Gender Equality in the Cultural Sector

Beth Ponte
11 min readMar 30, 2021

The arts & creative industries are still a battleground when it comes to gender equality.

Students at the Bauhaus School (Germany) in 1928. At the progressive school, considered the birthplace of modern design, women were discouraged from studying painting, sculpture and architecture. Photo: Kath Both / Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.

The Women’s History Month is close to ending, but our fight is not. As an arts manager, I know that the arts and creative industries are fascinating fields of work. But this does not make them an exception in relation to gender inequality present in other sectors and industries and we need to talk about it. The cultural sector is still a battleground when it comes to gender equality.

We have increasing access to data that proves that women working in the cultural and creative sectors also suffer from the same evils that affect female professionals in other sectors of the economy. They face limited participation in decision-making positions (the ‘glass ceiling’), have fewer opportunities for continuous training, capacity building and networking; less access to resources and large wage differences (UNESCO, 2014).

In Brazil, wage inequality between men and women is greater in the cultural sector than in the total of activities. Women in the cultural field earn on average only 67.8% of men’s salaries, compared to 82.8% in all other sectors. (IBGE,SIIC 2018).

In addition, some characteristics of the cultural sector make gender inequality even more multifaceted. The informality and seasonality of performing arts projects, for example, weigh more on women, generally impacted by the unequal division of domestic and family tasks.

Women are still affected by gender stereotypes about leadership roles or even certain professions, resulting in segregation in certain activities (‘glass walls’). Gender stereotypes in relation to leadership help to explain, for example, why even after so many advances we still have so few female film directors, creative directors or orchestra conductors. But stereotypes don’t just affect leadership positions. Have you noticed that the brass sections in orchestras (trumpets, trombones, horns and tubas) are almost always exclusively male? It is no accident.

But this is still not the worst: in recent years, the #MeToo movement and other similar initiatives around the world have shown how sexual and moral harassment and psychological violence, which most often victimize women, can still be part of the organizational culture in the arts and in entertainment sectors. And we must not forget that all these challenges are even more acute and frequent for black women in any position in the creative chain and in any segment of the cultural sector.

“I have noticed for a long time that there not have been many black women in the nonprofit sector in leadership roles: there aren´t enough mentors, there aren´t enough leaders, there aren´t enough voices and role models to follow.”

Traci Lester, Executive Director of the National Dance Institute (US)

Many people, organizations and collectives are convinced that this has to change. I selected some references from organizations, resources and special content in English and Portuguese for everyone who believes that the cultural sector will only help to build a better future when it becomes a more just and equal field of work for all women.

Gender, the creative economy and cultural policies

UNESCO ‘Gender Equality, Heritage and Creativity’ (2014)

Developed by the Culture Sector of UNESCO, this report brought together for the first-time existing research, policies, case studies and statistics on gender equality and women’s empowerment in culture. It includes recommendations for governments, decision-makers and the international community, within the fields of creativity and heritage. Available in English, French and Spanish.

Re|shaping cultural policies: advancing creativity for development; 2005 Convention global Report (2018)

UNESCO’s Global Report tracks progress in implementing the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, currently ratified by 146 Parties. The report provides relevant data on gender inequality in culture, illustrated very clearly.

UNESCO´s data on gender gaps in the cultural sector worldwide (2018)

“The idea that creativity is masculine leads to the marginalization of women from prestigious creative roles in the cultural Industries and to their concentration in jobs involving qualities that are stereotypically attributed to them.”

Sandrine Pujar

Combating stereotypes: new research on gender inequality in the culture sector (2016)

Sandrine Pujar, the author of the research promoted by Culture Action Europe, analyses the problem of discrimination against women in the cultural sector and proposes ways to reduce inequalities. She suggests improvements at four levels of cultural work: creation, production, distribution and participation.

Gender in Culture/ European Institute for Gender Equality (2017)

This publication analyses gender gaps hampering women’s equal participation in the cultural field and shares cases of gender equality policy objectives at the EU and international level, as well as useful resources and practical examples of mainstreaming gender into cultural policy.



#WakingTheFeminists began as a campaign for equality for women in Irish theatre in late 2015. In 2016 they commissioned groundbreaking research (Gender Counts) into the gender balance and collected data on 1,155 productions over a ten-year period (2006–2015). Among many findings, the research showed that the four highest-funded Irish theatres had the lowest female representation.

One of the key recommendations of the Gender Counts report was to encourage theatre organisations to count and record their own figures. In 2020, the researchers published an interim report on what progress had been made in the 5 years since #WakingTheFeminists. Good news: the percentage of work being written/created by women has increased across all organisations included in the original research.

RESPECT IN SCENE/ Respeito em Cena

Conceived by Brazilian documentary filmmaker, artistic director and activist Luciana Sérvulo da Cunha, the NGO “RESPECT IN SCENE” (Respeito em cena) puts psychological violence in the artistic environment under the spotlight. The movement has a team of specialists and artists from 11 countries in the first Latin American Campaign Against Psychological Violence in the artistic world.

Film industry

“This is not underrepresentation. This is erasure and I call this the epidemic of invisibility.”
Stacy Smith — Media researcher

Stacy Smith´s TED Talk on the data behind Hollywood´s sexism was given in 2016 but remains actual.

Women and Hollywood

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates, and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry. The website was founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein.

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University is home to the longest-running and most comprehensive studies of women in film and television in the US. Dedicated to producing extensive and timely research, studies generated by the Center provide the foundation for a realistic and meaningful discussion of women’s on-screen representation and behind-the-scenes employment.

Black Women Film!

In 2016 Annual Black Women Film! Leadership Program was founded by Ella Cooper, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts and partners. Since then, Black Women Film has become a collective and catalyst in the sector dedicated to providing professional development, a network and a platform for Black women identified filmmakers and media artists.

