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Gender bias/discrimination in music

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Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby blinddrew » Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:33 pm

This came up at both the Grammys and the Brits again this year and got me thinking about it again as I’ve recently been doing some work on our gender pay gap at work.

I’m curious about people’s thoughts / experiences here. I’m aware that this is a very male-dominated site so I’m not going to get the most neutral of responses, but I’m not planning on writing a thesis on it… :)

Anyway, to kick it off, here are a few things I’ve been mulling over (in no particular order).
1) Is it a matter of bias or of representation? If you go to an open-mic night, a session or a gig, count the number of male and female performers at the event. Last time I did this consistently (a couple of years ago) the ratio was about 4:1. An all-female band was a rare thing, an all-male band was just a band. So if this is an approximation of the representation of the live music scene at the base level, should we expect it to be any different at the top of the scene?
2) And if it is a matter of representation, why do we have so few women performing in live music? I’m talking ‘pop’ music here rather than classical - I have no idea what the ratios are there but I do recall one symphony orchestra (Vienna?) who moved to blind auditions and found their ratio of female performers shot up (see point 6).
3) Men buy slightly more music than women (roughly 55% to 45%) so is there something about a target market defining a target production segment?
4) More men than women study music at HE level (roughly 4:3 ratio in the UK), do our school environments put women off taking music seriously as a subject?
But neither of those two ratios would suggest we’d get the numbers we see on stage or in a studio. Are there other barriers to entry?
5) On the technical/production side the ratios are even worse, around 5% for engineers and even lower for producers. Is this just representative of the old engineering/humanities split that affects many industries? (I studied mechanical engineering, 4 of 70 students in my year were female).
6) And is that because of active bias (women can’t do X)? Unconscious bias (I run a small team, I need to hire people who will fit in, therefore I will hire people like me)? A lack of visible role-models in the industry (not many women apply for the jobs in the first place)?
7) Or is the whole thing just a bunch of stuff that happens and we shouldn’t tie ourselves in knots about it?

Discuss.
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby CS70 » Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:53 pm

Questions for the ages! The same question exist for a lot of different fields.

No idea why, and nobody seems to have any (well, factual idea, that is. Opinions abound).

As of jams, I'd say here it's not that skewed, there's a good number of ladies at jams; and on music buying, given that a lot of it happens via streaming services nowadays, every time I use the public transport I see as many women as men donning earplugs, perhaps even more. All firmly non scientific samples, of course.

That said, glass ceilings and walls exist imho mostly because of tradition and culture - with most people being biased about not fighting the status quo (in turn, likely due to selection), whatever socials structure exists at a certain moment has lots of inertia.

I would guess that such inertia accounts for most of the divisions we see, but turning the guess into fact (or disproving it) would require some really tough research. You don't get to engineer a society every day.
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby The Elf » Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:57 pm

Discrimination, in *any* form, is a miserable, debilitating thing - and I include the inappropriately named (IMHO) 'positive discrimination' in this. The right person for the job is the right person - and that has to allow for the fact that some roles attract one grouping over another. Quotas are a dumb way to choose the person for the job.

So, I'm probably closest to option 7, as long as everyone plays fair.
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby Folderol » Fri Feb 21, 2020 6:30 pm

Very much agree with the Elf here.
Also, as soon as you start demanding equality (of some undefined value), you create resentment, which may well actually slow down a move to a better balance (of some equally undefined value).
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby Agharta » Fri Feb 21, 2020 6:33 pm

The idea that festivals should book acts based on gender balance seemed financially risky to me.
You book acts that are right for your demographic and based on quality and marketability.
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Feb 21, 2020 7:54 pm

I agree. At the point of selecting someone for a job (or whatever) it has to be done on the basis of the best candidate, regardless of gender, sex, ethnicity, religion or anything else. Quotas and positive discrimination weaken the outcome rather than strengthen it IMHO.

Instead, we need to engineer the situation where similar numbers of different genders, ethnicities, and religious persuasions apply for a given job... And that requires equal treatment and encouragement from early childhood.

And maybe instead of denigrating technical, scientific and technical interests as being nerdy or geeky etc, we should instead ridicule the traits that deserve it, such as shallowness, hate, bullying, and so on.

Just a thought...
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby blinddrew » Fri Feb 21, 2020 9:24 pm

Drifting slightly off topic here but the problem with the 'best person for the job' approach, and it is a problem, is that we're not very good at determining the characteristics of a 'best person'.
Our inherent biases exist throughout the recruitment process - from identifying the properties of the vacancy, though the drafting of the job description up to the first reaction when a candidate steps into interview. And most of the existing recruitment processes simply reinforce these restricted approaches.
The research is really quite interesting.

But that's much less of an issue at the root level of the live music performance area (I would have thought).

The festival booking thing is an interesting angle. Obviously you book the acts that you think are going sell tickets to your target audience - but how do you make that determination? I'm reminded of feedback that Disney (of all people) got when they were planning the latest round of the Star Wars franchise; promoters and distributors told them that people wouldn't go for a Star Wars film with a black male and a female lead. The accepted wisdom was that sci-fi audiences required a white male lead.

