All posts by Alyssa Rotunno

Where Are All The Women? A Look Inside the Audio Industry’s Gender Disparity

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Photo of American University Audio Technology student editing a project. Taken by Alyssa Rotunno.

 

By: Alyssa Rotunno

 

WASHINGTON – When Ana Centina walks into a freelancing job as a sound engineer, she feels she is greeted with “stares by colleagues” who were “expecting a man to do the job, rather than a woman.” Like other women in the audio industry, Centina is a rarity and states she is treated differently than her male coworkers.

“Being a female in a male-dominated industry is really tough. When I would work at small venues the owners would have no confidence in my work so they would hover all over me, constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure I could do it correctly,” Centina said, shaking her head. “I think it was subconscious, but they never did that to the male technicians.”

Centina, the director for American University’s audio technology program and a freelance live sound technician, works in an industry that men have dominated for a long time.

Less than five percent of women were working in the audio industry back in 2000, estimated the Audio Engineering Society (AES), a professional association for those involved in the audio.

The Women’s Audio Mission (WAM), a nonprofit located in San Francisco that teaches women how to have audio careers, believes that statistic stayed the same for the past 17 years.

“The biggest challenge is that women, in general, are socialized to be afraid of tech jobs and are told it’s something only men do,” said Angel Dunkin, a WAM employee. “Trying to get women to jump in and learn it and master it is half the battle. They can do it, they just need to believe they can first.”

One of the ways WAM tries to get more women involved in the industry is by hosting music production classes specifically for young girls during their formative years. However, WAM also provides classes for adult women who are looking to break into the industry as well. Though WAM receives more young women students every year, some professors say they still only see two to three women in a class of 20 men, Dunkin said.

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In AU’s audio program, this statistic is more or less the same. As of today, there are 8 female audio technology majors and 13 male audio technology majors. Moreover, there are 17 female audio production majors and 45 male audio production majors as well as 12 female graduate students versus the 22 male graduate students.

This isn’t only happening at AU. Male students consistently outnumber female students 5-to-1 at the Recording Engineers Institute in New York, according to AES. Moreover, the University of Colorado’s Recording Arts Program recently received only 45 female applications compared to the 170 male applications.

“Audio is a very heavily apprenticeships based industry and I think a lot of power comes from that, but now that there are all of these universities popping up where they’re training you in a professional way how to do audio, so you don’t actually have to put up with these annoying people anymore,” said Alexandria Wood, a full-time live sound freelancer and tour manager in New York City. “I came in and there were a couple of situations where people tried to treat me like shit and then I just was bored and I was like ‘I don’t need to hang out with you because I have a degree and so I’m going to go and work somewhere else.’”

However, these types of audio education programs weren’t always around. According to Centina, when she was looking at schools over a decade ago, there were only three or four colleges with audio technology majors, which often required her to be a full-time musician as well. Now, these types of majors are popping up in schools across the country.

“Girls don’t always know about engineering unless they have a cousin or a brother who goes to the studio. That’s just the thing,” said Alexis Sullivan, an up-and-coming live sound technician in D.C. “Nobody was going to teach me in the real world. I personally know that, I’ve learned that and […] I had to teach myself, so I went to school.”

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Due to this, the disparity in the classroom is decreasing. At AU, over the last ten years, the number of women enrolled in an undergraduate audio program increased from four to 20. That is slightly over a four percent increase.

“When I was an undergrad at AU, I was the only female in my year for a long time. I convinced my friend to join and we were the only two girls out of 35 students,” Centina said. “We have more females in the program now than we did students in general back in my day. It’s a great improvement, but there’s still a long way to go.”

Though the education sector is improving, it may not necessarily reflect the large-scale disparity within the industry. In its 40-year history, only six women have received nominations for the GRAMMY’s Producer of the Year award. Though musical icons such as Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and Sheryl Crow were all nominees, no woman has yet to take the award home.

