Latest Musicians’ Census report highlights the gender inequity faced by women musicians

Half of women in music have experienced gender discrimination — and a third have been sexually harassed

Gender inequity is still a prominent, alarming issue in the music industry, with female musicians facing much higher levels of discrimination, sexual harassment, financial challenges, and structural barriers to career progression, than men. Released recently, these are the latest findings from the first ever UK Musicians’ Census, the largest ever survey of its kind by Help Musicians and the Musicians’ Union. Joining support for the report is Women in CTRL, a movement working to dismantle barriers and create an inclusive industry where talent transcends gender, founded by senior music executive Nadia Khan.

Based on responses from 2,526 UK musicians who identified as women (out of nearly 6,000 musicians overall), this next wave of research from the first ever UK Musicians’ Census draws attention to the continued challenges women face in building sustainable careers in music. It further found that women are paid less, and have much less career longevity than men, despite being trained and educated to a higher level. 

Women are more likely to experience discrimination 

Concerningly, more than half of women (51%) have experienced gender discrimination while working as a musician. This is something experienced by only 6% of male musicians — meaning women are more than eight times more likely to face this. 

Most alarmingly, a third of women (33%) reported being sexually harassed while working as a musician, and a quarter (25%) of women have witnessed sexual harassment of others in music. 

This is having a significant impact on women’s careers in music, where women make up two thirds (62%) of those who identified work-related abuse or harassment as a career barrier, and 60% of those who felt discrimination was a barrier to their career progression were women.

The gender pay gap in the music industry 

The gap in pay between men and women persists in the music industry, with women earning less and being significantly underrepresented in the highest income group. The average annual income for a female musician was found to be £19,850, compared to £21,750 for men — meaning women earn nearly a tenth less. Women also only make up just 19% of the highest income bracket of those earning £70,000 or more from music each year.

This pay gap is more concerning because women musicians are qualified to a higher level than men — both at a general and music education level. 14% more women have a music degree, and 15% have a postgraduate music qualification, but this doesn’t correlate with higher average earnings.

Financial challenges and career longevity 

In line with being paid less, women musicians are more likely to experience financial challenges than men in music. Over a quarter of female musicians (27%) said they don’t earn enough money to support themselves and their family, compared to 20% of male musicians.

This is also affecting their career longevity, with women’s visibility in music decreasing with age. Women are more represented in younger age brackets, with 47% of musicians aged 16 – 55 being women, but this drops significantly as they get older, at just 26% after the age of​54. This could also be due to women experiencing higher levels of age discrimination, with 30% of women reporting it than 21% of men.

Gendered barriers to career progression 

As well as financial barriers, women in music face more frequent and significant structural barriers to their career progression than wider musicians.

Female musicians have a higher rate of primary caring responsibilities (28% compared to 20% of other genders) and 22% report being a primary carer for a child. This is a big factor that affects their career, with 29% of women stating that family and caring commitments are a barrier to their career (vs 11% of musicians of other genders).

This also leads to further issues impacting their music career longevity, such as inadequate childcare access and the inability to work unsociable hours. 15% of women musicians said the difficulty finding appropriate childcare was a barrier to their career (compared to 7% of musicians of other genders), and 29% said unsociable working hours are a barrier (vs 19% of others).

The music roles and genres defined by gender 

Gender also remains a potential determinant of the kinds of roles and genres that musicians work in. In terms of roles, 79% of women are performing musicians, but are significantly underrepresented as engineers, producers and DJ’s. Women make up just 29% of DJs and 24% of producers, and only 15% of live sound engineers and 12% of studio/​mastering engineers are women.

With genres, apart from classical and musical theatre, where women made up 59% and 46% of respondents working in these genres respectively, women’s responses were lower in all other genres. The largest gaps can be seen in UK rap, with just 8% of women reporting working in this genre, compared to 16% of musicians of other genders and Dance music (18% compared to 28% of musicians of all other genders).

These trends may suggest that it’s still easier for women to forge careers in certain types of music and that specific action could be taken to ensure women have an equitable chance of being heard in all types of roles and genres.

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