Gender Inequality at Work and in the Music Business

According to the World Economic Forum, it could now take 135 years for the world to achieve total gender equality, states the Thomson Reuters Foundation. This setback is up from 99 years in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic and other crises set global progress back, as more women have lost their jobs than men.

The World Economic Forum called this a “she-cession”. This is because it has reversed many gains that women had made in the workplace. Closing the gender gap around the world will now take an extra 36 years, as per the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Despite the progress being made, women are dangerously underpaid across the different fields in workplaces, in addition to being highly underrepresented.

Women are paid less than men for equal jobs. As one of the statistics says: in the UK, women are only paid £92.10 for every £100 men earn. Furthermore, the pay gap is almost double than that across the EU. Men are paid up to 14% more than full-time female employees. This increases the direness of the fact considering it could take up to 267.6 years to close the global pay gap.

As per the Thomson Reuters Foundation, The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and Fawcett Society say that governments and employers must work together to tackle inequality in the workplace and beyond. Many countries do not report on the gender pay gap. A research from TrustLaw, The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and Fawcett Society found that a few nations had action plans to close the gap. For example, the UK still lags behind others in holding businesses to account.

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Company data on gender equality is harder than ever to find. The World Benchmarking Alliance found only 4% globally give out information on the gender pay gap. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, experts say this data can be crucial to help people and firms demand more action to empower women.

As mentioned earlier women are highly underrepresented and businesses still overlook female leadership. In fact, the International Labour Organization found that the bigger the company, the less likely we are to see women at the top. This is despite  research showing that having women in senior positions can boost a company’s value and profits.

Diversity in the workplace does not seem to matter yet. The global consultancy McKinsey & Company found that just 3% of women on boards are women of color. The PRI says it is not possible for businesses to push for diversity without thinking about inclusion and equity too, as per Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Being a woman in any male-dominated industry or workplace is challenging, and this affects the music industry as well. From artists and writers to producers and executives, all are affected by gender inequality despite top executives feeling there is equality among men and women.

In 2021, Forbes published that responses from a new survey of women creatives working in music revealed some of the three core drivers of gender inequality in the industry. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California released a study on gender inequality in the music industry in early 2020. It unveiled some staggering statistics. This included that less than three percent of producers were women at that time, with less than thirteen percent of songwriters being women.

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Gender inequality is rampant across the industry just like in other fields and workplaces. “Independent digital music distribution company TuneCore worked with MIDiA Research to release their 2021 survey, which adds more color and context to the image of inequality,” states Forbes.

The survey includes 401 women who are creatives in the industry. There were artists, songwriters, producers and DJs mostly from North America and Europe. One of its key findings pointed to three of the biggest challenges women face in the industry, according to those surveyed.

Representative vector via Freepik.

A whopping 64% of respondents named sexual harassment and objectification as major challenges women face in the industry, as per Forbes. And although the #MeToo movement remains influential, helping to show survivors of sexual abuse that they are not alone and improve awareness about sexual violence, it hasn’t fundamentally changed gender-based harassment. There may be more publicity and awareness around the matter. However, structural changes are often not made. The unbalanced power dynamics persist.

Another issue that has been plaguing the industry since its inception is ageism. 38% of respondents included it in their assessment of the main challenges women face in the industry today.

“The music industry wants female artists to be young–partly a symptom of the industry’s youth obsession, but also so that women become successful before they are presumed to decide to take on the role of motherhood,” the study says.

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Ageism is not a new challenge for women. Gendered ageism is an issue across many fields. Many areas of business are affected by it. Superstars like Madonna and the Grammy-nominated artist Bebe Rexha spoke about it and still face it. Rexha took to Twitter in 2019 in response to a music executive who she tweeted said the star was getting too old and her brand was getting “confusing” and that she was “too old to be sexy.”

“I recently had a music executive tell me that I was getting too old and that my brand was ‘confusing.’ Because… I’m a songwriter and I post sexy pics on my Instagram and that’s not what female songwriters are suppose to do, especially for my age. I’m 29. I’m fed up with being put in a box. I make my own rules. I’m tired of women getting labeled as ‘hags’ when they get old and guys get labeled as sexy with age. I’m turning 30 on August 30, and you know what, I’m not running away from it,” the singer said in her tweet.

She continued: “I’m not gonna lie about my age or sing songs that I feel will sell better because they sound ‘younger.’ I’m gonna celebrate my age because you know what , I’m wiser, I’m stronger and TRUST ME I’m a much better lover than I was 10 years ago.”

“Picture dedicated to the Exec who said I am too old to be sexy. Is this too sexy for you?” the star concluded. In a follow-up post on Twitter, Rexha said: There’s no age that you can’t be sexy.” “I’m not scared to speak out. Especially if it’s my truth,” she added in another tweet.

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In a May 2019 interview with Vogue, Madonna spoke about fighting ageism. She shared her thoughts as a 60-year-old music artist fighting it. “People have always been trying to silence me for one reason or another, whether it’s that I’m not pretty enough, I don’t sing well enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not married enough, and now it’s that I’m not young enough,” she said in the cover story interview. “Now I’m fighting ageism, now I’m being punished for turning 60,” shared the star.

If this is what women in the limelight are facing, then ageism can take a bigger toll on women without the power that comes with that spotlight.

“Nearly four of every ten respondents pointed to male-dominated resources as a challenge faced by women in the industry,” according to Forbes. This paired with the current high levels of gender-based harassment create a disaster.

This survey shows more of what is behind the greatly unequal statistics we saw in the USC Annenberg study, which was initially revealed early 2020. According to Forbes, “this survey may not be the perfect representation of women’s opinions about gender inequality in this area since race and sexual orientation were not recorded in demographic data. But it reveals key information.”

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As per the survey, some of the main challenges women face in the industry include issues related to discrimination. This includes gender-based harassment, ageism as well as resource related issues. Others include lower pay (which we also spoke about at the beginning of this article), low representation and male-dominated labels, as per Forbes.

“Phrases such as ‘tokenism’ and ‘lip service’ are commonly used to describe some of the current changes,” the study says according to Forbes. “But there is also a clear, bold vision of what real change should be.”

Forbes states that: “To improve the industry for women, survey respondents advocate for creating more opportunity; seeing more female representation and leadership; providing more support, recognition and resources; and tackling sexual harassment, objectification and ageism.”

“The issues, challenges and experiences highlighted in this report are not ‘women’s problems’ to be solved just by women in the music industry,” the study says.


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Featured Image adapted via Freepik.

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