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Sexual harassment and racism are rife in the music industry, report says

A new report from the Incorporated Society of Musicians has found that discrimination in the industry is getting worse

A new report has found that sexual harassment, racism and bullying are rife across the music sector in the UK on a “devastating scale”. The survey, conducted by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), found that there were “no meaningful repercussions” for perpetrators of discrimination in the industry.

They added that discrimination in the industry is “often used as a mechanism to exhibit power and control over others who are often younger, female and trying to establish their career in music.”

80 per cent of of respondents who identified both as female and as having a disability experienced discrimination, while 94 per cent of Black, Black British, Caribbean or African respondents reported facing discrimination.

The report featured stories from anonymous case studies who shared their experiences. “I was sexually assaulted during a show run and felt unable to tell anyone as we still had three months of working together. It was one of the most difficult times for me,” one said. “Orchestra conductor said he wanted to kiss me and when I refused, he did not rebook me,” said another. Another stated that discrimination was “endemic in the whole music profession”.

Speaking to Dazed, Deborah Annetts, ISM chief executive says that it was “profoundly shocking” to hear these personal testimonies. People who shared their experiences with us repeatedly said they were grateful to the ISM for finally having someone to share their experiences with,” she said.

77 per cent of respondents said they did not report their experience of discrimination. Fear of reprisals stopped 45 per cent of victims from making a complaint, an issue compounded by the fact that many of those in the sector are self-employed and cannot afford to risk losing work. Additionally, 48 per cent of respondents said that they had no one to report their complaints to. 55 per cent said they did not report as it was “just the culture” in the music sector.

“We need cultural change,” Annetts says. “No one who works in music should feel it is OK to sexually harass another person or discriminate against them in any way.”

The ISM had previously raised concerns in a report from 2018, but their latest findings show that the problem has worsened. While 47 per cent of respondents claimed to have faced discrimination at work in 2018, this has now risen to 66 per cent in 2022. “Our first survey on discrimination in the workplace was back in 2018. We have lobbied the Government since then as to the legal changes needed but so far to little effect. They don’t want to know,” Annetts says.

“We don’t want to do another [report] in four years’ time saying nothing has changed,” she continues. “The government has a responsibility to legislate to ensure the music workforce is safe with small changes such as reintroducing discrimination questionnaires and third party harassment protections and making sure all musicians are covered by the Equality Act.”

She adds that the music sector has an important role to play too. “Those engaging musicians and music teachers need to have zero tolerance toward bad behaviour, taking firm action. Trade bodies with membership need to be very clear about the behaviours they expect from their members. If a member breaches their obligations, then there need to be sanctions. Lastly, funding bodies must make explicitly clear the behaviours they expect as a condition of funding grants,” she says. “We all have to work together to bring about cultural change.”