Women in Music Feel Overworked & Underpaid: Takeaways From Inaugural ‘Women in the Mix’ Study

By March 9, 2022No Comments

More than 1,600 respondents from across the U.S., representing all ages, races and ethnicities, participated in the study.

Co-President of The Recording Academy Valeisha Butterfield Jones attends Billboard Women in Music 2022 at YouTube Theater on March 02, 2022 in Inglewood, California.

The Recording Academy, Arizona State University (ASU) and Berklee College of Music Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship announced the results of the inaugural “Women in the Mix” study on Tuesday (March 8), which is International Women’s Day. The study was designed to examine and better understand the experiences of women and “gender-expansive people” working in the American music industry.

Valeisha Butterfield Jones, co-president of the Recording Academy, didn’t hesitate when asked which finding of the study made the biggest impression on her. It was that fewer than two of every 10 respondents in the survey of 1,600 women or gender-expansive people who work in the music industry have children under the age of 18.

“So much goes into the decision to have a family and to expand your family, but … working in music is playing a significant role in whether we actually decide to have a family and to expand our family,” Butterfield Jones said. “For me as a mom of two boys, it was hard to read but important to see.”

Erin Barra, co-author of the “Women in the Mix” study and director of popular music at ASU, agreed that that was one of the study’s most striking findings.

“As a mother of two, when I read the statistic that only two out of 10 women [surveyed] have children under the age of 18, it [really made me think]. How lucky I am in that regard and how unfortunate it is for the majority of other women and gender-non-conforming people that we don’t have the support systems in place so they can make those choices [to have children]. Everyone should have the right to choose to have a family. We want people working in the music industry to be able to make those choices.

“It’s a big issue,” Barra noted. “When you dive deeper in those statistics, the majority of respondents who actually have children were making well over $100,000 a year. The vast majority of people are not making that much money. Those at a higher level of income are the only ones that have the ability to [have children] in a lot of cases.”

Here are the findings on this issue from the study: Roughly one out of every two respondents said they chose not to have children or had fewer children than they wanted because of their careers. Respondents with children under the age of 18 represent slightly less than two out of every 10 women and gender-expansive people in the music industry. People who make over $100,000 per year had a 27% likelihood of having children, which fell to 15% for those making less than $40,000 per year.

The study was built upon the baseline results from a 2019 study by Berklee College of Music and Women in Music, titled “Women in the U.S. Music Industry: Obstacles and Opportunities.” That study was inspired by a group of Canadian women who undertook a similar study in 2015.

More than 1,600 respondents from across the U.S., representing all ages, races and ethnicities, participated in the new study. Respondents included those working in various capacities in the industry, from behind-the-scenes to front-and-center, and at all levels, from entry to executive.

Here are more major takeaways from the study:

  • 84% of respondents report that they had faced discrimination equally across all racial identities, 77% felt they had been treated differently in the music industry because of their gender and more than 56% believed their gender had affected their employment in the industry, with music creators and performers expressing this the most, at 65%.
  • Women feel overworked and underpaid. 57% of respondents have two or more jobs, 24% are working between 40-51 hours per week and an additional 28% are working over 50 hours per week. 36% of respondents are making less than $40,000 per year and almost half of them feel like they should be further along in their careers.
  • Music creators and performers see the lowest income and highest dissatisfaction with career progress among the various job classifications in the study. Of the respondents that identified as music creators and performers, 48.6% said they made less than $40,000 per year. That percentage is roughly 15 percent higher than within the entire respondent pool. Approximately 57% of music creators felt they should be further along in their careers, compared to those working in music education (48.5%), event/tour production and management/promotion (41.7%), music business (37.4%), and music media and technology (32.9%).
  • Gender-expansive respondents face heightened levels of adversity. They were less satisfied than respondents who identified as women by a 16% margin. They were twice as likely to make less than $40,000 per year and felt less comfortable in their workplace by a margin of almost 18%.
  • Despite challenges, career satisfaction and passion for the music industry remains high. 78% of respondents reported feeling satisfied, with over 80% in career categories that seem to face the most obstacles, such as freelancers and music creators and performers. Over half of respondents said that their pathway into their careers was through their love and passion for the music industry.

The “Women in the Mix study” was co-authored by Barra; Mako Fitts Ward, Ph.D.; Lisa M. Anderson, Ph.D.; and Alaysia M. Brown, M.S.

The full report, including all findings and methodology, can be found here.

“What we focused on for this study is understanding the lived experiences of women working in the American music industry,” says Butterfield Jones. “We uncovered and were able to understand things around burnout, pay equity, mentorship and all the things that we as women need who are in this space. We were able to have over 1,600 respondents who identify as women say to us loud and clear that this is what we need in order to thrive in this industry.”

The study’s repeated references to women and “gender-expansive people” were necessary because of changes in culture, Barra explains. “Culturally right now we’re not just talking about men and women anymore. In the data, we made specific moves to capture the data of gender-non-conforming people that exist outside of that binary.”

One of the most striking findings is that women report dissatisfaction across racial lines. White women and women of color report similar frustrations. In that respect, sexism is a great equalizer.

“That’s true across job levels as well,” Barra offered. “Executives to entry-level. It is a great equalizer.”

The study includes illuminating comments from some of the women and gender-expansive people who were surveyed.

One respondent noted: “Far too long women have been erased from media and history. I’m willing to challenge the currently accepted statistic that women producers are only 2–3%. That data is flawed. I’ve been erased from engineering credits in dozens of recordings. We are here, have always been here and it takes seeing and acknowledging our contributions for us to remain visible.”

