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Misogyny in Music

Mediation 20th March 2024

Misogyny in MusicThe music industry is the latest to be exposed as being like a “boys’ club”, where an imbalance in power has led to serious issues for women.

Usually self-employed, female artists are in a position of dependency, looking for attention and approval to make a career — meaning constant opportunities for abuses of authority: sexual harassment, unequal pay, bullying and discrimination. Because the gatekeepers tend to be men.

The Misogyny in Music report (produced by the Government’s Women and Equalities Committee) concludes that “women in the music industry have had their lives ruined and their careers destroyed by men who have never faced the consequences for their actions. People in the industry who attend award shows and parties currently do so sitting alongside sexual abusers who remain protected by the system and by colleagues.”

Non-Disclosures and NDAs

Non-disclosure and other kinds of confidentiality agreements (NDAs) need to be banned, argues the report. Too often they have been used to silence victims of abuse, and there should also be a retrospective moratorium on NDAs for those signed by those facing pressure and threats.

But at the heart of the problems is the culture of power and not issues with contracts. In other words, women are afraid to speak up, and having a formal route won’t necessarily help — it just means more of a threat to perpetrators: so they have to exert more pressure, encourage more secrecy, and they stay under the radar. As the Committee’s report has pointed out, there has been widespread non-reporting of incidents of sexual harassment and abuse: victims say they’re not listened to or believed, and when they are it’s more likely to damage their career. So the culture of bullying goes on.

Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA)

The new Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA) is going to be important for keeping the issues high on the industry’s agenda. Women and other employees with grievances have somewhere to go with complaints — a starting point. What will be crucial for CIISA is ensuring they are a strong source of best practice, in a position to encourage early, informal resolutions, professional mediations and approaches to investigations.

It’s dealing with the day-to-day culture that matters. Evidence from workplaces of all kinds shows that crackdowns on behaviours, more rigid formal regimes and pronouncements on zero tolerance can have a negative impact in itself. People who were feeling vulnerable and unwilling to speak out just feel worse. The stakes are higher; their bosses are looking at them more intently.

There are many parallels here with what’s been happening in sectors like sport and Higher Education, where people are working together but there is a clear divide between those with and those without employed status. Up and coming sportspeople and students are similar in having less of a voice and less protection.

What works is talking. More self-awareness and mutual understanding. It’s so often the case — sadly — that men in positions of power don’t even realise their behaviour is inappropriate or causing misery and anger.

Systems and Processes are Needed

But this kind of open, grown-up Clear Air Culture won’t happen by itself. Work is needed to make sure both managers and their reports have the skills needed to have constructive conversations, to express themselves and challenge authority in the right ways, to deal with personal issues and sensitive topics. It’s not easy.

And these skills need to be backed up by reasonable systems and processes: offering ways to start up informal conversations; access to mediation as an ordinary kind of approach for dealing with little disagreements, not just major fall-outs and crises; making use of technology for reporting, and a route to trusted, professionally-run investigations when they’re needed.

Like so many other workplaces, problems with imbalances in power and consequences for behaviours are heavily ingrained in the music industry. Transformation will be piecemeal rather than the result of one scandal, one exposé, and will depend on everyday attention to skills, behaviours and opportunities for reporting issues.

Photo by Hendrik B