GRAMMY Producer of the Year Nominees

Along the same line, Björk, an Icelandic singer and record producer, created 80 percent of the beats on her newest album, “Vespertine.” Which, allegedly took her three years to complete. Matmos, a San Francisco based electronic-duo, helped Björk with the last 20 percent of the album. Yet, Matmos received credit for having done the album, said Björk in an interview with Pitchfork’s Jessica Hopper.

Wood believes that women face these issues and cannot get ahead due to the industry being so heavily freelance-based and “sexist in nature.”

“It’s a weird industry because to me, as a freelancer, I don’t have an HR Department. So if somebody treats me badly, I either just have to deal with it or quit. And I have to be okay with that,” Wood said. “It’s really frustrating and you also miss out on a lot of opportunities.”

Live sound technicians spend their nights in music venues where people are drinking and partying. This leads to a handful of tough situations, Wood said explaining her work environment.

“The lines are more blurred because you’re in this environment of people drinking and going out. Sometimes coworkers have talked to me very casually about their sex lives in a way that I later found out they didn’t speak to other peers,” Wood said. “It’s hard to determine whether it was just because I work in a more of a casual environment or if it was because I’m a girl and they’re trying to sleep with me.”

Centina experienced inappropriate behavior from her peers as well and believes that, along with discouragement, it is what leads to a lack of women in audio careers outside of college.

“The industry doesn’t necessarily reflect university program enrollment for a number of reasons,” Centina said. “When you’re young, you’re more vulnerable and it’s easy to get discouraged. Even if you get good grades and know what you’re doing, it’s easy for girls to switch industries and give up because their male bosses yelled at them and they have no female colleagues to turn to or look up to.”

Organizations such as ProjectHERA, a nonprofit to benefit girls in the music industry in the DMV area, seek to end this issue by creating a support group for women in the industry.

“We provide an outlet for women to connect. We try to host events once a month where we can all get together and see we’re not alone, spread awareness and support each other during the rough patches,” said Cathy DiToro, the founder of the nonprofit. “It’s pretty powerful to have that connection with other women who have gone through what you’re going through.”

ProjectHERA also has a Facebook page, named ProjectHERA’s Music Room, where its members can share articles and resources as well as seek advice from more experienced women. This type of mentorship is something Lauren Migaki, an audio journalist at NPR, a non-profit media organization, believes will help women in the audio industry in the future.

“It’s hard to find a female mentor, but it’s so important,” said Migaki. “I think women feel like they’re undeserving or unqualified of mentorship, but they are deserving. Everyone, especially women, need someone to look up to and feel comfortable talking to about their career with in order to grow.”

One way everybody can help lessen the disparity is by encouraging and speaking up for women in the workplace, said Migaki.

“It is so important, for men and women, to amplify other women’s voices at meetings,” said Migaki. “There’s this trend for young women to be railroaded or interrupted or ignored and we need to do a better job of letting those voices be amplified and supporting those voices rather than shutting them down.”

Though the audio industry has come a long way, Centina still thinks there is a long way to go.

“I don’t want to be called a female audio engineer, I want to be called an audio engineer,” said Centina. “Once we get there, then men and women will be truly equal.”

Sullivan, thinking towards the future and reflecting on her time in the industry has advice for girls looking to follow in her footsteps.

“We gotta put ourselves out there, you can not be afraid of a no or getting your neck chopped off. You have to push as much as possible and set that standard for yourself and women to follow in your footsteps,” Sullivan said. “Stay hungry for it, hungrier than the boys.”

Senate Discusses Gender Bias in Entrepreneurships – REVISED

IMG_2508Photo of The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship at the Russell Senate office building last Thursday

By Alyssa Rotunno

WASHINGTON – The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship met last Thursday to discuss legislative ways to help lessen the gender disadvantages for women in business and entrepreneurship.

Chairmen James Risch, R-Idaho, led the session alongside ranking member and New Hampshire Sen., Jeanne Shaheen. Three successful female business entrepreneurs spoke on the panel on behalf of the community to discuss what policies need to change to help businesswomen succeed.

