UK Report Finds ‘Endemic’ Misogyny In The Music Industry

Glastonbury Festival 2022 Day Four
Lily Allen performing at Glastonbury 2022. at Worthy Farm, Pilton on June 25, 2022 in Glastonbury, England. In her memoir, she speaks of being raped by an executive at her former record label, who remains in his position to this day. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

The UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) has published a report, which concluded that “women pursuing careers in music face ‘endemic’ misogyny and discrimination in a sector dominated by self-employment and gendered power imbalances.”

The “Misogyny in Music” report finds “sexual harassment and abuse” to be common in the music industry, while at the same time “the non-reporting of such incidents is high.”

Disturbing findings like these are the direct result of an inquiry call for written evidence launched by the committee in June 2022, requesting responses to the following questions:

1) What correlation exists, if any, between misogynistic lyrics and violence against women and girls?

2) What types of support exist for women experiencing sexism or misogyny in the music industry? How can they report problems or abuse?

3) How safe do women and girls feel at live music concerts and festivals?

4) What expectations are there on women working in the music industry compared to men?

5) What steps should the Government and other industry bodies take to tackle misogynistic and sexist attitudes towards women in music?

The committee gathered further oral evidence in eight public evidence sessions between September 2022, and September 2023. Additionally, the committee held a private roundtable event with a dozen female professionals from across the industry. Details of who gave oral, as well as written evidence, can be found on the committee’s website.

Respondents include all of the three major record labels, the Association of Independent Music, the Music Managers Forum, as well as Festival Republic, and the Association of Independent Festivals, to name but a few.

As far as diverse representation on festival lineups is concerned, both Festival Republic, and the AIF point to issues with the wider music industry ecosystem, and talent pipeline, which most artists have passed through before ever performing at their first festival.

Promoters naturally endeavored “to put on the stage what people are listening to,” Festival Republic pointed out, “If we put things on the stage that people are not listening to, they’re not going to buy tickets.”

The problem went deeper, according to 2019 stats from UK Music (“Counting the Music Industry), which showed that of “writers currently signed to 106 music publishers 14.18% are women, 85.82% are men,” of “artists currently signed to 219 UK music labels 19.69% are women, 80.31% are men,” of “those working for 126 UK music publishers 36.67% are women, 63.33% are men.”

H&M Move x RAYE Event In London
Raye performing at the of H&M Move’s collection launch with at Village Underground in London, England, Jan. 24, 2024. Her story with Polydor is one highlighting how the creative vision of women is stifled by male superiors. (Photo by Dave Benett/Getty Images for H&M Move)

Respondents to the WEC inquiry also included other industry insiders, including journalists like Laura Snapes, who knows first-hand from interviewing high-profile female pop stars “that they remain subject to demeaning behavior. This runs to varying degrees of severity: having their creative vision limited, particularly compared to their male peers (see: the recent case of Raye not being allowed to release her debut album, despite racking up massive hits for Polydor, and ultimately being set free from her contract); being sexualized against their will; being forced to use social media despite online abuse severely damaging their mental health (see: my recent interview with Mabel); being overworked by teams with no regard for their wellbeing despite being in obvious physical distress (see: my recent interview with Sky Ferreira). In her memoir, Lily Allen spoke of being raped by an executive at her former record label, and that man remaining in his position to this day; meanwhile, she was sidelined for being difficult.”

The committee received a number of submissions that it chose not to publish in order to protect the identities of the submitters and also, Pollstar was told upon request to the UK’s House of Commons committees department. In doing so, respondents were given the space to be as open about their experiences as possible, which was especially important in relation to the committee’s second call for evidence on non-disclosure agreements.

The findings of this second call are a particularly tough read, citing testimonies of victims “threatened into silence” in cases involving sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or sexual misconduct, bullying or harassment, and discrimination.”

Victims, who do speak out, struggle to be believed or may find their careers come to an early end as 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,” a summary by the WEC reads.

The problems are exacerbated in the music industry “by the high number of freelance workers in the sector, which gives rise to significant power imbalances in working relationships and precarious employment practices.”

The WEC therefore made a series of “strong and wide-ranging recommendations,” calling on ministers “to take legislative steps to amend the Equality Act to ensure freelance workers have the same protections from discrimination as employees, and (…) 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.”

On non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), in particular, WEC is 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 should also 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,” recommending “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.”

Promoters like Festival Republic aren’t waiting on government to legislate, already providing training to staff and employees, and encouraging them “to volunteer
with welfare organizations on-site as part of our holistic, whole-team effort to combat harassment and offer support to those who suffer,” as the promoter wrote, before listing several measures taken on site to make sure guests are safe.

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, commented, “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 behavior 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 recognized and rewarded on equal terms.”

In reaction to the report, a non-statutory standards authority launched in the UK, called The Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA), expected to be operational by the end of 2024, led by interim CEO Jen Smith.

Reacting to the “Misogyny in Music Report,” UK trade body UK Music published a statement by interim chief executive Tom Kiehl, saying, “There must be zero tolerance for misogyny and all forms of discrimination in the music industry, which is working hard to tackle these issues. We recognize there is still more to do, that misogyny continues to exist and we are striving to bring about positive changes. We are working right across the sector to ensure the music industry is an inclusive place for everyone to work.”

To address the structural change necessary to ensure more female and minority-led bands come through, and make it to the festival lineups, Festival Republic, led by director, and 2021 Pollstar and VenuesNow Impact International honoree, Melvin Benn, launched a scheme called ReBalance, which “puts funding behind core female and gender-minority-led bands, musicians, and solo artists at the point where funding is most critical in
progressing their career, the professional recording of their first EP. This will ultimately culminate in a guaranteed slot at a Festival Republic or Live Nation Festival.”

The Association of Independent Festivals launched the so-called “Safer Spaces” campaign in 2017, which received an update in time for the 2022 season. “Focused on promoting sexual safety at festivals, the initiative comprises of a Charter of Best Practice for signatory festivals, and a public-facing awareness campaign. The campaign was developed with Rape Crisis, Safe Gigs for Women, Girls Against, Good Night Out and UN Women,” AIF sums it up.

Over 100 festivals signed up to the Charter of Best Practice, which includes a commitment for events to have a sexual safety policy in place and robust procedures in place for when instances occur. The charter also contains a commitment to appropriate training levels for staff onsite.

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