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A new report from the University of Sydney, Skipping a Beat, has been released, assessing the state of gender equality in the Australian music industry. Coming as no surprise, the results aren’t flattering.
Women are represented in music or composition to a much lower degree than in other artistic fields: women represent “one-third of all employed musicians and only 27 per cent of composers who practise professionally.” Only 20 per cent of artists registered with the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) are women. These statistics become more shocking upon discovering that women make up 45 per cent of graduates with a music qualification. These figures beg the question ‘where did all the women go between school and working as a professional musician?’
The report moves onto representation behind the scenes, which shows a similar decrease of female representation when funnelled through a hierarchy of power influence. Data shows that 58 per cent of junior or administrative employees are women, while women hold only 28 per cent of senior, strategic roles.
Going by the report’s findings, if you chose pretty much any peak industry body or music association at random, men would overwhelmingly dominate its boards or management committees. This particular information is not new news, however, as Music Victoria released a report based on a survey of 300 respondents in September, 2015, called Women in the Victorian Contemporary Music Industry, which included similar gendered breakdowns of all peak industry bodies, nationally.
So, if these reports continue to uncover such troublingly low representation of women in the music industry, what’s currently being done?
The Skipping a Beat report made five key recommendations.
- Collect more and better data on the music industry on a gender disaggregated basis
At this stage, data are collected sporadically by a few organisations. triple j’s Hack has released gendered breakdowns of representation in employment, radio play and live festival appearances in 2016 and 2017. Music Victoria released its previously mentioned report in September, 2015. There has not yet been any long-term or in-depth enquiry to these clear gender inequalities. While Hack’s investigations for the last two years have been effective at pushing the idea of gender inequality out to large audiences, more than one short piece a year is necessary to truly influence change within the industry.
On their website, Music Victoria's Gender Diversity Policy states it will ‘publish annual results to track progress against its gender diversity target’. Acknowledging that gender is not binary, they committed to ‘ensure participation of at least 40 per cent women and 40 per cent men across its activities, where practicable’. Music Victoria’s first Gender Diversity Report released in their annual 2015-2016 Report, indicated that 67 per cent of the recorded activities reached the target for inclusion of women. Only time will tell if this number will be improved upon by this year’s annual report. Their concerted effort to collect and present data as gender-disaggregated is commendable.
2. Establish a well-resourced independent gender equality industry advocacy body
This of course would be ideal, but this recommendation teeters on the edge of possibility, swiftly tripping over itself and falling into the reality-of-arts-funding-ravine. While pre-existing organisations such as Australia's export music market development initiative, Sounds Australia, have struggled for years now with uncertain government funding, is there room in the kitty for another organisation for contemporary music?
LISTEN is a not-for-profit organisation formed by a groundswell of industry support in Victoria, with intent ‘to spark and cultivate a conversation from a feminist perspective around the experiences of marginalised people in Australian music’. Most notably, it is responsible for writing the chapter on sexual harassment for Music Victoria’s Best Practice Guidelines for Live Music Venues, and producing and curating the Feminist Futures Conference in 2015 and 2016. If it were given appropriate government funding and resources, could this organisation not evolve into a national advocacy body this report calls for? Is it not already? If it is, why is it not more widely regarded as such?
3. Use gender equality criteria in deciding public funding outcomes;
4. Increase women’s representation in decision-making structures.
In response to findings in a report conducted by RMIT this year, Australian Women Screen Composers: Career Barriers and Pathways, APRA have announced they are immediately enacting a similar 40/40/20 measure as Music Victoria’s Gender Diversity Policy for all membership programs.
‘This will ensure that within the medium term, at least 40 per cent of the judges involved in APRA’s suite of awards are female. A minimum 40 per cent threshold will be applied to the Ambassadors’ program (currently at 30 per cent), SongMakers (currently 25 per cent of mentors are female) and SongHubs (currently 39 per cent). At least 40 per cent of presenters and performers at all awards, workshops and membership events will now be female.
‘Significantly, from 2018 APRA Music Grants extended to external programs will be strictly allocated to grant applications showing at least 40 per cent female participation, or a commitment to tackling gender disparity, where possible’.
After reading APRA AMCOS’ announcement, feel free to flick over to the Organisational Structure link on their website and find yourself at the mercy of what can only be described as a The Great Pyramid Of Man. All nine top positions in the company are held by men.
