Women working in the music industry face limitations in opportunity, a lack of support, gender discrimination and sexual harassment and assault as well as the persistent issue of unequal pay in a sector dominated by self-employment and gendered power imbalances. Despite increases in representation, these issues are endemic and are intensified for women faced with intersectional barriers, particularly racial discrimination.
There are legislative steps the Government can take to help tackle some of these concerns. The Equality Act should be amended to ensure freelance workers are provided with the same protections from discrimination as employees, section 14 of the Act should be brought into force to improve protections for people facing intersectional inequality. The Government should legislate to impose a duty on employers to protect workers from sexual harassment by third parties, a proposal the Government initially supported and then rejected last year.
We received distressing evidence on the impact of non-disclosure agreements on victims of discrimination, harassment and abuse. Victims with little agency in the process are threatened into silence by organisations seeking to protect their reputation and the perpetrators of abuse who work for them. Victims described to us of being told they would suffer reprisals if they failed to sign what was put in front of them, often without independent counsel. The Government should urgently bring forward legislative proposals to prohibit the use of non-disclosure and other forms of confidentiality agreements in cases involving sexual abuse, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, bullying or harassment, and discrimination relating to a protected characteristic. The Government should consider a retrospective moratorium on NDAs for those who have signed them relating to the issues outlined above.
Additional requirements should be placed on areas in the industry in which harassment and abuse are known to take place. Studios and music venues and the security staff that attend them should be subject to licensing requirements focused on tackling sexual harassment. Managers of artists should also be licensed. The Office for Students has proposed a new condition of registration and potential sanction for educational settings aimed at improving protections for students. We urge the OfS to implement its proposals swiftly and to enforce them robustly.
Non-reporting of incidents of sexual harassment and abuse is high. Victims who report behaviour struggle to be believed. Even when they are believed, more often than not, it is their career not the perpetrators’ that ends. In many cases, those who do report harassment or sexual assault regret doing so due to the way it is handled. This must change, and the establishment of a new authority, the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA) will help to shine a light on unacceptable behaviour in the music industry and in doing so, may reduce the risk of further harm. Crucially, it will be a single, recognisable body that anyone in the industry can turn to for support and advice. It is not a panacea for all of the problems in the industry, other reforms remain crucial, and time will tell whether it has the powers required to drive the changes needed.
In this Report we have focused on improving protections and reporting mechanisms, and on necessary structural and legislative reforms. The main problem at the heart of the music industry is none of these; it is the behaviour of men—and it is almost always men. More often than not, women are left with the expectation they will be able to enact change while being hindered by men who do not wish to amend their ways.
Too often, problems of discrimination, harassment and misogyny are seen as women’s issues—that it is their role to experience, avoid, overcome, withstand, analyse, discuss and understand misogyny so men don’t have to. While necessary, preventative measures risk normalising behaviours and place the responsibility on women as potential victims rather than men as potential perpetrators.
Educating boys and men on misogyny and consent, how to respect and better support women and to recognise the additional challenges they face will be more transformative than any of the measures set out in this report. The Government must develop and introduce a new strategy in schools, aimed specifically at boys on issues of misogyny, sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
Women in the music industry have had their lives ruined and their careers destroyed by men who have never faced the consequences for their actions. People in the industry who attend award shows and parties currently do so sitting alongside sexual abusers who remain protected by the system and by colleagues. The music industry has always prided itself on being a vehicle for social change; when it comes to discrimination, and the harassment and sexual abuse of women, it has a lot of work to do.