The Brag Media
opinion Opinion April 23, 2018

Gender is just a number: peeking behind Australia’s Pay Gap veil

Gender is just a number: peeking behind Australia’s Pay Gap veil

Growing up with parents in the entertainment industry, there was no shortage of incredible role models. They were talented, influential, powerful, and male.

I was raised with a solid understanding of the complexities of the music world and entered it myself with my eyes wide open. The things that make our industry so alluring and unique, are also the things that make it so unforgiving.

More than anything, I experienced first-hand how difficult it is to juggle this life with family time.

Even before I started my own career, I was aware of a deeply entrenched culture which favoured men, while doing very little to address inequality, discrimination, abuse and sexism. I came prepared to work ten times harder to prove myself deserving of a voice in this space.

There are so many factors that play into the gender pay gap in the music world, not the least being that the boys’ club has only just squidged over a little bit to make room for us at the table. As we’ve seen from the recent UK figures, we have a long way to go to achieve an equitable balance in our industry, globally and at home.

Armed with the knowledge and experience of a number of women that I consider role models and leaders in the industry, (and a copy of Lean In), I took a look at why we’re still even talking about this.

The number game

The gender pay gap is usually framed by the following discourse: “Women still earn around 77 cents for every dollar men earn,” and, “Women deserve equal pay for equal work.” The latter is a 2014 quote from Obama.

What gets lost in these catchphrases is the true definition of the ‘gender pay gap’. The implication here is that women are being discriminated against by not earning dollar for dollar what her male counterpart in the same role earns. This isn’t the case.

The principle of equal pay for equal work was recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948; Australian female workers were granted equal pay in 1969.

Instead, put simply (because this is an incredibly complex issue), the gender pay gap demonstrates the difference between the total earnings of women and men, expressed as the percentage of men’s earnings. It is caused by factors including discrimination and bias in hiring and pay decisions, women’s disproportionate share of unpaid caring and domestic work, gender-favouring industries, lack of women in senior roles, inflexible organisational structures and more.

In Australia, the gap has swung between 15% and 19% for the past two decades. Actress and social activist Marlo Thomas once joked about America’s efforts to close their gap: “40 years and 18 cents? A dozen eggs have gone up ten times that amount.”

It is unsurprising that the music industry suffers from a gaping gender pay gap. Recently released UK figures show that Live Nation posted an average gender pay gap of 46%, with female executives paid 88% less on average than men in the same roles. Warner posted a 49% gender gap, and while 42% of the company is comprised of women, only 16% of those hold leadership roles. Universal and Sony posted over a 30% gender pay gap each, with 49.2% and 45% less in female bonuses respectively.

While these figures are not made readily available by Australian companies, they should be.

The ‘B’ words

AKA how social psychology affects the GPG.

Bossy Bitch

At school, I was known for being two things: loud, and bossy. Both come with their own negative undertones.

Shame-fuelling labels like ‘bossy’ explicitly discourage leadership qualities in girls. “Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend,” wrote Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in her ground-breaking book Lean In.

Research shows that women who display similar behaviour to men are not only seen as bossy, but also less effective. Professor Gruenfeld, an American social psychologist, says that “Our entrenched cultural ideas associate men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities and put women in a double-blind.”

Of course, the other big label women grapple with is ‘bitch’.

Often-cited research finds women are viewed as either accomplished or likeable, but not both. “Every woman has been in that position,” says Joanna Nilsson of YWCA Victoria. “It happens everywhere. Whether that’s saying something at work like ‘No, that was my idea,’ or ‘Excuse me, I haven’t finished speaking,’ to instances in our personal lives.

“I guarantee you that every woman has been reticent to say no to a man’s advances at some point for fear of ‘upsetting them’ or ‘making them angry’.”

Women in positions of power – especially in traditionally male roles and industries – are often regarded unfavourably. Margaret Thatcher was known as ‘Attila the Hen’; the first Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, was “the only man in the Cabinet”; Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, has been dubbed ‘The Iron Frau’; and Richard Nixon once called India’s first female Prime Minister “the old witch”. Our very own Tony Abbott (former Minister For Women) utilised signs with slogans like ‘Ditch the witch’ and ‘Ju-liar… Bob Browns [sic] bitch’ as a background to address a rally in 2011.

While it’s not important to everyone to be liked, it is an undeniable contributor to both success and happiness in the workplace.


This is the B-word no one likes to acknowledge.

A case study at Columbia Business School saw the class presented with the story of Heidi Roizen – a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Professor Frank Flynn gave half of the class the case study with Heidi’s name on it, and the other half the same case study with a single edit: Heidi’s name was changed to Howard.

Students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent, but while Howard came across as an appealing colleague, Heidi was perceived as selfish and unlikable.

A single difference – gender – created vastly different impressions of the same data.

Unconscious bias plays a big factor in job interviews and pay decisions, even more so when it comes to WOC and LGBTIQ+ people. According to social psychology professor Laurie Rudman, women who mention their previous success or explain why they are qualified can actually lower her chance of getting hired.

This also explains why women are more likely to be reluctant to put themselves forward for promotions and negotiate pay rises, as advocating for their own interests can so easily backfire. “20% of adult women (22 million people) say they never negotiate at all, even though they often recognise negotiation as appropriate and even necessary,” found researchers Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.