“This is the time for opportunity.” said Elizabeth Gore, the entrepreneur in residence at Dell, a multinational computer technology company. “Women in all areas of business have such great potential to succeed, so why aren’t they?”

Women own over 9.4 million businesses, employ over 7.9 million people and add $1.5 trillion in sales as of 2015, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). Yet women only employ roughly eight percent of the private workforce, despite the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. This statistic has remained the same for over 20 years.

Currently, women only own seven percent of venture capital, only seven percent of venture capitalists are female and only seven percent of stories in business media are about women, according to Gore.

“We’re stuck on the number seven,” Gore said, shaking her head. “We need to increase that seven percent, but instead it’s actually going down. The only way to change that is to increase access to capital, increase access to SPA loans, increase access to certifications and increase access to technology.”

The other panelists agreed with Gore, stating their ideas on what they believe needs to change going forward.

“The lack of funding is the biggest detriment and issue,” said Tracey Chadwell, a founding partner of 1843 Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in technology companies. “By giving more loans, it gives women the fuel they need to grow their business.”

This is a nationwide issue, the panelists said. Only 30 percent of female-run companies looking for bank loans received them in 2016, according to an article on CNBC.

Chadwell said she has witnessed this bias firsthand. As a young technology-based entrepreneur, she was trying to take out loans in order to start her business, but people were unwilling to give her money since her husband was not part of the company, Chadwell stated.

“When you hear stories like that, as a woman, you just shake your head,” Shaheen said. “It’s all too familiar.”

Chadwell’s story of unconscious gender bias isn’t the only one. A study conducted by researchers from Harvard and MIT found that investors were 68 percent more likely to choose the ventures pitched by men. The study isolated gender by having men and women pitch the same exact business plan to investors. Female entrepreneur’s business plans were 40 percent less likely to be chosen over men.

Michelle Richards, the third panelist and the founder of the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council (Great Lakes WBC), a nonprofit benefitting women in business, stated her company was working on ending this disparity, but it simply is not enough.

“For women to succeed, they need what I call the three C’s – capacity, customers and contracts,” Richards said. “Contracts cause the biggest issues, so we’re working on improving that aspect.”

The Great Lakes WBC started a small business-loan program that has created over 1800 jobs across nine Michigan counties.

“This is just a start for women entrepreneurs in America” Richards said.

After hearing the stories from the female entrepreneur panel, Risch agreed there needed to be a change in structure.

“The conversation has been striking this morning,” Risch said. “Federal government doesn’t always do the things they should and that’s why we’re here today.”

Women are still fighting for equal pay, maternity leave and equal access to venture capital. However, businesswomen cannot get anywhere if the people in charge don’t initiate the changes, the panelists stated.

“The unconscious bias is so strong,” Gore said. “When the formula is working and you’re raising lots of money, it’s hard to get people to break that mold.”

Although it is difficult to break the mold, Chadwell has an idea on how to lessen the gender bias and institute the change she wishes to see.

“We may not have to legislate for equality. If there are more women in business and more women CEO’s, they’ll just understand. They’ll make the changes for themselves,” Chadwell said. “That’s why supporting women entrepreneurs is so important.”

Child care and maternity leave is something Risch stated he’s flagged. The systematic burden placed on mothers and disproportionate advantages for women is under serious consideration.

After an hour of vigorous discussion, the female entrepreneurs are hopeful when looking towards the future and have ideas on how to initiate change.

“We need to simply have more women at the table when talking about access to capital,” Chadwell said. “Nothing is ever going to change if we have the same men making decisions for women’s issues.”

 

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Local Nonprofit Hosts Second All-Female Music Festival – UPDATED

WASHINGTON –  With guitars in hand, ProjectHERA fought against gender disparity in the music industry by hosting their second all female-fronted music festival this past Sunday.

ProjectHERA is a non-profit organization that supports women in music in the DMV area. Cathy DiToro, a veteran D.C. musician, founded the group as a means to create music festivals and events that showcase female musicians.

