Last year, I got one of the weirdest compliments I’ve ever heard: “You’re a real unicorn!” I was working with a mixer who I had recently met (but was an established mixer), and he looked at me in amazement as I asked questions about his workflow. “I’ve heard of Lora Hirschberg and Anna Behlmer, but I’ve never met a female mixer. I’m sorry I’m so taken aback, but I really didn’t think someone like you existed,” he said.
When I heard that the Designing Sound guys were stepping aside this month for women contributors, I thought it was a great chance to say, “Hey look! There’s actually a lot of real unicorns!” Except… it’s been pretty silent. I asked a few women who I thought might be interested, and one woman (who I highly respect) said, “I would rather not address our industry when my invitation is based on my gender. I look forward to writing based on the knowledge and expertise that I can offer as an equal member of the industry.”
She’s absolutely right. We want to be recognized for our work, not our gender. At the same time, a silent protest doesn’t do anything to educate about a bias that we face, but don’t like to talk about openly: We do exist. There’s a lot of us who do the job very well, actually.
For the sake of education/discussion, here’s some examples of the types of discrimination and biases that I’ve encountered in the industry:
On an interview, I was offered a tour of the facility. When I was introduced to the operations manager, he asked, “Are you a producer or a post-production supervisor?” It didn’t cross his mind I could be an audio person, let alone interviewing for a high-level mixing position.
I had a sound supervisor once tell me that I was “threatening and aggressive.” For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m about as threatening as a grandmother handing out cookies. He suggested I be more “subservient” when I’m working with him.
I have a conflict about how to dress. Do I need to dress up when the guys at the studio are wearing hoodies, sneakers and baseball caps? I look more appropriate when I’m dressed up (especially with clients), but I feel over-dressed when I’m with the guys.
One studio had an annual company-sponsored trip to Vegas for the audio guys. After I was hired, they stopped doing it. Someone privately told me they decided it wasn’t appropriate for me to go when their wives/girlfriends weren’t invited. It made me feel pretty alienated from the team, but I also saw resentment from some guys that it was my fault.
I worked at another studio that had a divided male/female climate; women did operations and client services, and men did editing and mixing. As much as I tried to fit in, I felt like a black sheep, never quite finding my place in either group.
In the long run, being a female in the industry has had it’s advantages:
I’ve had more mentors than most of the guys I know. That’s helped immensely with learning new skills, advice, and finding new opportunities.
A lot of male co-workers treat me like a sister (or daughter). Those guys have had my back like no one else over the years.
I rarely encounter ego conflicts between myself and coworkers or clients. Someone who is difficult with a male colleague could be totally cool with me (although occasionally the opposite could be said – some sessions want a “bro” environment without women, and that’s fine.)
The other women who I meet in the industry are pretty awesome. It takes a certain personality type to get into it (and stay in it).
I get great parking spots. I used to resent the special treatment, but studios usually insist on it. Ultimately, it’s about safety, which is important (especially working at night).
What can we all do to be more inclusive/supportive of women (or other minorities) in our industry?
Set a precedent for equality. If you’re in a position of authority, question if the expectations placed on your female employees are the same as your male employees (or have a good reason if they aren’t, like safety or physical demands). Men can make fruit plates and answer phones, and women can excel in the machine room. Dress code standards should be the same for everyone.
Be aware of biases (or discrimination), and speak up if you see it happening. Bias can be subtle. Sometimes people will address my husband (instead of me) assuming that I’m just his guest, and not in audio. I appreciate when he takes the initiative to say, “Have you met April? She’s a post mixer,” or something similar to break the misconception. In social situations, if men and women separate into groups, I might be more interested in what the guys are talking about (especially if they are my co-workers and colleagues!) I appreciate when someone recognizes that I might be stuck in the middle, or gives me an opportunity to naturally jump into the conversation.
Just be yourself on the job – We want to be part of the team. Being “one of the guys” is nothing new – it’s fine if you want to talk about sports or tell the offensive joke you heard. If you’re planning a company or social event and are concerned about the lone woman, ask for her opinion. Find ways to include everyone on the team – the studio that used to have the annual Vegas trip started having events for everyone, which turned out to be great for team-building and camaraderie.
Thanks again to the Designing Sound folks for the great theme and the opportunity!
April has a M.Mus (Sound Recording) from McGill University, and a B.Mus (Music Production & Technology) from the University of Hartford. She is currently a re-recording mixer and “audio adventurist,” taking on side gigs from sound editorial to score mixing, and occasionally still breaking software… for fun. She can be found at www.proaudiogirl.com