Urgent action required to tackle “endemic” misogyny faced by women in music

Women pursuing careers in the music industry face “endemic” misogyny and discrimination, the Women And Equalities Committee (WEC) has warned.

In a new report published today (January 30), the WEC said “urgent action” was required to tackle the issue, and noted that the sector is “dominated by self-employment and gendered power imbalances”.

The document – titled ‘Misogyny In Music’ – described the industry as a “boys’ club” where sexual harassment and abuse is common, and the non-reporting of such incidents is high. Victims who do speak out struggle to be believed or may find their career ends as a consequence, it claimed.

The WEC stated that women in music still encounter limitations in opportunity, a lack of support and persistent unequal pay – with these said to be intensified for those facing intersectional barriers, particularly racial discrimination.

It said that female artists are “routinely undervalued and undermined, endure a focus on their physical appearance in a way that men are not subjected to, and have to work far harder to get the recognition their ability merits”.

Following up on the report, the WEC – a cross-party committee of MPs – has made “a series of strong and wide-ranging recommendations” and urged ministers to take legislative steps to amend the Equality Act.

This would ensure that freelance workers have the same protections from discrimination as employees, and would bring into force Section 14 to improve protections for people facing intersectional inequality.

Home Recording Studio Stock Photo
Home Recording Studio Stock Photo. CREDIT: mixetto/Getty Images

The WEC also recommended that the UK 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.

It said that both the music industry and government should increase investment in diverse talent and make more funding available to the schemes that support it. The WEC added that pathways to careers for women working in the sector must improve, particularly in male-dominated areas such as A&R, sound engineering and production.

Additionally, the committee urged record labels to commit to regular publication of statistics on the diversity of their rosters. It said that all organisations with more than 100 employees should be required to publish data on the diversity of their workforce, as well as gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

The report highlighted non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) too, citing distressing testimonies of victims who had been “threatened into silence”.

In turn, the WEC has called on ministers to prohibit the use of NDAs 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.

It has also recommended that the government should consider a retrospective moratorium on NDAs for those who have signed them relating to the issues outlined.

In addition, the report pushed for strengthened requirements for industry areas where harassment and abuse are known to take place.

It recommended that studios, music venues and the security staff that attend them should be subject to licensing requirements focused on tackling sexual harassment and that managers of artists should also be licensed.

The WEC supported the Office For Students’ proposed new condition of registration and potential sanction for educational settings aimed at improving protections for students, urging the OFS to “implement its proposals swiftly and to enforce them robustly”.

The establishment of a single, recognisable body, the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA), said the WEC’s report would help shine a light on unacceptable behaviour in the music industry and may reduce the risk of further harm.

However, the CIISA warned that it is “not a panacea for all of the problems in the industry” and “time will tell whether it has the powers required to drive the changes needed”.

Chair of the Women And Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said: “Women’s creative and career potential should not have limits placed upon it by ‘endemic’ misogyny which has persisted for far too long within the music industry.
 
“Our report rightly focuses on improving protections and reporting mechanisms, and on necessary structural and legislative reforms.”

Nokes, who is a Member Of Parliament for Romsey and Southampton North, added: “However, a shift in the behaviour of men – and it is almost always men – at the heart of the music industry is the transformative change needed for talented women to quite literally have their voices heard and be both recognised and rewarded on equal terms.”

Last November, the UK government called for evidence from women in the music industry who had been asked to sign NDAs to silence sexual assault allegations as part of the WEC report.

During a hearing in September, DJ Annie Mac claimed that there was a “tidal wave” of sexual abuse cases throughout the music industry that had yet to come to light. The broadcaster described the music business as “a boys’ club” that was “kind of rigged against women”


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