Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. — Don’t be afraid to be challenged every day. This had been the best thing from WAM. You want doers around you, not Yes people.
Asa part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terri Winston. Terri founded Women’s Audio Mission (WAM), a San Francisco based non-profit dedicated to the advancement of women in music production and the recording arts, to “change the face of sound” by providing hands-on training, career counseling and job placement for women and girls. Her love of music and the recording arts spans 30 years. Winston was signed as a recording artist, engineer and producer by Polygram and BMG, and has shared the stage with such acts as P.J. Harvey, Pixies, Throwing Muses, Flaming Lips, Fugazi, Cake, and Third Eye Blind. Winston has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University and is currently serving on the Recording Academy’s (Grammy’s) National Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and The Academy of Country Music’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas recruited years ago by City College of San Francisco as a professor to create the music production and sound recording arts program, and also increase gender diversity. I had been in the recording industry for over 15 years at that point and was ashamed to admit that I hadn’t noticed just how few women were in this industry. I could count on one hand the number of women recording engineers I knew. After some research, I was certain that there were less than 5% women in this field and realized this wasn’t just about gender equity, but about how deeply this imbalance effects the messaging and media in our daily lives. Women’s voices are inaudible because we are not involved in the production of these messages. Over the course of two years I increased the enrollment of women and gender non-conforming folks to over 53% and that was the beginning of Women’s Audio Mission. Schools and companies wanted to know how we had done this and Women’s Audio Mission was created to amplify these best practices.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
One of the more interesting adventures was being asked to join the Recording Academy’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion to advise on the industry challenges of gender equality. The Producer & Engineer Inclusion Initiative was formed in the wake of criticism about the lack of female representation at the 2018 Grammy Awards, and the industry at large. It was great to serve alongside Obama advisor Tina Tchen, Sheryl Crow, Common, Cam and Andra Day to move the needle on this and so quickly make an impact. The first result was a significant increase in the number of women artists featured on the Grammy show this past year. It was really important to get WAM’s experience and expertise in front of so many people in the industry. WAM created the only professional recording studios in the world built and run by women and gender-non-conforming folks. This not only shifts the gender balance but moves us towards creating safe spaces where women and gender non-conforming artists can thrive.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There were so many crazy situations at the beginning of WAM and during the physical construction of our first studio. We took some very big risks and it was dangerous. Hanging upside down from ceiling joists installing layers of drywall, lifting an incredibly heavy ceiling frame up on to the walls. In hindsight, I am not sure I would advocate for a bunch of volunteers with power tools again in terms of risk management, but it got the job done and I am so proud of everyone that made that studio — the first in the world built and run by women — possible.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes WAM stand out is that we are incredibly action oriented and we do things that no one has ever done before — we prove the concept before we ever get support. We were the first organization to focus on the chronic lack of women on the technical side of the music industry — less than 5% women are involved in the production of all the sounds in of our lives. To combat that, we built the first recording studios in the world built and run by women and offered certification training. We now train over 2,000 women, girls and gender non-conforming folks every year. We also started the first conference series specifically focusing on advancing women/GNC in the audio/recording industries.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Weare really excited about our WAMCon Recording Arts Conference series that we launched two years ago to bring our training across the country, connect women to the top pros in the industry, and give them unique access to some of the most iconic audio production spaces in the world. It was another industry first and we’ve sold out every conference. Last year we were able to reach over 800 aspiring women music producers and recording engineers through WAMCon. We have hosted the conferences at Capitol Studios and Disney Animation Studios in Los Angeles, Jungle City (Alicia Keys’ studio) and You Tube Space in New York, Ocean Way Nashville and connected women with music producers like Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera), recording engineers like Gena Johnson who engineered for Kacey Musgraves, Brandi Carlile and Lady Gaga and Simone Torres the vocal producer for Cardi B and Dua Lipa. In 2020, we’ll host our 7th and 8th conferences, in Los Angeles and New York.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
No, of course not, we have a 70% decline in young women entering college STEM programs since the year 2000. It’s so depressing that we were making great strides in STEM in the 80s and 90s and are now experiencing this backslide. That is why WAM developed a STEM curriculum that specifically attracts girls to STEM studies. This was studied by the White House Office of Social Innovation during the Obama Administration and is the first step in increasing the pipeline. But the second part of this equation is retention. Women and gender non-conforming people are leaving STEM careers because the work environments are toxic. We need to make the tech sector inclusive and welcoming to women, GNC folks and people of color. Education alone can’t solve this.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Women are under-represented and are entering work environments that are toxic because the overwhelming majority is not considering what it might feel like by the tiny minority. They’re often the only woman in the room and they don’t feel supported. Companies that want to increase diversity need to make a conscious effort to hire and provide the support to retain diverse teams. At the same time, women need to know that if they’re in a non-supportive place, it’s OK to move on. There are male allies out there that want to help. Find your tribe.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
The most prevalent myth is that women and girls are not interested in STEM. It’s a lazy analysis. After bringing creative technology training to over 17,000 women and girls and seeing over 80% persistence, I can tell you with 100% confidence, women and girls are very interested in STEM and technology. However, STEM studies need to be presented in an inclusive environment and this has not historically been the case. Women and girls haven’t been a part of framing what it means to be a part of the technology sector- what it means to be an engineer for instance. STEM needs to be presented in a way that makes it is useful to everyone, as a tool to express oneself and then women, girls, gender-nonconforming people will be to see a path for themselves and reframe what it means to be a part of the technology sector.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. — Don’t be afraid to be challenged every day. This had been the best thing from WAM. You want doers around you, not Yes people.
- Be able to tell your story. Not an elevator pitch but a very authentic picture that will make people trust you and your vision. The ability to clearly articulate your story is key.
- Persistence — A “No” today turns to a “Yes” in the future. And that “No” gives you information on how to flip the situation.
- Don’t waste time and energy on the nay-sayers. Go around them and find the people that will support you.
- Be overprepared. — For every meeting, presentation, prospective funder, for every cocktail party and coffee. You never know who you will meet and you want to be able to deliver.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Make sure your team knows what the vision as well as their critical and individual role in the vision. They really need to feel like an important part of a movement or part of something special. Build trust. Be clear that you won’t delegate things you couldn’t or wouldn’t do yourself — they need to trust that you are a team and all in this work together.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Create a stable staffing structure that supports each of your areas of expertise as a leader, i.e. a lead for technology, a lead for finance, a lead for HR/people and then effectively delegate and trust your chosen leaders.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Early in my career as a recording artist I was in the studio Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith’s guitar player, who was producing our album. My band had just been signed and he was the first famous person I had worked with. Lenny was the one who made the connection that my home should be in the recording studio since it best used my musical background and my engineering background. That really helped me explore the intersection of music and technology and put me on the path I’m on today.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Ilike to think that starting Women’s Audio Mission and inspiring 17,000 girls, women and gender non-conforming folks to study and pursue creative technology and STEM has brought some goodness to the world. I am proud that we have built the only recording studios in the world built and run by women. It’s a great environment to attract girls to STEM and show them the potential that exists there. That feels like goodness!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Women’s Audio Mission is a movement, we are “changing the face of sound” every day by making sure that women, girls and gender non-conforming folks have access to the tools and training to amplify their voices and make sure they are part of the production process of all of the sounds and messages that make up the soundtrack of our lives. We’ve transformed the industry in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, with women working at every major venue, recording studio or production space and we are working to spread this movement across the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do”Georgia O’Keefe
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Alunch with Beyonce, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Oprah. Why limit oneself? But not sure the earth could handle so much power in one room.