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  • Writer's pictureDez Hulley

A Room Full Of Knobs

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

I have been teetering precariously on the fence as to whether I should write about the following and if so, how best to broach the topic. Growing up in particularly patriarchal society in South Africa, I learnt very early on to keep my voice hushed in order to achieve success in my workplace, ‘respect’ from my male peers and progress towards my goals and objectives. I simply did not want to appear to be flying the proverbial feminist flag for fear of not being respected. Herein lays a deep-rooted, systemic issue surrounding gender inequality. Avoiding speaking out about it perpetuates the issue at its fundamental core.

This platform gives me the voice to finally speak up and ask a few extremely important questions. In particular: Why is it that in 2021, I am the only female student amongst a class of almost 50 students, doing a masters-level degree in audio production?

Women only hold between 5 % and 7% of all roles in the audio industry

That statistic is shocking to say the least. According to Women’s Audio Mission (WAM), globally, less than 5% of people who create audio media today are women. They also state that since 2020, the number of females enrolling in tertiary STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) education programs is declining. In an established society where women’s rights are recognised as equal and gender equality is acknowledged as fundamentally important, why is there still such a vast gender imbalance in the audio industry?

To start, we need to look at the sociological and cultural biases that are unintentionally ingrained in all of us. The language we use is often still gendered. How many times have you heard the industry refer to; ‘the sound guy’? Also, as a professor at an AES conference recently pointed out, audio specific websites with massive followings and names such as ‘Gearslutz’ have not helped paint a very gender-equal picture within the industry. Thankfully, after a nudge from the Audio Engineering Society and a petition signed by more than 5000 people, Gearslutz realised their erroneous 18 year long faux pas and have recently changed their name to ‘Gearspace’.

Imagery and language have an extremely important role to play in changing the perception that audio is a man’s industry.

Small steps forward

Thankfully, there are many great organisations striving towards amplifying gender equality within the audio world. In the UK, YSWN, SoundGirls, WAM and Brighter Sound’s Both Sides Now raise awareness and support for women in audio. Adding to this, Spotify launched EQUAL directory in partnership with SoundGirls to “amplify the careers and achievements of all women working in audio and production”. According to Equal, “hiring and spotlighting the accomplishments of women are the two most effective ways to help women in audio.”

To add to the above progression, in a huge step forward, the Brit Awards have recently announced they will scrap gendered awards for 2022 and will instead be introducing gender neutral categories for ‘Artist of the Year’ and ‘International Artist of the Year’. This move celebrates artists for their work and music, rather than gender. Well done Brit Awards. May the rest of the creative and entertainment industries follow suit.

Shout, shout, let it all out

There is still a long way to go for the audio industry to achieve gender equality but for now there does appear to be positive movement and hopefully initiatives such as the EQUAL Directory and the celebration of women dominating in the field can help progress the conversation forward. And it’s the conversation that will drive the change in the end, so we have to keep speaking about it.

When I look back in 5 years’ time I sure do hope that I won’t still be the only female audio engineer sitting in a room full of knobs.

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