A man's hand placing three wooden blocks on a table. One has a picture of a woman, one has a picture of a man, and one has the symbol of an equals sign.
Female musicians experience higher levels of discrimination, sexual harassment, financial challenges, and structural barriers to career progression. Image credit: Shutterstock.

Based on over 2,500 responses, new research from the Women Musicians Insight Report highlights the persistence of gender disparities within the UK music industry, and shows that there is much work to be done to create a more equitable landscape for women in music.

Following on from the first ever UK Musicians’ Census – the largest ever survey of its kind by Help Musicians and the MU – this next wave of research draws attention to the ongoing challenges women face in building sustainable careers in the music industry.

It reveals:

  • 51% of women in music have been discriminated against due to their gender
  • A third of women in music have been sexually harassed
  • Female musicians are paid less and have shorter careers – despite on average being more trained and educated.

Women are eight times more likely to experience gender discrimination than men

51% of women have experienced gender discrimination while working as a musician – something experienced by only 6% of male musicians.

Most alarmingly, 33% of women reported being sexually harassed while working as a musician, and 25% have witnessed sexual harassment of others in music.

Naomi Pohl, MU General Secretary, said: “At the MU, we are working to address gender inequity across the music industry and the arts.

“Our Safe Space service continues to receive regular reports of unacceptable behaviour and if anything, there has been an increase in recent months. The Census data on sexual harassment highlights just how prevalent this is.”

The gender pay gap

The average annual income for a female musician was found to be £19,850, compared to £21,750 for men – meaning women earn nearly a tenth less.

This is despite the fact that women musicians are qualified to a higher level than men, with 14% more women having a music degree and 15% more having a postgraduate music qualification. Concerningly, this does not correlate with higher average earnings.

Financial barriers

In line with being paid less, women musicians are more likely to experience financial challenges than men in music.

27% of female musicians said they don’t earn enough money to support themselves and their family, compared to 20% of male musicians.

Women’s visibility in music also decreases dramatically with age. 47% of musicians aged 16-55 are women, but after the age of 54 this drops significantly to just 26%. This could also be due to women experiencing higher levels of age discrimination (30% of women reporting it vs. 21% of men).

Caring responsibilities as gendered barriers to career progression

Female musicians have a higher rate of primary caring responsibilities and 22% report being a primary carer for a child.

This has significant consequences for their careers, with 29% of women stating that family and caring commitments are a barrier to their career (in comparison to 11% of musicians of other genders).

This leads to further issues impacting their ability to build a sustainable career in music, including inadequate childcare access and the inability to work unsociable hours.

Women significantly underrepresented as engineers, producers and DJs

This research also indicates how the kinds of roles that female musicians occupy are potentially determined by their gender.

A huge 79% of women in music are performing musicians, but only 15% of live sound engineers and 12% of studio/mastering engineers are women. Women also make up only 29% of DJs and 24% of producers.

Music genres defined by gender

Trends in this research also suggest that it’s still easier for women to forge careers in certain genres of music.

The largest gaps can be seen in UK rap, with just 8% of women reporting working in this genre, compared to 16% of musicians of other genders. Dance music also has a significant gap (18% of women compared to 28% of all other genders).

Specific action can be taken to ensure women have an equitable chance of being heard in all types of genres.

Discriminatory practices and behaviours still holding women back in their musical careers

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl commented: “The Census findings, set out in this report, illustrate the many discriminatory practices and behaviours still holding women back in their musical careers.

“We have long advocated for better pay gap reporting, and hope the Census findings will encourage the industry to take action, be more transparent and make change.

“We welcome the deeper insight into barriers to reporting instances of bullying, harassment and discrimination which we will highlight in our campaigning work. Our Women’s Network for members discusses many of the issues raised in the Census, and we look forward to sharing the detailed findings with them.”

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