“The informal nature of much of the industry means that it is hard for women to tell if they are being paid what they are worth, or if they are being paid the same as male peers doing the same work,” weighs in Dr Catherine Strong of RMIT. “In an industry where the average pay for an artist in Australia is only $11,000 a year, it can be hard to negotiate, and artists can feel lucky sometimes to be paid at all. We know that women often don’t value their work as highly as men value theirs, and they find it harder to ask for more money. These things stem from gender roles that are taught to us from birth.”

Boys’ Club

It should be no surprise to anyone that the music industry is still male-dominated. While many fields are seeing more and more women through the doors, the culture of old cis white dudes and the camaraderie of the boys’ club remains. Joanna Nilsson remembers “playing in bands and the crew assuming I was someone’s girlfriend. Sound guys coming up onstage when I was playing and fiddling with my amp or trying to touch the knobs on my guitar. Men trying to put their hard up my dress when I was singing. Touching my legs.”

“In addition to this,” says Dr Strong, “Being successful as a musician is often as much about having access to the right networks as being good at your craft. The music industries are frequently described as ‘boys’ clubs’, where men dominate these networks and it can be difficult at the best of times for women or non-binary persons to break into them. A woman returning to music-making after taking time out to have a child not only has to find a way to re-enter these networks, but to do so in a way that works with ongoing caring responsibilities. This can be very hard to do – women I have spoken to as part of my research have sometimes said they found this impossible.”

Vicky*, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that when she was hired as one of two women in an office of 18 men, “one of the directors made an off-comment that I’m a good fit in the office because I ‘get our office culture’ – that culture being a boys club.

“Deep down, I always wonder if gender has a small part influencing their decision process; if they think females might tend to fuck it all up because they’re inclined to be more ‘emotional’ or ‘can’t handle the big dogs.’”

In terms of being on the outside, “I know group chats exist within the boys. I understand that closer friendships and camaraderie is key to a healthy workplace but I know that if I ever requested to join one of those group chats, I’d be denied. It’s that exclusivity that really makes you wonder: what sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic jokes could be made in [the chats]?”

Sad white babies with mean feminist mommies

The trope ‘Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies’ was coined by journalist Jessica Valenti, who made a collection of these kinds of unappealing images of cis, straight, white working mums which permeate the media. This stereotype has been around long enough to have secured itself firmly in our subconscious as an accurate projection of working motherhood and the ideal ‘victim’ of the gender pay gap.

It also simultaneously dismisses the existence and struggles of POC and LGBTIQ+ people and families, despite the fact that they are often the most vulnerable to unconscious bias and discrimination that contributes to the GPG. As Miss Blanks wrote in this phenomenal article about the #MeToo movement, “My voice was dismissed as invalid while prominent white voices were amplified… White feminism is just too racist and misogynistic.” When we talk about working mothers and the discrimination and unconscious bias that contributes to the gender pay gap, it is crucial that these voices are championed.

Nobody puts Baby in the corner (except businesses)

The inflexible structure of businesses remains one of the biggest barriers to parents – mostly mothers as primary caregivers – in remaining in the workforce after children. Despite female graduates outnumbering men at record levels, we’re also seeing more women leaving the workforce in their prime, creating a massive talent deficit.

Nilsson illustrates: “A friend of mine who works freelance got dropped by a client last week because they discovered she was heavily pregnant. I still feel like that’s a concern for a lot of women who are of childbearing age – that people would prefer to hire a man and not take the risk.”

So how do we support women to continue to work after having children?

Case in point: Spotify’s parental leave policy. Every full-time employee is eligible for six months 100% paid parental leave, as well as a seventh month to transition back to full-time work. This is available for men and women. According to Spotify, after six months and 186 employees using the benefit, they found that:

  • All employees who went on leave came back appreciative of it.
  • With planning, there was no disruption and the business did not suffer.
  • Out of the 29 employees in the US who used the benefit, 90% are male.
  • The world did not turn upside down.

Monique Rothstein, Founder and Director of boutique PR company Positive Feedback – which employees five women and one male – says “I’m incredibly passionate about creating an environment where my colleagues feel supported. This means being flexible around availabilities… We are understanding that there are family commitments during traditional working hours and this time is made up after hours if required.

“Considering the unstructured business hours of this unique industry, everyone needs to create their own personal boundaries for how they can live sustainably.”

While business restructuring and proactivity will go a long way to closing the gap, what remains a major barrier is the freelance, self-employed, gig-based economy at the heart of the music industry. “The music industries are, to a great extent, unregulated and informal, especially in the area of live music performance,” says Dr Strong. “There are no set working hours, and women musicians, for the most part, don’t have access to things like maternity leave, or programs that make returning to work after having a child easier. Music is often performed in ‘family unfriendly’ hours also.”

When it comes to more established company policy, “Flexibility is key,” says Jana Gibson, Director Writer Services at APRA AMCOS. “The biggest challenge in the larger companies within the industry is senior management understanding some of the commitments of the working parent.

“Just as being spontaneous with work-related events is harder with family, managing children’s illness or school commitments can also be a challenge with pending work deadlines… I’ve worked at APRA AMCOS for 15 years and taken three maternity breaks. Each time I returned to work on a part-time basis. My working arrangements have remained flexible throughout that time and I’ve continued to progress through many roles and stages of management. I’ve kept to deadlines (even if a little sleep deprived) and it’s led to my commitment to my work.

“But an important part of the message for supporting women with children is that it’s not just women that should be offered the flexibility, men should be too. This ensures that it’s an equitable offering.”

As with all matters of equality, the GPG requires all parties to work collaboratively to make the music industry a more welcoming, inclusive, diverse and supportive space.

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