“The ultimate goal is to connect other female musicians, empower them and be a resource for the next generation,” DiToro said. “We’re trying to shift the scene from it being such a male-dominated industry.”

The event on Sunday, named Clare Fest, featured six female musical groups from the DMV area at Clare and Don’s Beach Shack. Local vendors also attended the event to showcase their art, sell jewelry and partake in giveaways. All donations from the event went back to ProjectHERA in their mission to empower female musicians.

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Clare and Don’s aquatic-themed Beach Shake Shack

 

DiToro began ProjectHERA after two years of hosting her own “Lady’s Nights” at a local bar. After realizing she had several resources for women in the music industry, DiToro set out to connect all her female colleagues in a way that showcased their music to other local musicians as well as listeners. DiToro thought the best way to connect these women was through a female-fronted festival. In order to take donations and fundraise money, DiToro created the nonprofit soon thereafter.

“Besides festivals, [ProjectHERA] works toward putting on workshops for younger girls on anything from performing, starting your first band or being a woman in a male industry,” DiToro said. “We also have an instrument donation program where people will donate music lessons, so if we come across underprivileged girls who want to play music but don’t have access to instruments, we can help them out too.”

The nonprofit hosts monthly events where women in music can get together and talk about their experiences, knowledge and support. These events also double as networking events for new women musicians in the scene.

“It’s just really empowering to share stories and tips and to connect with the other women and realize that we’re not alone,” DiToro said. “There are things we can do to help each other, whether it’s setting up shows together, going to each-others shows or just venting to each other. It’s just really encouraging to have that type of support group.”

The nonprofit hosted their first festival, the HERA Music Festival, last July. The event was the DMV area’s first ever female-fronted festival and showcased 13 local bands. The event allowed women in bands to perform on proper stages with legitimate lighting, stage managers and sound designers.

One of the July festival performers, Sara Curtin, believes the event is a great start to ending the disparity. Curtin is a successful singer-songwriter from the DMV area.

“It’s great, [the HERA Festival] is the dream. There have been so few all-women or women identifying festivals in and around D.C. so it’s just nice that there is more happening,” Curtin said. “It’s pretty exciting and as far as the culture and the vibe in D.C., I think it’s really encouraging to be an artist here because people make an effort to support each other and help each other.”

Nevertheless, the support from other women is not always enough. The biggest issue woman face in the industry, Curtain says,  is combating small acts of sexism that often get ignored.

“As a woman in music you get a lot of off-handed comments and sexist remarks, even small ones. For example, I’ll tell people I’m in a band and they say ‘oh, you’re the singer, right?’” Curtin said. “Not to discourage singers, I am a singer and proud to say so, but I also record and write music and play guitar. To think I’m just the singer is complete ignorance about the role women play in music.”

Curtin also works to empower women in the music industry through her new record label, Local Woman Records. Curtin created the label almost a year ago when her female colleague, an upcoming musician, wanted to record an album but did not have the resources to do so.

“I wanted to be there in support in getting the music out, so it seemed like a good time to start a label and work on behalf of artists that I really admire and really respect,” Curtin said. “I started this label not with a clear vision for the future, but with conversations with artists about what they might need and help that I can give to them for their specific releases.”

As for the future, Ditoro says there are several ways people in the industry can help lessen the disparity. For instance, encouraging women to pursue music, supporting women in music and attending local shows are all things people in the community can do to help.

“It’s a mindset, I think it starts with a couple people and hopefully the ripple effect takes over and it spreads from there,” said DiToro. “Just being a supportive community member, coming to events, spreading the word and trying to change the norm as issues arise – that’s really the best thing a community member can do.”

Though the disparity is still evident in the music industry today, Curtin is hopeful as she looks towards the future.

“I love festivals that put women in the front, but also I wish that there were just more effort being put into showcasing an even representation of people on stage without having to call it a ‘woman’s night,’” Curtin said. “But that’s okay, we’re getting there one step at a time.”

 

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