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Q&A: ITV sound supervisor Heather Benson on gender diversity in the industry

Tara Lepore 17 August 2017
Q&A: ITV sound supervisor Heather Benson on gender diversity in the industry

With a career in the broadcast audio sector spanning almost a decade, ITV trainee sound supervisor Heather Benson has seen a lot of changes in the market. Here, she discusses the subject of gender diversity in the pro audio industry over the past 10 years and why she believes the business is currently headed in the right direction…

How and when did you first start working in the audio industry? 

My love for audio came via rather a different path to what most of my peers would probably have. From a young age I had always been involved in performing, particularly as a dancer and that was what I had always wanted to do. When I reached college and started to study Music Technology to help me be able to edit my own music for my dance course assignments, I realised that this was much more interesting and had more to it than I initially expected. From this I studied Popular Music and Recording at The University of Salford and left feeling unsure as to which direction to take.

When I first started in the broadcast industry in 2008, it was quite a difficult climate in the North. Around that time as the company that I was shadowing at were going through a quite substantial change in the way that they were crewing and were in process of making more than half of the department redundant. Until I had been in for that initial shadow day, I hadn’t given broadcast sound a second thought.

People are people, whether male or female and I believe that being a good sound engineer and supervisor isn’t limited because of your gender

My main focus had been working with recorded music and live sound so that initial day in studio took me completely by surprise. Seeing how all of the different departments came together to create a technically complicated show absolutely blew me away and I remember leaving knowing that this was what I wanted to do. I hadn’t even been an audience member in a TV studio before and remember feeling a real buzz about the entertainment that was happening right there in front of all of those people. At the time, there were a lot of crew members who were warning me off and advising that it wouldn’t be worth the effort… thankfully I didn’t listen and still to this day feel the excitement of being a part of making television shows.

Were you conscious of the lack of women working in similar roles at the time?

I had met a few women working in broadcast as sound assistants and gram operators at the time, though there was noticeably less women working in more senior roles. I don’t recall meeting a female sound supervisor until I had been in the industry for around four years. That said, I don’t for a minute believe that that is because women are seen less able. It appeared to me that people at supervisor level are required to have a certain level of experience so my interpretation is that when my colleagues were recruited there may not have been as many women coming into the industry. A female colleague of mine recalled when she started and she was the only female in the entire sound department. I am currently working for ITV Entertainment as a trainee sound supervisor and I believe the number of men to women that applied for the job was substantially more male dominated.

Have you ever encountered gender discrimination of any kind during your career, either first hand or witnessing it in the workplace?

I haven’t experienced much in the way of gender discrimination. In fact, I would go as far as saying that any I have encountered has been positive discrimination. There are some shows and circumstances that may require a female due to the nature of the content or contributors.

There were a lot of crew members who were warning me off and advising that it wouldn’t be worth the effort… thankfully I didn’t listen and still to this day feel the excitement of being a part of making television shows

How has the gender balance/imbalance changed since you started work in the industry?

The balance between genders is constantly neutralising as we move further away from the ways of the past. Old attitudes seem to have depleted and the male to female ratio seems to be pretty even now.

 What are the key reasons behind these changes? Are there any initiatives or campaigns that have been put in place to help create a more balanced working environment?

I can’t think of any specific campaigns that may have contributed specifically to our industry. Society has changed a lot since Broadcasting began and I feel like that would be the most influential factor. People are people, whether male or female and I believe that being a good sound engineer and supervisor isn’t limited because of your gender.

 What would your advice be to any young women looking to start a career in the audio industry?

My advice to any women coming in to the industry would be the same as I would say to any man too! Take the opportunities that are given to you, even the ones that require you to get experience for free. These ones sometimes will lead to further opportunities that will be invaluable in the long run and will increase your profile. Networking is a key element of the job and you never know where a good relationship with a contact may lead.

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