Barra notes that that statistic is from a widely-quoted USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study that women account for just 2.6% of producers. “The Annenberg Initiative is focusing on a very specific type of credit – people that have had Hot 100 credits or have been nominated for Grammys. It’s not about how many of us there are total. It’s 2.6% who have reached this very specific threshold of success.”

Butterfield Jones adds: “When I read the comment and when I read the statement, what I heard really loud and clear is we as women want to be recognized, acknowledged and properly attributed and credited for the work that we are doing on any project. Recognition is important. The credits are also important.”

One respondent said: “It’s incumbent upon women in senior positions to help lift up the younger generations of women in the music industry –both on the creative and business sides of the industry. This is something that, in my experience, men have traditionally been better at doing –but it’s time for women to take a page from that playbook and create the reality we want to see.”

Butterfield Jones doesn’t discount that person’s testimony, but adds: “There is a culture in music today of women supporting women, and women lifting other women up, and women in leadership saying there’s enough room at this table for all of us. Women in leadership have a responsibility to make sure that we are lifting as we climb. Women have a responsibility to make more room if we have the opportunity to do that, and to build a bigger table. But also we have to make sure that as we do, we’re creating systems and ways to actually disrupt any systemic barriers that are in place from a gender standpoint. So it’s bigger than just mentorship. It’s bigger than just making more room at the table, but also creating pathways for that to happen.

“There will be one day when I’m not longer here [at the Recording Academy] and I would love for us to be in a space where we have now made this the norm. Where we longer have to fight anymore but instead it’s a part of our practice that gender parity and gender equity is just embedded in the DNA of our industry and the spaces that we currently occupy.”

The study found that mentorships and advocacy organizations are beneficial. 92% of respondents felt mentoring had contributed to their career. 40% were members of advocacy organizations, and roughly 20% mentioned advocacy in their recommendations to help improve the climate for women and gender-expansive people. 35% cited professional or industry-related organizations as being one of the main sectors of the music industry that helped them grow and advance.

In addition to sharing their career experiences, more than 1,000 respondents provided recommendations for combatting disadvantages, accelerating progress and making the music industry more inclusive. Based on the data collected, the Academy, ASU and BerkleeICE have put forth the following recommendations:

  • Recruitment pledges — by getting the commitment of those who hire to recruit diverse and robust candidate pools for their positions, we address access to opportunities, intentional diversity and hiring efforts and the negative effect of gatekeeper culture.
  • Creating paid internship opportunities — since internships are often unpaid, they are a barrier to those who don’t have access to sufficient resources which would allow them to work for free.
  • Grants — by building a more robust grant and support infrastructure in both the private and public sectors, we address access to resources, access to opportunities and work/life balance.
  • Mentorship initiatives — we address access to mentors, which we found to have a profoundly positive effect on women and gender-expansive peoples’ careers.
  • Soft skills development — mentorship and networking are both largely built upon a person’s interpersonal skill set. By bolstering soft skill development, we address people’s access to resources, opportunities, mentors, and networking acumen.
  • Additional paid days off — with burnout being a significant challenge brought up by respondents, giving employees additional and/or mandatory days off would address work/life balance.
  • Supporting advocacy groups and initiatives — by raising funds for and supporting groups who are on the front lines of advocacy work in the industry, we address access to resources, opportunities, networking, and intentional diversity efforts.

Addressing women’s representation in music has been a longstanding priority for the Academy. In 2019, the organization launched Women in the Mix, which prompted hundreds of music professionals and organizations to pledge to consider at least two women in the selection process every time a producer or engineer is hired.

Also in 2019, the Academy pledged to double the number of women voting members by 2025. At about the halfway point, it has reached 60% of that goal by adding 1,414 new women voting members.

Women now account for 29% of the Academy’s 14,000 voting and professional members (up from 26%). Men account for 65%. (The rest are unknown, non-binary, gender non-conforming, third gender or “prefer not to disclose.”)

“But we won’t stop,” Butterfield Jones says. “Even if we meet our goal in 2025, and we are well on our way to getting there, the work continues. We have a responsibility to make sure that we reflect the music industry that we’re a part of and so proudly represent…Culturally, women are dominating in so many spaces, we cannot go another day without making sure that women are also properly represented in our voting membership. It’s the right thing to do and also it’s a business imperative for us.”

The Academy has made $10,000 donations to each of five organizations that support the growth of women and girls in music. They are: Beats By Girlz, Femme It Forward, Girls Make Beats, She Is The Music, and Women’s Audio Mission.

Barra suggests that a next step might be a study looking at women in music in other countries. Butterfield Jones says, “If there is an opportunity for us to particulate in a global study and understand even more the experience of people working in music across the globe, that is something we would definitely consider and want to be a part of.

Butterfield Jones concludes: “It’s time for us to lift up, invest in, hire, procure and recognize the contributions of women in a more scalable way. If this study can play a small role in [highlighting] the contributions of women, but more importantly how are we recognized in our industry, then we’ve done our job. I won’t rest – and I know we as an organization all feel this way — until we truly reflect women in every area of our organization and if that can help influence the industry to do the same, then I’ll feel like we did our part.”

The Recording Academy has scheduled two virtual conversations for March 8. At 2:30 p.m. PT, Laura Rodriguez, director of social media marketing, will moderate a conversation on Instagram Live with Michaela Jaé (MJ) Rodriguez and Sheila E. At 4 p.m. PT, Butterfield Jones will moderate a conversation on Twitter Spaces with Barra and Mako Fitts Ward, two of the four co-authors of the Women in the Mix study.

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