Sexual harassment and abuse is “endemic” in the music industry but is largely hidden due to a “culture of silence”, warns a new report from the UK Parliament’s Women And Equalities Committee.
Published this morning, the excoriating 'Misogyny In Music’ report says that the music industry remains a “boys’ club” where women face numerous barriers to career progression and are often subjected to harassment and abuse. These incidents frequently go unreported due to women's’ fears that speaking out will end their careers, and because some companies suppress them with non-disclosure agreements.
“Non-reporting of incidents of sexual harassment and abuse is high”, says the report. “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”.
Vick Bain, Founder of The F-List says, “We at The F-List for Music are delighted to read this hard-hitting report; though it is bittersweet because it gives voice to a side of the music industry many wish to deny, discount, diminish or force into silence through the misuse of NDAs or threats of reputational damage. This report makes us feel supported, listened to, and validated”.
The report makes a number of recommendations to improve the situation, both to the government and to the music industry itself.
“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”, says Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women And Equalities Committee. “Our report rightly focuses on improving protections and reporting mechanisms, and on necessary structural and legislative reforms”.
“However”, she adds, “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”.
The Misogyny In Music inquiry was launched in 2022, as part of a wider investigation that began the previous year into violence against women and girls. In three hearings in 2023, the Women And Equalities Committee heard evidence from representatives from the festival sector and all three major labels, as well as artist Rebecca Ferguson and broadcaster Annie Macmanus.
Following these hearings, in October 2023 the committee invited further evidence on the use of NDAs in the music industry to silence victims. While doing so, it assured anyone wishing to speak out that Parliamentary privilege meant that no direct legal action could be taken against anyone who shared information on any such agreement they had signed.
A number of legislative measures are recommended in the report, including an amendment to the Equalities Act to ensure that freelance workers are afforded the same protections from discrimination as employees. It also calls on the government to impose a duty on employers to protect workers from sexual harassment by third parties - a proposal it rejected last year, despite initially supporting it.
It also noted multiple testimonies during the evidence gathering stage of the inquiry from women who had been “threatened into silence” through the use of NDAs.
The report urges ministers to introduce a law prohibiting the use of such agreements in relation to cases involving sexual abuse, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, bullying or harassment, and discrimination. This, it recommends, should also work retrospectively, so to allow those who have previously signed them to come forward.
Studios and music venues - along with security staff working at them - should be subject to new licensing requirements focussing on tackling sexual harassment, it says. On top of that, there is an additional proposal that artist managers should have to be licensed in some way.
Annabella Coldrick, CEO of the Music Managers Forum, says, “The MMF contributed to and welcomed the Women And Equalities Committee's inquiry into the issue of misogyny in music. We look forward to discussing these recommendations with our members and other industry partners”.
As well as tackling harassment and abuse, the music industry should work harder to improve diversity, the report says. It recommends making more money available to schemes already working towards this, as well as improving career pathways for women - particularly in more male-dominated areas, such as A&R, sound engineering and production.
Record labels should also commit to regularly publishing statistics on the diversity of their rosters of artists. Meanwhile, all music companies 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. Currently all UK companies with 250 or more employees are required to report gender pay gap information annually.
In a joint statement, BPI CEO Jo Twist and Chair YolanDa Brown say, “Misogyny in music and across society is completely unacceptable. This report contains some thoughtful recommendations and recognises that all parts of our industry have a shared responsibility to tackle this important issue head on”.
AIM’s chief exec Silvia Montello continues, “The misogyny in Music report makes for uncomfortable but sadly unsurprising reading – given my 34 years in the industry I have witnessed, experienced and campaigned against the inequalities and discrimination sadly still faced by women in music”.
One initiative aiming to provide some of the additional support highlighted in the report is the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority. Founded in 2021, this organisation intends to begin offering some services by the end of this year and will provide a “single, recognisable body that anyone in the industry can turn to for support and advice”.
However, the report goes on, this “is not a panacea for all of the problems in the industry”, and stressed that “other reforms remain crucial”.