Women in the UK music world grapple with a disproportionate amount of discrimination, a new study finds. (Credit: Yasin Aydın, Pexels)

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side – across the pond, representation problems for women in music persist, just as they do here in the U.S.

A new study called the UK Musicians’ Census – conducted by the Musicians’ Union, which represents over 30,000 British musicians, and performers’ nonprofit Help Musicians – found that women are eight times more likely to experience discrimination than men, after polling over 6,000 musicians of all genders.

Indeed, “the Census shows women experience greater frequency of career barriers than the wider population of musicians generally,” researchers wrote in the published findings. They added, “[N]ot surprisingly, some women face greater barriers than others, with both women from the global majority and disabled women experiencing higher rates of discrimination and lower rates of pay than white women and non-disabled women.”

A total of 87% of women musicians described incidents of bias, from feeling unsafe in work settings to others making unfair assumptions about their abilities. The women also reported negative treatment from colleagues and supervisors for having to tend to family matters.

Inequities around caregiving seem to hamstring women musicians, researchers learned. Almost a third of women said they are primary caregivers in their homes – with nearly all saying those duties keep them from professional pursuits

When it comes to finances,women musicians report making less than men across the board, and were statistically more likely to hold down secondary jobs to earn supplemental income. Nearly 30% of women polled say they don’t make enough money through music to support themselves or their families. And, about a fifth of women say training and professional development costs create additional barriers.

There are also representation gaps, particularly in higher-paying roles like studio production (11% are women) and sound engineering (2% are women). 

“There are so many roadblocks for women in the music industry that get overlooked because of the complexity of the issue and how normal it has become,” one respondent, who chose to remain anonymous, told researchers. “Gender discrimination is so ingrained in us that it presents itself unconsciously, which means that a lot of people deny its existence, which leaves little room for progress.”

That said, researchers did offer numerous suggestions for turning the tide. These include efforts like the Musicians’ Union’s Safe Space initiative, which supports survivors within the industry, and its Women’s Network, built for connecting musicians for collaboration and problem-solving.

But, they add, it’s going to take a “sector-wide effort” – all hands on deck to “remove structural barriers to careers as musicians for women; prevent and act on discrimination; reduce inequities amongst different groups of women in music; and to facilitate women’s work as musicians in all genres and roles across music, making sure no music is off limits because of gender.”