Just How High is the Glass Ceiling for Women in Sound Technology?

Updated: Jun 16

The first Grammy Award was given out in 1958. It wasn't until 2019, however, that Emily Lazar was named the first female sound engineer to win a Grammy.


In recent years, public attention has been brought to the women fighting to break the glass ceiling of the music industry, with many more female singers, songwriters, and instrumentalists stepping into the limelight than in the past. Despite this progress, the industry is still male-dominated, especially in the world of music production.


The music industry as a whole is a heavily male-dominated field; according to research from USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, women make up only 21.7% of artists, 12.3% of songwriters, and a mere 2.1% of producers and audio engineers. In other words, for every 47 men, there is only one woman working in the industry.


Statistically, the number of women working in production and sound engineering is almost nothing, and has continued to decrease since 2012.


Ironically, a 2016 Pew Research Study showed that more than half of men believe sexism no longer exists. The survey was conducted over the course of a month, with 4,602 adult participants. The results showed that about 56% of men think that sexism does not exist, and about 34% of women feel the same way. Between both men and women, roughly 45% of Americans agreed with the following statement: "the obstacles that once made it harder for women than men to get ahead are now largely gone."

Fingerhut, Hannah. “In Both Parties, Men and Women Differ over Whether Women Still Face Obstacles to Progress.” Pew Research Center

So why are there so few women working in audio?


The music industry as a whole is highly competitive, but women in music tech often have to work twice as hard for their voices to be heard over their male counterparts. In a statement to The Atlantic, Tiffany Hendren, Head Sound Engineer at Delmar Hall in St. Louis shared: "I always felt like I had to be a little bit better at my job than they were." She continued, "and then when I started talking to other women, and had that feeling confirmed, it was like, ‘Okay, I’m not imagining this. This really is taking me a lot more effort than it’s taking that guy over there.'"


Hendren also mentioned that, like many others in sound technology, she has lost work simply because she is a woman. The skill and talent of female producers and engineers is often severely underestimated, and they struggle to gain the respect and recognition they deserve.

Tiffany Hendren, SoundGirls

Since 2015, Hendren has been a co-director of SoundGirls with Karrie Keyes (co-director, founder). This nonprofit organization has a mission of supporting women and underrepresented groups in audio production, as well as giving young girls the tools and empowerment they need to pursue a career in the industry. SoundGirls sponsors various programs and events for women and girls to learn about the music industry and hone their own production skills, including SoundGirls live sound camps. At these camps, girls and non-binary musicians ages 12-18 can work in small, collaborative groups to develop skills essential to running live sound and working in the professional world.


Activist groups and nonprofit organizations such as SoundGirls have been instrumental in making the audio production industry more welcoming and accessible to women, but the problem is far from solved. Prejudices against women in sound, and even more broadly, in everyday life, appear in various forms, often without our conscious knowledge.


A 2009 study published in the Journal of Integrated Social Sciences about internalized sexism revealed that, among other forms of sexism in society, the following dialogic practices occur frequently: construction of women as competitors, objectification of women, invalidation and derogation.


For many years, women have been pitted not only against their male counterparts, but also against other women as "competitors," for everything, from desired social and career positions to attention and respect from friends, colleagues, and love interests. These types of competitions show up in gossip, social exclusion, comparison to others (specifically to other women), and in casual comments. Women in audio engineering and production are constantly compared to others in their field, and face immense pressure to perform at a higher level than most of their male co-workers. The internalized, societally-perpetrated association of competition with women prevents us from achieving the ultimate unity necessary to overcome sexism altogether.


Although there is more awareness surrounding the objectification of women now than in even the recent past, it still occurs frequently, often in seemingly subtle ways. Constant media focus on the appearances of women (among other things) has led to the widespread assumption that a woman's physical attributes determine her credibility and worth. Despite the many achievements of women throughout history, they are often still seen as objects-- meant to decorate, or provide aesthetic value to society, rather than contribute alongside men. Within music tech, this issue is yet to be addressed extensively, and music tech work is still frequently considered to be a "man's job," despite the fact that the tasks are not, in fact, gendered.


Within the sound industry (and in society, generally) invalidating comments contribute to the perpetuating of stigmas and prejudices against women. Even casual remarks or jokes impact the experience of women in the workplace, making them feel unwelcome, or even unsafe, doing their jobs. In an interview, one singer-songwriter and producer stated that "there have been times when I’ve felt, as a producer, like 'oh, you’re really good for a girl.' That’s fine, but I try to surround myself only with people who see me as a dope producer. Not a female producer, because who cares. Why do we have to put ‘female’ in front of it as a qualifier?" These microaggressions play a major role in the invalidation and silencing of women's opinions, feelings, and voices.


Sexism is a large-scale, ongoing issue within sound technology, which begs the question: What can be done to reform the industry?


There is no clear-cut solution, as the issue extends far beyond just the music industry, but there are certainly a few ways in which we can promote the talent and work of female producers and audio engineers.


If you are an artist hiring producers and engineers to record original music or mix live sound, you can consider working with female professionals. It is important to hire based not solely on gender, but also on skill level and whether the team will work effectively together and get along; gender does not make a good sound engineer, a good sound engineer can be any gender.


Consumers of music often do not know or think about who has worked behind the scenes to create their favorite songs. One way for listeners to get involved and make an impact on the representation of women in this field is to increase their own awareness of who has worked on music that they (the listener) love. Actively supporting music that features the hard work of female producers and audio engineers is crucial to generating awareness and discussion of gender disparity and sexism in the music tech industry.


Here are a few awesome producers and engineers to check out:


TOKiMONSTA (producer; Kelly Rowland, Anderson. Paak, Jessie Ware,....)

Dot (producer; SZA, Hazel Rose, Teri GenderBender,....)

TRAKGIRL (producer; Jhené Aiko, Omarion, Luke James,....)

Sylvia Massy (producer; Johnny Cash, Prince, the Red Hot Chili Peppers,....)

Linda Perry (producer; P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys,....)

Ester Dean (producer; Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna,....)

Crystal Caines (producer, engineer; A$AP Ferg, MIA, Nick Jonas,....)

Emily Lazar (mastering engineer; David Bowie, John Mayer, Sia,....)

Yang Tan (engineer, mixer; YG, J. Cole, Kanye West,....)

Ann Mincieli (engineer; Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Depeche Mode,....)

Kesha Lee (engineer; Migos, Lil Uzi Vert, Childish Gambino,....)

Simone Torres (engineer, vocal producer; Cardi B, Dua Lipa, Camila Cabello,....)

WondaGurl (engineer, producer; Travis Scott, Jay-Z, Rihanna,....)

Karrie Keyes (monitor engineer; Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Executive Director/Co-Founder of SoundGirls,....)