I just wonder how much accepted wisdom the music industry currently labours under.
Though in writing this I'm reminded of the first half of this Frank Zappa interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZazEM8cgt0 which basically undermines a lot of what I've written above. :D
All of which just shows that I know no more than anyone else (and probably less than most).
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby CS70 » Fri Feb 21, 2020 11:13 pm

blinddrew wrote:Drifting slightly off topic here but the problem with the 'best person for the job' approach, and it is a problem, is that we're not very good at determining the characteristics of a 'best person'.

Indeed. The example you made of concert houses hiring way more women once screens were put in place at audition is well known, and far from the only one. Determining "the best person" is almost always far from trivial.

However... popular music.. on a feeling, I'd say it's less discriminating that many others, and being a woman actually be an advantage: for example, social media teaches that publishing a short video of a guy playing guitar well and few will take notice. Take a gal doing the same and it will receive enormous attention. Same for producing or engineering I'd say.
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby DanDan » Fri Feb 21, 2020 11:32 pm

The Chair of the AES is a Woman. The Board has three women, two men.
The percentage of Women members of the AES is 7%
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby Agharta » Sat Feb 22, 2020 12:23 am

DanDan wrote:The Chair of the AES is a Woman. The Board has three women, two men.
The percentage of Women members of the AES is 7%
They may all be witches as 7% sounds a bit witchy to me; burn them.
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby ManFromGlass » Sat Feb 22, 2020 12:42 am

The state of the music business is quite difficult to earn even a bare bones wage in. I agree that all should be made welcome from an early age, but would you actually encourage someone to enter this business knowing how slim the chances are to "earn a living"?
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby Watchmaker » Sat Feb 22, 2020 1:07 am

The conundrum with this approach, is that there's an underlying presumption of discrimination when a disparity in participation is observed. I posit an element of interest may also be a factor. I know tons of great, active female musicians and few techs - is it due to the impacts early childhood experiences have on conceptualizations of self worth? Is it an overwhelming biological drive to have babies? Is that pejorative?

A question for our times. Many of the gender assumptions we believe our ancestors followed are being openly challenged. I for one think it's utterly foolish to discount individual souls on any basis derived from the physical form.
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby CS70 » Sat Feb 22, 2020 11:22 am

Watchmaker wrote:The conundrum with this approach, is that there's an underlying presumption of discrimination when a disparity in participation is observed. I posit an element of interest may also be a factor.

More an hypothesis, rather than a presumption, I'd say?

Not an unreasonable one tough. There's tons of evidence that such discrimination against females occurred in the past, so it's not unreasonable to think it may still be a reason (and there are areas, obviously, where the opposite direction of discrimination is an hypothesis worth researching.. much less tough).

It's the same in most situations where great discrimination has happened - right or wrong, it's the first thing that comes to mind.

"Interest" is a difficult thing, because like most personality traits it's likely to depend on a mixture of genetic and environmental factors, including timing, cultural pressures or barriers. The trouble is nobody knows what the mixture is, and even if these are the only ingredients, and it's very hard to find out without starting to put people in little Truman shows. But interest is very unlikely to be a root cause, so to say, itself being probably a product of other factors.

I know tons of great, active female musicians and few techs - is it due to the impacts early childhood experiences have on conceptualizations of self worth? Is it an overwhelming biological drive to have babies? Is that pejorative?

I'd definitely say making babies is a biological drive, yes - for both men and women :D
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby blinddrew » Sat Feb 22, 2020 11:57 am

Watchmaker wrote:The conundrum with this approach, is that there's an underlying presumption of discrimination when a disparity in participation is observed.
Indeed, my first hand conversations would suggest that there is an underlying problem, but I am well aware that the plural of anecdote is not data... ;)
Disparity in representation does not equal discrimination. Maybe we just need to give it more time for a new generation or two to come through.
The music business/industry/eco-system does do pretty well on BAME representation for example.

As to whether i'd encourage anyone into it. That's always a tough one and you have to make as dispassionate a call as you can as to whether that person is 'good enough'. (See all the above comments about unconscious bias etc).
What i would say, from personal experience of not going for it, is that we were not made to sit in a soulless box, punching numbers into spreadsheets measuring someone else's profits.
If you have a chance of doing what you're passionate about then go for it. There's always time to be an office worker later.
FWIW, the reason I am permanently skint is because my wife and I took this decision to try and make a career from her hobby. It takes a long time and a lot of sacrifice, but really, can you afford not to?
:)
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Re: Gender bias/discrimination in music

Postby Watchmaker » Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:09 pm

Anecdotes ARE data, just not a form that lends itself to convincing argument. There is a great deal of confusion about the distinctions between data, information, and knowledge. Data happens to be especially fashionable these days I think due to the vast amounts of objects computers generate. But data, in my rather deep experience in data analytics and risk modeling, is usually crap, easily manipulated, and prone to observer bias, (especially when it's used to justify budgets or getting grants).

One could say data is a specialized form of anecdote - one without context.

And no doubt women have suffered staggering oppression, but so have entire cultures. Humans, by and large, suffer from a species level case of traumatic stress disorder and the cycle of violence is taught to children from day one. The abused becomes the abuser so often it hardly bears thinking about.
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