On International Women’s Day Top Sound Engineer Olga Fitzroy Outlines Why Women Must Recognise Their Value

08.02.2022: MPG Executive Director Olga Fitzroy marks International Women’s Day With A Call to #BreakTheBias

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08.02.2022: To mark International Women’s Day MPG Executive Director and sound engineer Olga Fitzroy discusses why women need to know their worth and not work for free.

This year for International Women’s Day (IWD), we wrote to MPG members reminding them not to work for free, and not to expect others to do so, particularly at IWD events. In any other industry this might seem unnecessary, like asking people to remember to eat breakfast or not set their house on fire. In the music industry, sadly, this advice is as prescient as ever.

The theme for IWD this year is #BreakTheBias. Our research of engineers and producers from 2021 showed that 70% of women had been asked to work for free, compared to 56% of men, so while nobody should work without fair pay, it is significant that in the studio, as it is in the home,  there is more of an expectation on women’s labour being provided for free than men’s. This is a bias that we can all help to break.

The MPG’s focus to date has been on combating unpaid work in the studio – mixing is by far the most common type of work people are asked to do gratis. But it is important to remember that for the freelancers who make up 90% of MPG members, even an hour’s time speaking at an event will incur costs, as they may need to clear their diary, rearrange work,  or pay for childcare. I know colleagues who get asked to speak at Black History Month events will relate. Black women are presumably on ‘double bubble’ as they have two times of the year where they are both in-demand and undervalued.

Why is paying people for their time for these events important? Often panel events for awareness days are put on with the best of intentions, but if we truly value diversity of thought we must draw our speakers from a wide pool and include those who can’t afford to work for free. Women are also constantly told that we have impostor syndrome and that we don’t value ourselves – being offered a fee to speak at a diversity event might just boost our confidence enough to negotiate harder in other parts of our freelance careers.

But it’s not all bad news. The MPG adopted a policy a few years ago to always offer a fee for panel events – we are also very much a work in progress. Following interventions from our board members, some well-known companies who have previously asked women to speak at events for free are also now putting their money where their mouth is, and budgeting for speakers at their diversity events. It feels like the dial is slowly shifting, and it is becoming less acceptable in our industry to use marginalised groups for free PR at diversity events. I would love to see every music industry organisation adopt a policy of paying freelancers for speaking engagements to help #BreakTheBias in 2022.

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