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Harassment and bias still major issues for women in music, says study

As and InChorus release findings on music industry issues, we speak to women who have dealt with comments, encounters, and discrimination firsthand

It’s no secret that the music industry is a boy’s club. Back in September, and InChorus, two organisations fighting for inclusivity within workplaces, launched an online tool for people working in music to report harassment and bias. 

Now, that data has culminated in a newly released report, focusing mainly on microaggressions, which, according to she founder Andrea Magdalina, trigger the development of unhealthy workplace culture: “This type of subtlety is often unconscious and unintentional, and yet it has major repercussions on a company's culture, and the industry's social dynamics more widely speaking,” Magalina says in a release. 

The initial findings, based on the collected data, show that 75 percent of reported microaggressions are based on gender. The rest of the incidents make reference to age (eight per cent), ethnicity (eight per cent) and sexuality (six per cent).

While most of the reports in the study concern ‘insensitive comments/questions’ (22 per cent), ‘derogatory language’ (15 per cent), and ‘offensive jokes/banter’ (12 per cent), eight per cent of them refer to ‘unwanted physical contact’ experienced predominantly by women. The group mostly affected by physical harassment within the music business is women aged 26-35 with their perpetrators being Senior or C-suite men from the industry.

The organisations believe that in order to change the music business environment, the social issues within it have to be effectively identified and confronted. Rosie Turner, the co-founder of InChorus, said: “Through surfacing everyday instances of bias and harassment we are able to build up a detailed picture of what it is actually like to be working within the music industry.”

Ellie*, a publicist based in London who has held positions as a personal and creative assistant, told Dazed of her own experiences of microaggressions and unwanted encounters while working. “I've been lured to out of hours meetings under the pretence of being shortlisted for the exact job I moved to London for, to find that the slime ball literally just wanted to do lines of coke and sleep with me,” she says. “Of course, the role never existed. Once, a senior colleague shouted at me, asking who my father was – I obviously couldn't get the job on my own merit – so a family member must of been pushing for me to be at the label. The week after, she then went around investigating if there was anyone at the label I had slept with.”

Lily*, a music PR in London, tells Dazed about her experiences of sexual harrassment while working with male music journalists. “As a music PR for festivals and clubs, I’ve been on the frontlines of creepy behaviour for years. Overseas press trips in particular are a hotbed for this sort of thing. On one particular press trip, a male journalist lent in and told me, uninvited, whilst watching a band, that he’d wanked off thinking about me the night before when he couldn’t get to sleep. He’d always be the last to leave the obligatory post-festival hotel room afterparty each night, loitering in female journalists’ rooms and propositioning them. His phone background was a pic of his girlfriend.”

Sophia*, a London-based music journalist shares similar experiences: “There’s been so many times on press trips where male journalists have loitered in my hotel room, refusing to leave my bed. There’s been times, especially when I was younger, that male journalists would purposefully get me drunk to take advantage of me. Other men on the trips would be aware of this, and instead of helping, make me feel weird for seeing it as anything other than flattery.”

For Lily*, the commodification of women is so deeply embedded in clubbing culture that sexist behaviour and microaggressions are regularly overlooked: “The commodification of women is so deeply embedded in club land, it’s hard to see it changing at times. Superfluous and often bizarre rules are applied only to female members of staff. One club I worked at, female bar staff weren’t allowed to wear tights, even in winter. The owner (a married old white guy who actually had an entire blog dedicated to tales of his predatory behaviour set up by former staff) would openly give girls a line at his desk if they sat on his lap to do it.”

Last year, Keychange, a pioneering European music initiative that focuses on rectifying gender imbalance, launched its manifesto. Zoning in on working conditions, the lack of senior role models for women, investments and funding, research into pay gaps and imbalances, and education. The manifesto has already seen over 130 festivals pledge to sort 50/50 gender balanced line-ups, and is calling for companies to anonymise the recruitment processes, create detailed ethics and safety politics around sexual harassment, and introduce leadership schemes for artista and professionals.

To tackle the bias, harassment, and microaggressions within the music industry, and InChorus will continue to publish the updated findings of the study on a regular basis. In 2020, the groups will launch an industry-wide unit set to improve the quality of workplace conditions in the music industry.