Although the attempt to bridge gender gaps and encourage inclusivity in their programs are a step in the right direction, I wonder how sustainable their changes will be when there is still such glaring inequality in gender representation within the organisation’s staff? As Somayra Ismailjee put it quite plainly last December (Sydney Morning Herald) when exploring the concept of diversity in music more widely:
‘It's time to move beyond mere quotas and talks of inclusivity, many of which treat the accommodation of "diverse" artists as some sort of sacrifice – a "favour" from gatekeepers of the creative industries, to people perceived as interlopers lacking any real talent’.
If we are not applying quotas or employment targets to all areas of the industry, including the CEOs and heads of departments of the organisations involved, I have little confidence that these promises of inclusion and diversity will eventuate in prolonged gender equality within our music industry.
In an example case offered by the Skip a Beat report, ex-CEO of Screen NSW Courtney Gibson, on her first day on the job, introduced a 50:50 by 2020 Gender Target across all Screen NSW’s funding programs. After Ms Gibson left the role at the start of this year, Samantha Torres (NSW Deputy Secretary, Justice Services, Arts and Culture) stated that among a myriad of other notable achievements in her 18-month tenure…
‘Under Courtney’s leadership Screen NSW has made unparalleled strides towards full gender equity with dramatic increases in the number of roles accorded female key creatives’.
Unfortunately, since the merger between Arts NSW and Screen NSW, I do not see these gender targets formally acknowledged or prioritised online in the new incarnation of the two organisations, Create NSW. I think this is testament to the importance of extensive and diverse representation within the structures of industry bodies, to ensure the values and policies working towards equality can be upheld long-term.
Which leads me to the final key recommendation:
5. Address gender bias in the Australian music industry by prioritising inclusivity and representation as core industry values (for example through funding and implementing training programs).
While the larger organisations are led by groups of almost exclusively men, there are pockets of gender inclusivity everywhere. One such example is Melbourne community radio station, PBS 106.7FM. Formed as a co-operative limited company in 1979, it includes equality and equity as two core values. The board passes the 40/40/20 test, without making a big deal about it (3 of the 7 board members are women). With financial assistance from Creative Victoria, PBS ran its new Access Training for the first time last year “to increase participation from women and gender diverse people in music broadcasting and the wider music community.” Participants have access to present radio on the specifically created program, Cross Pollinate (7pm - 8pm Tuesdays on PBS Digital), but many have gone on to present on peak timeslots, been booked for paid DJ spots at venues and even played for PBS at this year’s annual Community Cup.
Program coordinator Bethany Atkinson-Quinton believes the principle of the program could be easily translated and driven by other organisations.
“This program was built upon a basic premise,” she says, “women and gender non-conforming people have less access to training opportunities in music broadcasting due to a myriad of reasons - structural oppression, confidence gap, intimidation, financial reasons, etc.
“This program was and is very actively carving out a space for people that currently aren't being well represented on the airwaves, space to learn and grow in what I can only hope has been a supportive and safe environment. The program was free and it had elements of mentoring and building community relationships with other members of the PBS community. Two things that are really important to the functioning of this program.”
“It's also important to acknowledge that 'gender diversity' within an organisation is aspirational and something that is fluid and ever-changing. It's something that needs to be regularly reflected on and acted upon. Whilst on-air representation is one marker there are many other aspects to look at within organisations that can be telling of organisational power structures.
“I think if other organisations are serious about acting on gender inequality, they need to be active in their approach. Reflect on who is currently in your organisation, keep stats, put your commitment to improving gender diversity in your strategic plan and measure your progress. People need to be critical of how their organisations operate and how inclusive they are being. Who are the people willing to walk through your doors and be a part of community and who aren't and why aren't they? Engaging with communities that you don't already engage with is a long process of self-reflection and actively seeking out people that you want to connect with. It's about listening to what people want, it's about creating trust and genuine relationships.”
So, the Skipping a Beat report has uncovered nothing new to some. Let’s work with organisations and programs that have already been tirelessly built. Better yet, let’s work within them. It’s going to be up to every individual industry body to question and modify their structures; to not only employ more women, but be actively engaged with what careers women want and what their workplaces can provide to help them get there.
This is already happening for some, but for the rest it can start today.