Symposium Inspires Women to Pursue Careers in Technology

Bryan Parys
December 8, 2014
Chrissy Tignor-Fisher, Kevin Johnson, and Bonnie Hayes
Professor Susan Rogers
Professor Chrissy Tignor-Fisher demos in the DAW
Nona Hendryx in the studio
Berklee professors and cofounders of the event, Chrissy Tignor-Fisher (left) and Bonnie Hayes (right) stand on either side of Kevin Johnson, director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion.
Susan Rogers, doctor of experimental psychology and associate professor of music production and engineering, was the keynote speaker during the morning session.
Chrissy Tignor-Fisher gives a live demo on production using Logic Pro.
Visiting artist Nona Hendryx leads a live songwriting demo in Studio One.
Photo by Pepe Portilla
Photo by Pepe Portilla
Photo by Pepe Portilla
Photo by Pepe Portilla

Seated in a row facing the audience in The Loft at 921 Boylston Street at a recent event, a group of women talk so emphatically about their diverse experiences in the music industry, and about the need for women to be less afraid to pursue careers within and around the field, that it feels equal parts discussion and rallying call. The speakers range in age from student to industry veteran, and the cumulative list of artists they have collaborated with is a stunner: David Byrne (Talking Heads), Labelle, Bonnie Raitt, Prince, and Bastille are just a sampling.

The event was borne out of conversations songwriting chair Bonnie Hayes and contemporary writing and production professor Chrissy Tignor-Fisher had when they first met at a faculty orientation. They spoke at length about why it seemed so few women pursued technology as a career, and how they could work together to inspire women to use technology in a creative way.

The end result was a full-day symposium of events that came together under the umbrella of the day’s title, Women, Technology, and Creativity. The first half of the day met in The Loft and focused on discussion and a keynote addresss from music production and engineering professor Susan Rogers, followed by software demos from Tignor-Fisher and associate professor Erin Barra. The event migrated to Studio One in the 160 Massachusetts Avenue building for in-depth presentations by indie rapper K.Flay, music production and engineering professor Leanne Ungar, and Berklee visiting artist and original member of Labelle, Nona Hendryx.

A common thread weaving through the morning’s panel discussion was each participant’s long-rooted, insatiable desire to learn more about the tools of their trade. Hayes started working early on with a four-track recorder “because I wanted to be in control,” and Hendryx—who “finds technology sexy”—has been a tech-tinkerer from the beginning, stating that she “always wants to know what’s behind the screen.”

And while it would be easy to chalk up their DIY approach to pure inspiration, the participants stress that they often had to teach themselves because the environment for women to learn such skills was not always available. Hayes began her career by reading manuals in lieu of finding a mentor because “there wasn’t one.” Similarly, in her keynote address, Rogers mentioned that she knew college was not an option for her when she was younger, so she sent away for the same books and immersed herself in the finer points of electrical engineering. “You need to know what you’re doing on the molecular level,” she says, pausing to add with gusto: “Now that’s empowerment.”  

The day’s workshops would go on to prove Rogers's point in deep ways, from Tignor-Fisher’s self-production prowess demoing Logic Pro and Barra’s collaborative use of Ableton Live to a live songwriting session utilizing the digital audio station (DAW) led by Hendryx and Ungar.

“I was so impressed by what we were able to accomplish,” Barra says after the event, going on to stress that the day’s work was a torch to carry forward: “We need to continue to shine a light on this underrepresented group of amazingly talented, intelligent, and capable women.” With so many of these women enhancing the conversation daily on campus, that light is palpable.