Hearing Women

A Conversation with the Authors of Women in the Music Industry

In the summer of 2015, a report came out in Canada that explored women’s careers in the music industry. We’ve long known that women are underrepresented in the field, but we didn’t know exactly what this looked like, or how women felt about it. We decided it was time to find out, and last summer launched a first-of-its-kind study of women working in the American music industry.

Our report, Women in the Music Industry: Obstacles and Opportunities, reflects the responses of nearly 2,000 women from throughout the industry: performers, songwriters, producers, music journalists, as well as women in business and administration, venue management, artist development, and rights management. We heard from women of all ages, races, and ethnicities.

They told us about the myriad obstacles they face. For example, more than three-quarters have experienced gender bias, and just over half believe that their gender has affected their employment in the industry. Compensation practices were considered to have the single most negative effect on women’s careers.

But at the same time, survey respondents told us that they enjoy their work: About three-quarters who are currently working are satisfied in their primary job and feel comfortable in their work environment, and almost two-thirds feel supported in their work environment.

Below, we talk about the results of this survey, which was sponsored by Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, and Women in Music (WIM).

What Surprised Us

Sharon Kramer: The response to the survey was overwhelming. We opened it in June 2018 and immediately we started to see a huge response. Not only were people taking the time to answer, but they were also sending it out to their friends, colleagues, and professional networks.

Erin Barra: The most interesting takeaway for me was the way my own story was reflected in the data. I overwhelmingly relate to what these women are saying about the struggles and obstacles they face in the industry but, in the same breath, love my work and am very satisfied in my career. Seeing that duality laid out so plainly for me was a huge aha moment.

Becky Prior: The power of mentoring in women’s careers really came through in the survey. The 61 percent of women who had mentors were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, and they were more likely to feel they were where they should be in their careers. There was also a positive effect on income. And over 90 percent said mentoring had a positive effect on their careers. Improving access to mentoring programs is one way to make an impact.

What Happens Next?

Barra: I think our next steps will be to use this data to inform the shifts we need to make inside the Berklee community, see what other questions come up and need to be asked with further research, and to support those in the field like Women in Music and other sister organizations that will implement programs and initiatives based on what we found.

Kramer: As we go forward, we are thinking about inclusion for everyone. For example, our research found that women of color were more likely to be in entry-level positions, earn less, and not be as far ahead in their careers as they feel they should be. Women of color felt less comfortable and supported in the workplace.

Women in our survey identified compensation as an area for improvement. The industry would benefit from more research on compensation disparity, as highlighted by the recent Boston Symphony Orchestra case, as well as providing support for women to more successfully negotiate for themselves.

Prior: The survey results provide some recommendations for improvement, from increasing opportunities for mentorships and internships, as well as intentionally hiring qualified women. I hope this gets people talking about women’s experiences in the music industry. Hopefully this project inspires changes that will improve inclusion throughout the music industry.

Barra: This work has only begun, and this was a powerful first step in the right direction. I’m hopeful that more research like this will be done abroad so we can get a look at what the global ecosystem looks like and support our international communities in the same way.

Erin Barra is an associate professor in the Songwriting Department; Becky Prior is the associate director of Institutional Research; and Sharon Kramer is the dean of Institutional Research.