Watch this video of their award-winning film camp model for Black teen girls mentored and supported by Black Women Film alumni and industry professionals to create their first short films.

Array Alliance

Founded by filmmaker, distributor and activist Ava Duvernay, Array Alliance amplify stories of underrepresented communities by providing women of all kinds and people of colour with the resources needed to ensure that diverse perspectives have a platform for change. They believe that all people deserve to see their experiences reflected in cinema with authenticity and develop several programs — including mentorship, education and grantmaking — targeted primarily for women.


Women in the U.S. Music Industry obstacles and opportunities

“Women in the US Music Industry: Obstacles and Opportunities” survey, by Berklee College of Music and the International NGO Women in Music (WIM), investigated the female presence in the North American market. Nearly 2,000 women of all ages, races and ethnicities across the United States responded to the survey. Inspired by this report, DATA SIM carried out during 2019 the first Brazilian survey on female participation in the music sector.

Report on Women in High-Visibility Positions in Professional Orchestras in Germany

Germany is known as the country of symphonic orchestras, a sector still marked by intense gender inequality. A study, written by Melissa Panlasigui by Música Femina in Munich, examined the gender gap in 120 professional orchestras in the country in the 2019/2020 season. In the leadership positions, such as music director and artistic director, women represent only 8% of the charges — a figure well below the overall national level of 27% of women in leadership positions in Germany. In the subscription series, less than 2% of the programming featured works by composers.

Female conductors in the US — League of American Orchestras

Jennifer Melick wrote the great article “It´s about time” for the League of American Orchestras´ magazine and interviewed several female conductors on gender equity in North American orchestras. In March 2021 Aubrey Bergauer released an analysis showing that women tend to lead orchestras with lower budgets.

Women have made great strides over the past several decades as orchestral musicians. However, like in Germany, the increase in the number of women in leadership positions, especially as conductors and music directors, still lags.

Museums and Galeries

Gender Equity in Museums Movement

Since 2014, the Association of Arts Museum Directors has published the Gender Gap Reports, which show that women occupy less than half of museum boards in the U.S. and that the average wages of directors are lower than that of directors.

These data encouraged the consolidation of the “Gender Equity in Museums Movement” (GEMM), a coalition of North American professionals and organizations in defence of transparency about gender equity in museum institutions. Among several resources, they created the “5 things you need to know”, a collection with useful information on topics like sexual harassment in the workplace, salary negotiation, networking, dealing with negative feedback, etc.

Guerrilla Girls

It is impossible to think about gender activism in the art world and not to think about Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous feminist artists whose goal is to combat sexism and sexism in the art world. The group was formed in New York in 1985, with a mission to bring gender and race inequality to the public within the artistic community.

Women in Culture — Google Arts & Culture

Get inspired by this special Google Arts & Culture project bringing together works and collections from more than 50 museums worldwide. The exhibition presents innovative artists and pioneering scientists to women who campaigned for universal suffrage and social equality.

Black Women in Visual Art

Black Women in Visual Art (BWVA) is an US organization for women, visual art and culture professionals of the African Diaspora. BWVA aims to foster networks, share resources, and develop programs with the goal of increasing visibility for women in the global majority. BWVA was created by Lauren Jackson Harris and Daricia Mia DeMar to steward and nurture enduring representation and leadership in the visual arts and cultural sector.

Muna — Mulheres Negras nas Artes

MUNA is a Brazilian organization whose main objective is to strengthen the network of Black Women in the Arts, with the desire to encourage and stimulate the protagonism of these artists within the contemporary art scene.

Creative industries

3% Movement

Kat Gordon worked for 20 years as a Copywriter/Creative Director and founded The 3% Movement after knowing that only 3% of all U.S. Creative Directors were women. Through a mix of content, community and professional development, the Movement helped raise the number of female CDs to 29% while giving agencies a clear road map of ways to champion female creative talent and leadership. In 2017 they published a report Where we stand, highlight gender gaps in the sector.

Conversations with leading women in the creative industry

Aimee Thompson (BEOM Studio) interviewed leading women in the UK creative industry. They talk about their influences, obstacles and what they’d like to see change.

L’association HF Île-de-France

The HF Île-de-France association was born in November 2009, in Paris, at the initiative of women and men working in the field of entertainment, radio and cinema. It is part of the inter-regional federation of the HF Movement, made up of 9 collectives comprising more than 1000 members. The association contributes to the orientation of public policies and artistic and cultural actions towards real equality between women and men: in the distribution of positions of responsibility and means of production, in the composition of juries and decision-making bodies, in programming, etc.

Rebuild, Reconcile, Reimagine: A List of Demands for Centering Black Women’s Leadership in Arts Education

The New York City Arts in Education Roundtable stimulated the creation of a coalition of Black cultural workers to support and advocate for Black women teaching artists, administrators and executives in this field.

They created a List of Demands for Centering Black Women’s Leadership in Arts Education. It´s a remarkable example of a call for action: they demand that cultural organizations rethink their infrastructure, mission, and core values, and the degree to which the centre and support Black women’s leadership. They advocate for investments related to recruitment, fair compensation, mental health care, mentorship, career advancement, professional development, and equal opportunities for black women.

Beth Ponte is a Brazilian arts manager, researcher and consultant. She is the author of the Quality for Culture Resource Guide. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Brazilian Association of Social Organizations for Culture (ABRAOSC) and an associate researcher at the Creative Economy Observatory of Bahia (OBEC-BA). From 2010 to 2018, she was Institutional Director of the NEOJIBA Program (State Centers for Youth and Children Orchestras of Bahia) and, until 2020, she was German Chancellor Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, in Germany. >>



Beth Ponte

Gestão cultural com propósito // Arts management with purpose (PT/EN)