Women at Work Stepping up to the mic

Want your message heard? Hire a female announcer

Voice acting, an industry long dominated by white men, gets a shot of diversity with more opportunities for women and people of color. Consumer preferences, new technology and shifts in training are driving the change.

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The number of postings for female voices is growing faster (24%) than the rate of new jobs posted for males (16%). This trend has been developing for at least the last four years. Source: Voices.com, 2018 study

More than 20 years ago, Sheri Blanks answered a help-wanted ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch to work the overnight slot at a local radio station. She was hired on the spot. 

Blanks moved up in the ranks to the coveted afternoon drive-time slot. By then, she was doing commercial voice-overs for the station as well as some national advertisements, running from one studio to another to record her lines between songs on her show. 

When Blanks left Richmond, Virginia, in 2008 for New York City, she began to work full time as a voice artist. She had retained some clients from her days in radio, but she also spent a lot of time online searching for jobs that sought women’s voices. Over the years, that search has gotten easier. 

“I am definitely seeing a lot more opportunities for women online and more opportunities for accents and men and women of color,” Blanks said. “I feel like I have been busier than ever.”

Sheri Blanks, a New York City-based voice-over artist, has worked on campaigns for national brands, including American Express, Dove and the NHL. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Blanks)

Traditionally, voice-over work has been a male-dominated industry with most clients looking for a big booming announcer voice, said Julianna Jones, a manager at Voices.com, the largest marketplace for voice-over services. But since 2014, demand for female voices has been growing, according to company data.

“We have seen the trend become customer-centric marketing,” Jones said. “When half the market is female and the voice is male, you are not speaking to the customer in their language.” 

Consumer-focused marketing also has fueled an upward trend in diverse voices, including non-English and accented or localized tongues. In recent months, the industry has experienced a reckoning as questions of representation in animation led to several high-profile recasts. 

Jenny Slate, a 30-something white actress, expressed concerns about continuing in her role as Missy on Netflix’s animated sitcom “Big Mouth.” The show, about preteens in the suburbs of New York, features a 13-year-old lead character who is half-Black and half-Jewish. 

In August 2020, Ayo Edebiri, a Black female writer for the show, became the new voice of Missy. For Edebiri, the standard for voice acting was Cree Summer. The actress, known for her role as Freddie Brooks on the ’80s sitcom, “A Different World,” has been a voice actress since age 11. She is one of the few female voice actors of color to animate Black female characters.

Voice-over artist Bryan Howard said he hears more women’s voices, but in particular he hears more women of color who are not being asked to take stereotypical roles. The Athens, Georgia, musician and voice actor felt there was a need to create a collective of African-American voices. 

Using his previous experience at a software company, Howard developed the African-American Voice Actor Database. He said the site receives an average of 500 visitors per month.

Consumers are driving the shift to more diverse voices because they want to hear someone who sounds like them, said Jones of Voices.com. “They don’t want to be talked at; they want to be talked to by someone who sounds like a peer.” 

“When half the market is female and the voice is male, you are not speaking to the customer in their language,” says Julianna Jones, a manager at Voices.com. (Photo courtesy of Shelley Bulmer)

Another reason the demand for women’s voices is growing: the increase in smart devices. Desired voices are more in line with a friendly girl next door than the big, booming tone of a strange man, Jones said.

Much of Blanks’ work focuses on announcer spots for brands such as American Express, Disney, Dove and the NFL, plus projects such as an online game for a casino. Blanks said she has noticed more requests for women’s voices in job listings for virtual assistants and audiobooks. 

In addition to increased demand for diverse voices, changes in technology and the availability of training has also helped to make voice acting more accessible to a range of individuals. 

Voice artists can get started with a laptop and a microphone setup at home for less than $1,000, Blanks said. Online tutorials can help artists develop editing and audio recording skills. 

“This is a little niche industry. I want diversity in it,” Blanks said. “I love when I hear different voices. I think they bring depth to everything.”

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Episode Stepping up to the mic