New York, NY (October 19, 2017)—Anyone who has been paying attention to the news at all in recent years has heard the phrase “diversity and inclusion” again and again as being one of the aims of a society attempting to live up to the words and ideals of the country’s founding fathers. Another type of society—the Audio Engineering Society—yesterday did its own part to become a reflection of an evolving demographic by introducing its first Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee via town hall forum. Moderated by AES Vice President (Western Region) Leslie Gaston-Bird, the event was an effort to define the new committee’s purpose to 143rd Convention attendees and the public in general.
Notably the first African-American to serve on the AES Board of Governors, Gaston-Bird preluded the open panel discussion by first framing the Society’s diversity in terms of both demographic differences amongst its members as well as variances in disciplines, genres and styles within audio engineering. “It’s so important to get different viewpoints on what diversity actually means,” she offered. “So what is diversity? We think of diversity, of course, in social contexts. A lot of people think about race—having diversity with maybe a token person representing something—but it doesn’t have to be just race, or ethnicity, [or] age—whether you’re on the older or younger end of the spectrum—[or] nationality, or even physical ability. But as the members of the committee began to talk about what diversity meant, it is also [about] diversity [within] what we do and how well the Society represents all of these different disciplines…so I think it’s important for us to constantly engage with our membership and let them know that we are listening, and we want to appeal to everyone we can.”
Gaston-Bird went on to explain how diversity stats are not clear, as reported by an August 2017 article in The Atlantic, reportedly due to members leaving out details on membership forms. “That article quoted a paper saying, ‘well, we don’t really know what the gender breakdown [of the AES] is because not everybody fills that information out.’ So we want to encourage people to complete that [section] and maybe even get into some more demographic data. How are we going to do that? It’s going to take planning and input from the community.”
Creating more diversity amongst audio engineers in the future is indeed happening, explained Terri Winston, Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Audio Mission, and it all starts with education. “We’re heading into our 15th year, and we’ve trained over 10,000 women and girls in audio,” she notes. “We’re up to training 1,500 women and girls every year, and are about to push that to 3,000 women and girls every year. So we’re not focusing on the data; we know that the data is bad. We’re focusing on the solution. We’re very focused on education, [teaching] underserved girls. 90 percent are girls of color; 96 percent are low income. We are embedded in both the San Francisco and Oakland unified school districts, so we are looking at systemic change here. Our curriculum has been included in the Common Core for both of those districts. It’s great to see how great middle school girls take to this. The barrier is more around socialization and less around their capabilities or interests.”
“As an organization, our mission is to lift our industry,” noted Bob Moses, Executive Director, Audio Engineering Society. “We do that through education, innovation and building community through events like this one. It breaks my heart when there are people who feel that they are not invited, that we’re not open. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. And if there’s something that this group can achieve, it’s to let everyone know that they are welcome. I don’t think we have a higher calling than what the essence of this group is.”
“Yes, the AES reflects the industry and whatever imbalances there are, but it’s not enough to wait for the industry to gradually change,” offered AES President Alex Case. “We have to find the points of being proactive to change that. So I think that this committee is the AES saying, ‘We’re not just going to passively let the industry evolve. Let’s find the places where we can play offense.”
Leslie Ann Jones—Recording Engineer and Producer, Director of Music Recording and Scoring at Skywalker Sound as well as this year’s AES Heyser Lecturer—lauded the actions of fellow panelists as well as the purpose and promise of D&I’s efforts thus far. “I think what Karrie [Keyes, Executive Director, SoundGirls.org] and Terri are doing in terms of girls and young women is so important. But I do feel like [inclusion] has to be a very holistic effort. Things have really changed since I started—hearing conversations about people using a genderless name [on job applications] so that they can be treated equally. I chose to use my middle name so people knew that I was a woman … [but] I think, with a concerted effort from all of us, [greater diversity in audio engineering] will happen, instead of it being so segmented.”
Members of the first AES Diversity and Inclusion Committee members are: Leslie Gaston-Bird, AES Vice President (Western Region); Terri Winston, Founder and Executive Director, Women’s Audio Mission; Piper Payne, Owner, Neato Mastering and President of San Francisco’s Chapter of the Recording Academy; Karrie Keyes, Executive Director of SoundGirls.org; Leslie Ann Jones, Recording Engineer and Producer, Director of Music Recording and Scoring at Skywalker Sound, 2017 AES Heyser Lecturer; AES Executive Director Bob Moses; and AES President Alex Case.