AGSC


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