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Urgent action required to tackle ‘endemic’ misogyny faced by women in the music industry, WEC warns

30 January 2024

Women pursuing careers in music face “endemic” misogyny and discrimination in a sector dominated by self-employment and gendered power imbalances, the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) has warned.

WEC’s ‘Misogyny in Music’ report laid bare 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.

Despite increases in representation, women encounter limitations in opportunity, a lack of support and persistent unequal pay; these issues are intensified for women facing intersectional barriers, particularly racial discrimination, the report found.

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.

Making a series of strong and wide-ranging recommendations, the cross-party committee of MPs called on ministers to take legislative steps to amend the Equality Act to ensure freelance workers have the same protections from discrimination as employees and bring into force section 14 to improve protections for people facing intersectional inequality.

It also recommended 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.

Both the music industry and Government, WEC said, should increase investment in diverse talent and make more funding available to the schemes that support it. Pathways to careers for women working in the sector must improve it added, particularly in male-dominated areas such as Artists and Repertoire (A&R), sound engineering and production.

Record labels should commit to regular publication of statistics on the diversity of their creative rosters, with all organisations of more than 100 employees required to publish data on the diversity of their workforce and gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

On non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), the report cited distressing testimonies of victims “threatened into silence”, with WEC urging ministers 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, WEC recommended, should consider a retrospective moratorium on NDAs for those who have signed them relating to the issues outlined.

The report also called 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.

WEC supported the Office for Students’ proposed new condition of registration and potential sanction for educational settings aimed at improving protections for students and urged 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) WEC’s report concluded will help to shine a light on unacceptable behaviour in the music industry and may reduce the risk of further harm.

But the committee cautioned 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's comment

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.

“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.”

Further information

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