Tech Column: Bridging the gap

Kirsty Devaney and Nick Hughes
Saturday, April 1, 2023

Composer-educator Dr Kirsty Devaney and music-technology teacher and senior examiner Nick Hughes reflect on the gender disparity in music tech and share ideas on how to improve this.

Natalie Roe, composer-in-residence at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Young Composers Project
Natalie Roe, composer-in-residence at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Young Composers Project


The shocking statistics published by Music Teacher in October 2022 revealed that less than a quarter of A Level Music Technology students are female. On top of this, the data identified a gender attainment gap, with a lower percentage of female students receiving top grades. We know that qualifications such as A Level act as gateways to further study and the profession. Research has already shown that women are significantly underrepresented in the music technology industry (Yorkshire Sound Women Network, 2018), therefore fewer female students at A Level will inevitably reinforce the gender gap.

Access routes and role models

Do girls and young women have the same experiences and confidence with technology as boys growing up? Societal factors, including traditional expectations of gender roles, can impact future career choices. For a long time, music technology has been perceived as a ‘masculine’ domain (Boise, 2018, p.33), with men viewed as the experts (Armstrong, 2011). These assumptions can be played out within the classroom. For example, Green (2002) found teachers perceived distinct gender roles in the classroom, often linking girls to more ‘conventional notions of femininity’ (p.138) and boys as more ‘imaginative, adventurous and creative’ (p.139). Another study with music teachers back in 1993 found that: ‘Where boys automatically use the equipment, you have to lead the girls to it like a horse to water’ (Comber, Hargreaves and Colley, 1993, p.132). Is this still the case 30 years later?

Anecdotally, from 12 years’ experience of examining A Level Music Technology, there are centres that have large cohorts of female candidates but, perhaps unsurprisingly, these are mostly from independent all-girl schools. Is an all-female space a safer environment where students feel more secure in investigating the subject? Education schemes such as those ran by the Yorkshire Sound Women Network dismantle some of the stigma around music technology, providing a platform for girls and gender minority people to learn from professional female practitioners. But these sorts of programmes, although impactful for those taking part, are not accessible to all, meaning that we need to look at how we teach music technology in schools.

Natalie Roe, a former student at RWCMD and composer-in-residence at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Young Composers Project, says: ‘Growing up, I always had an interest in music technology but never really felt there was as much opportunity to explore this fully at school. ‘It was only when I studied music technology alongside composition at conservatoire level that I realised the creative scope technology offers. Music teachers in schools and music services are some of the most valuable role models for young creatives and it is down to everyone to bring women and gendered minority people to the forefront of electronic music.’

We know there is a higher percentage of women music teachers in the country (Scharff, 2015); overwhelmingly, however, the names that appear on signed coursework forms are male. Similarly, Scharff found that less than 10 per cent of music technology, production and composition staff at conservatoires were female. If female music teachers feel unprepared to teach music technology, what message does this give students? To break this cycle, perhaps more needs to be done in higher education and teacher training, to ensure all have basic training on music technology. This is especially critical given the importance of music technology in the music industry, something the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted. On a more positive note, in recent years it has been observed that more female names have appeared on signed coursework, suggesting more women are teaching music technology in schools.

Thinking of the future

Representation and role models make a difference; female football is a really good example of this. Without diverse representation, negative stereotypes continue to be promoted; therefore, by showing examples of positive role models, we can help to inspire students to see the profession as a viable option.

So, what could we do as music educators to help bridge the gap? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Banish the ‘boys club’ attitude that can be found in recording studios.
  2. Play music by female producers/engineers. You don’t need to refer to them as a ‘female producer’: play their work and say their name. This applies even if you have a class full of boys.
  3. Spend more time with younger female students in KS3/4 lessons when using technology. Coax them, guide them, praise them.
  4. Offer technical opportunities to female students setting up shows/concerts/productions.
  5. Create posters of successful female producers.
  6. Explore the works of female media composers such as Sarah Schachner and Hildur Guðnadóttir, or even base schemes of learning around their work.
  7. If using YouTube tutorial videos in the classroom, try to find female presenters. The channels ‘Waves’ and ‘LNA does Audio’ are excellent examples.

As music teachers, we are the gatekeepers of new music; we are shaping the future of sound. We all know how one small interaction with a student can change their life, so let’s make every moment count when we interact with, and talk about, women in music technology.

Links and references

  • Armstrong, V., 2011. Technology and the gendering of music education. Ashgate.
  • Boise, S., 2018. Gender inequalities and higher music education: Comparing the UK and Sweden. British Journal of Music Education, 35(1), pp.23–41
  • Comber, C., Hargreaves, D. and Colley, A., 1993. Girls, boys and technology in music education. British Journal of Music Education, 10(2), pp.123–34.
  • Green, L., 2002. Exposing the gendered discourse of music education. Feminism & Psychology, 12(2), pp.137–44.
  • Scharff, C., 2015. Equality and diversity in the classical music profession: ly/3YVQ7W4
  • Yorkshire Sound Women Network (2018). Volume up! How you can support equality in the audio industry: ly/3YPDMm0