Women in audio: A Growing Trend
One of the questions I have often been asked throughout my career is how I overcome the challenge of working in what, to this day, remains a somewhat male-dominated industry.
Indeed, technology sectors in general, not just the audio visual industries, suffer from a lack of women. And I say suffer intentionally here, because women bring something very different to the table.
I was drawn to the audio sector originally because of my love for music combined with a deep and abiding interest in science. Today, when I am working on a new project with, let’s face it, a team of mostly men, I find that we all benefit from the sort of synergy that happens when there is diversity of perspectives. I have the greatest respect for the people I have worked with in my career, and in general, I have found that this respect is reciprocated. I have learned a lot from them, and they have learned a lot from me. I approach problems differently than some of my peers. I also hear differently – which in the audio business is a significant data point. That means I am able to bring something new to our designs that makes them better, more rounded products.
It’s not just my imagination that women hear differently either! Quite a lot of research has gone into how men and women hear, and listen, differently. For example, the US Web site Health.com has cited research that found women of all ages have better hearing than men at frequencies above 2,000 Hz. Other research suggests that women are more sensitive to noise in general. However, beyond biology, the critical listening skills needed in this business are something that must be trained and developed. Any differences in the “mechanics” of hearing become the strengths and weaknesses that are worked on through “ear training” and experience. If women aren’t participating, or aren’t getting training, then they won’t excel.
Women really bring something to audio, as you can see. But to ensure that we can encourage a greater number of women to enter the audio industry — as well as other areas of technology — in future, we as an industry need to persuade more girls to choose science as their primary subjects at school. For example, physics and acoustics are essential areas of study if you want to be able to make great microphones!
There is still a great deal of work to be done. A study carried out among UK students by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in early 2017 showed, for example, that the gender gap in technology starts in schools and carries on thereafter. The research showed that 17% of male students picked physics, compared to only 7% of female students. At university, just 2% of female students choose to study engineering compared to 13% of male students.
The overall assessment is that females are far less likely than males to consider a technology career. That’s a shame, because I have often said in interviews that girls are actually very creative and intuitive, and so science is really a good field for them to enter. But it can still be a very intimidating area for many of them, and the challenge for us as an industry is to overcome that by helping them to build confidence and find their place.
I have enjoyed getting to know some of the people at SoundGirls – an organization with the mission to inspire the next generation of women in audio. I appreciate this group because they welcome and encourage both women and men as members. The non-profit organization Women in Audio Mission (WAM) looks to be a great example of women seeking to inspire others to study sound and media and become the next engineers, producers and innovators. According to WAM, quoting radio host Susan Barnett, less than 5% of the people working in the field of music production and recording arts are women. Other organisations include the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) and Women in Music (WIM) in New York City.
For me, being in the audio industry has been a rewarding experience that continues to present new and interesting challenges. It’s an incredibly creative area, too. Have I ever felt intimidated by others? To be honest, it’s not in my make-up to accept limits based on who I am or where I come from. And I’m an engineer by training, which means I like to make decisions based upon good and complete data — not based merely upon factors such as gender.
We’ve still got a way to go. A 2016 survey from the Audio Engineering Society (AES) found that only 7% of its members were women, although participants did not have to provide their gender so the figure may not be entirely accurate. The encouraging message from the AES report was that while there is a persistent gender gap, the impact of women in audio continues to grow. Long may that trend continue.
“Women really bring something to audio, as you can see. But to ensure that we can encourage a greater number of women to enter the audio industry — as well as other areas of technology — in future, we as an industry need to persuade more girls to choose science as their primary subjects at school. For example, physics and acoustics are essential areas of study if you want to be able to make great microphones!”