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Workers’ Rights In The Studio

Women in the studio world are disproportionately affected by issues around employment rights.Women in the studio world are disproportionately affected by issues around employment rights.

Up‑and‑coming engineers and producers deserve protection from exploitation, discrimination and sexual harassment.

In this issue we celebrate the success of women at the top of their audio game. At the same time, I’m conscious that many would‑be colleagues have found the barriers just too big to overcome, and many are still struggling to get their invoice paid or simply trying to get through a recording session without their client invading their personal space or worse.

Celebrating success does not mean that the barriers to women’s representation have melted away. Indeed, the fact that it was even possible to get most of us onto one magazine cover shows that there is still work to be done. In particular, employment laws in the UK and the US leave much to be desired — and on both sides of the pond, there are those who would block or roll back progress.

In 2021, Democrat Senator John Manchin cast the deciding vote against a paid family leave portion of a US domestic policy package that would have given six weeks’ paid maternity leave to all new mothers in the US, where there is currently no entitlement to paid leave. And while things are better on that front in the UK, self‑employed families — a category that includes most engineers and producers — are at a disadvantage compared to their employed peers, with no paid leave for fathers or adopters.

Another area of concern is harassment in the workplace. Again, we have parliamentarians trying to slow progress. In the UK, the Worker Protection Bill, which would increase protections against sexual harassment by third parties (something the Musicians Union have been calling for for years) looks in danger of being shelved, following objections by Tory peers.

But what do these discussions on workers’ rights have to do with women’s representation in the audio industry?

Workplace rights matter for everyone, but they matter most to those with the least power.

Seeking Protection

Workplace rights matter for everyone, but they matter most to those with the least power. Many engineers and producers find themselves near the bottom of a service‑oriented food chain that has record labels, major artists and film studios at the top. Careers are built on word of mouth, personal relationships and patronage from those above. Those at the beginning of their career have even less power, and are likely to have less of a financial cushion to support them if they choose to leave workplaces that are treating them badly. Women working in audio are often the only woman in their workplace, are likely to be paid less than men doing equivalent roles, and are overwhelmingly more likely than men to be the victims of sexual assault and harassment as well as suffering pregnancy and maternity discrimination. These issues are amplified for those with intersecting characteristics of race and disability.

One of my last projects before stepping back from the board of the Music Producers Guild (MPG) last year was writing a submission to the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee for their inquiry on Misogyny in Music. The stats made for sobering reading: 90 percent of women reported experiencing discrimination because of their sex or gender, 90 percent had experienced online harassment by others working in the industry, 53 percent had experienced sexual harassment at work, and 21 percent had experienced sexual assault.

Gold Standards

While we wait for lawmakers to get their act together, many in the industry have been working on other initiatives to make workplaces safer. In the UK, work continues to set up an Independent Standards Authority for all creative industries, CIISA, which will cover film, TV and music. This will have the power to independently adjudicate and enforce judgements in workplace disputes. If implemented well, this will eliminate some of the power dynamics that occur when powerful industry figures are accused of wrongdoing, and give victim‑survivors the confidence to come forward, as well as providing a fair process to all involved.

There are other recent developments born out of necessity during Covid which also make the industry more accessible to people from all different backgrounds. Remote working for mixing is now the norm, allowing those with caring responsibilities or living outside of the main industry hubs to compete on a level playing field. In London, triple orchestral sessions were stopped during Covid, and the larger studios are sticking with two‑session days, giving a more humane working day for studio staff and musicians. While engineers’ and musicians’ levels of concentration and professionalism undoubtedly delivered on those long triple‑session days, quality and creativity will be even better when working days are kept below 12 hours, not to mention the health and wellbeing of all involved.

The numbers of women and other underrepresented groups in audio workplaces keep on growing, and I am hopeful that this in itself will create safer and more supportive workplaces for all. While the negative aspects of our online lives are well‑documented, there are also positives. Audio forums can no longer operate under sexist names disguised as ‘banter’, and women and other minorities have formed online communities providing everything from networking to technical advice, 2% Rising and SoundGirls being some of the best known.

Let us keep celebrating the wins, and using our creativity not just to make great records, but also to make great workplaces.

Olga FitzRoy is an award‑winning recording engineer and mixer with credits including Coldplay, The Crown and the London 2012 Olympics. She served on the board of the Music Producers Guild from 2019‑2022 and has previously stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour party in Croydon, South London. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.