Gender parity in the music industry: where do we stand?

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Gender parity in the music industry: where do we stand?

Sampa The Great at Golden Plains 2020 - photo by BandAnna Photography
Words by Arielle Richards

It’s a time of reckoning across industries.

Content warning: this article discusses rape, sexual abuse and harassment.

March 8 marks International Women’s Day, signalling a time to commemorate, celebrate and uplift the achievements and contributions of women across the world. 

In Australia, the day’s approach has been marred by a reckoning, perhaps long overdue – especially since the 2016 #MeToo movement. It now seems that almost every day, another alarming allegation rips the gender gap we hold in our collective minds’ eye just a little bit wider. 

In politics, Brittany Higgins’ brave decision to come forward with her experience of sexual assault in the workplace has shattered the ever-eroding veneer of competence that the Coalition has propped up over the past two years.

Then we have the shocking allegations against Attorney General Christian Porter, whose disappointing statement denying the claims attempt to smother any formal inquiry; allegations of harassment in the South Australian parliament; and a rape-culture reckoning amongst Sydney’s private all-boys schools.

Since November, an Instagram titled Beneath the Glass Ceiling has been releasing anonymous accounts of sexual abuse, bullying, sexism and gross abuse of power from male executives at the top of Australia’s music industry. The cracks are beginning to show, and while the allegations are horrific to read, such a culture of disrespect for women has been an ‘open secret’ in the industry for decades.

Whilst a powerful oligarchy helms the sector, and this country’s strict defamation laws continue to threaten severe repercussions for survivors who would dare to speak out, we sit in furious stasis.

When the highest offices from politics to entertainment are demonstrably unable to respect the rights, personhood and humanity of women, it is all the more important to include, support and uplift people whose rights have been historically ignored in the man-versus-women divide – gender non-conforming peoples, trans peoples, sex workers and First Nations peoples – in the fight for equal rights and respect.

Acknowledging an intersectional approach to a brighter future is well in line with the theme of this International Women’s Day – “Choose to Challenge”. This is reflected in the incredible array of artists performing at some IWD events, including Vera Blue at the MSO, Psychic Hysteria’s IWD at the Retreat and the Boite’s Resonant Heart. 

In light of disheartening results into gender parity in the music industry seen in triple j Hack’s award-winning ‘By the Numbers’ report (forthcoming this IWD), several initiatives to bolster women and gender non-conforming peoples’ esteem in the music industry have sprung up over the past few years. 

Music Victoria’s Gender Diversity Policy

Since 2019, Music Victoria has been enforcing a 40:40:20 gender split for all MV events. MV’s Women’s Advisory Panel is the force behind the MV best practise guidelines for Victoria’s live music venues, the 2021 edition of which has a guideline for tackling sexual assault. In 2019, they introduced an all women mentorship program, Cultivate, which aimed to support women leaders in contemporary music.

AIR Women in Music mentorship 

The Australian Independent Record Labels Association’s Women in Music mentorship program was conceived with the aim to empower female-identifying and GNC people to pursue careers in the music industry, equipping them with career and leadership progression skills in business management, strategic decision making, corporate negotiation, financial literacy and more. The government-backed program will run yearly until 2023.

WIP project

WIP project is a free online database of female and gender non-conforming artists from around the country, with an aim to unite bookers, artists and promoters under the common goal of promoting diversity, inclusivity and equality. An initiative started by Sarah Morgan (aka Dj Sarah of In2Stella) and Florence Brown (aka Floss Dog), its aim is to “debunk the excuse that ‘there’s no chicks to book’”. The database is an example of how community-led action from within the industry can affect change in an effort to uplift and celebrate the diversity of talent in the industry.


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The Australian Women in Music Awards (AWMA) need no introduction. Returning with its third annual event this year, AWMA strives to bring recognition for women’s excellence in the industry. The event specifically aims to uplift the achievements of First Nations artists, and those from culturally diverse backgrounds. Previous recipients of the AWMA Lifetime Achievement include Renèe Geyer, Little Pattie, Margret RoadKnight and Joy McKean.

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