Women in Music: Still Facing Discrimination, Seeking More Recognition

Women in Music: Still Facing Discrimination, Seeking More Recognition

The inaugural “Women in the Mix” study — from the Recording Academy, Arizona State University (ASU) and Berklee College of Music Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship — aims to better understand the experiences of women and “gender-expansive people” working in the music business.


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, 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, said the most shocking finding of the study was that fewer than 2 of every 10 respondents in the survey of 1,600 women or gender-expansive people in the music industry have children under the age of 18.


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“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 it 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 percent likelihood of having children, which fell to 15 percent for those making less than $40,000 per year.

The study was built upon the baseline results from 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:

  • Eighty four percent of respondents report that they had faced discrimination equally across all racial identities, 77 percent felt they had been treated differently in the music industry because of their gender and more than 56 percent believed their gender had affected their employment in the industry, with music creators and performers expressing this the most, at 65 percent.
  • Women feel overworked and underpaid. Fifty seven percent of respondents have two or more jobs, 24 percent are working between 40-51 hours per week and an additional 28 percent are working over 50 hours per week. Thirty six percent 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 percent said they made less than $40,000 per year. That percentage is roughly 15 percent higher than within the entire respondent pool. Approximately 57 percent of music creators felt they should be further along in their careers, compared to those working in music education (48.5 percent), event/tour production and management/promotion (41.7 percent), music business (37.4 percent) and music media and technology (32.9 percent).
  • Gender-expansive respondents face heightened levels of adversity. They were less satisfied than respondents who identified as women by a 16 percent 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 percent.
  • Despite challenges, career satisfaction and passion for the music industry remains high. Seventy eight percent of respondents reported feeling satisfied, with over 80 percent 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 percent. 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 percent 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 percent who have reached this very specific threshold of success.”