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Terri Winston

Founder and executive director, Women’s Audio Mission

“You can effect change on your team, in your family, with your friends, by asking questions. Ask yourself: What is my part in this issue? Then be willing to hustle and find suggestions and answers.”

Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) trains under-resourced women, girls and gender-diverse individuals, largely low income and of color, every year to address the gender gap in music and media technology and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). WAM’s Girls on the Mic program works with girls 11-18 to amplify their voices and creativity and inspire the next generation of innovators. WAM believes that women’s mastery of technology and inclusion in music/media production will decrease the gender gap in both the music/media and tech industries, increase economic opportunity for women.

The problem I’m trying to solve

Less than 3 percent of music producers and recording engineers — the technical side of all the sounds we listen to every day — are women. Nearly half the world is female, and yet only a few of us are creating those messages in the soundtrack of our lives. It’s a bigger issue than that: Less than 15 percent of the most popular Billboard songs are written by women. Most of the messages young girls receive, even if delivered by powerful women, are written by men and don’t represent the lived experience of women or girls. This is exacerbated by the lack of women in the recording studios where these songs and messages are created.

The moment that sparked my passion

I had been working in the music industry for over 10 years as an engineer when I was recruited in 2001 to create and run the Sound Recording Arts program at City College of San Francisco. My students were asking why there were so few women in the classes, and I was pretty ashamed that I didn’t have an answer. Founding WAM two years later was my way of addressing that. We formed a small group of women students in the program in what I thought was going to be a club. It hit a nerve, expanded, and we’ve been riding the tiger ever since. Now there’s more demand, especially nationally, than we can keep up with.

What I wish other people knew

I wish women and gender-diverse individuals knew that as hard as this industry seems, we have created a huge community of male allies who really want to help bring women into music technology. There are so many companies we work with, who come to our internship programs to recruit, saying to women: “We want you here.” That is so important for women and gender-diverse folks to know and feel included. We’ve placed close to a thousand women in positions in the industry, and when the next cohort of interns sees those placements, they believe that this can happen to me. It’s also important for male allies to know how crucial their role is in creating diversity and making women feel included.

Why my approach is unique

WAM’s approach is unique because we are using the universal language of music and our technology-fueled professional recording studios to attract girls and women to technology so that they can amplify their voices. There’s a difference between how boys and girls are socialized around technology: Boys tend to like gadgets, whereas girls need a reason to use tech. Our approach provides a way to technology through girls’ and women’s lived experiences and stories. It’s a big shift in power. The STEM component is fundamental, but using it for their own power, voice, music, that’s what’s unique — and important.

Advice to others who want to make a difference

My M.O. has been to ask a lot of questions. I’m on the Grammys’ and Academy of Country Music’s national diversity and inclusion task forces, and big things have changed quickly just by asking simple questions like “Why has there never been a woman nominated for audio engineer of the year?” It was hard — I didn’t love asking that in front of 40 people! But a year later, Gena Johnson was nominated at the 2021 ACM awards. This also applies to life. You can effect change on your team, in your family, with your friends, by asking questions. Ask yourself: What is my part in this issue? Then be willing to hustle and find suggestions and answers.

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