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Dignity at work: Discrimination in the music sector

In 2017, the ISM launched Dignity at Work, committing to working on a collaborative basis to improve the workplace for musicians and to secure change on a long-term basis. As part of our approach to understand the extent and nature of these issues facing musicians, the ISM has conducted research (culminated in reports Dignity at Work and Dignity in Study (joint with the MU and Equity), submitted evidence to Government and engaged with colleagues from across the sector, in order to formulate practical solutions to change culture and working conditions for musicians.

Recent reports have revealed:

The ISM’s Dignity at Work report in 2018 also found:

  • 60% (of respondents) had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Of these, 72% were self-employed at the time
  • 37% (of respondents) who were sexually harassed, 64% of respondents who experienced gender discrimination and 45% of respondents who were bullied said the perpetrator was their colleague or fellow musician
  • incidents have taken place despite many organisations and workplaces having policies and procedures in place
  • 77% of those who responded that they had been sexually harassed did not report this behaviour
  • 46% reported ‘fear of losing work’ as the reason for not reporting
    musicians also reported harassment from third parties, such as members of the audience or public

It is clear that the music sector must come together to achieve culture change and provide a safe working environment for everyone within it. Culture change must go hand-in-hand with legislative change, for example:

  • the education sector must set a good example and tackle inappropriate behaviour head on
  • the pipeline of talent must be diversified
  • the music sector must adopt and implement the ISM-MU Code of Practice and be committed to ensuring all workers, irrespective of status, are aware of it
    Arts Council England (ACE) and other funding bodies and grantmakers must include the ISM-MU Code of Practice within their funding agreements to assist with its implementation and achieve culture change

Echoing the recommendations of Keychange, the music sector must:

  • create and widely promote target driven diversity and inclusion policies
  • address the gender pay gap by establishing pay grades for the wide range of roles across the industry taking into account business size and increasing transparency around artist fees
  • consider anonymising recruitment processes e.g. blind auditions
  • review governance of industry Boards, including trade and membership bodies, to increase participation of women and other under-represented groups
  • invest in training for female midcareer professionals and support programmes to aid such professionals in upwards movement
  • work with NGOs and other such organisations by supporting targeted schemes which invest in female talent and other under-represented groups
  • create reporting mechanisms for freelancers and any risk of victimisation must be eliminated

On 9 April 2018, ISM joint with Equity and the Musicians’ Union (MU) launched a joint anonymous and confidential survey open to all students over the age of 18 currently studying at a higher education institute, including universities and specialist music, drama and dance colleges.

Out of the 600 students who responded to the survey, over half of students said they had experienced some sort of incident – many more than one type - in the course of their study, with over 50% choosing not to report their concerns despite a high awareness of processes and procedures in place. Lack of anonymity and protection for students who report, collusion between lecturers, favouritism and bias and cultural issues within higher education institutions were cited as reasons not to report, amongst several others.

The Dignity in study report is now available to view by clicking on the button.

The interim Dignity at work report, which captures data received between Thursday 2 November to Monday 27 November 2017, is available to view or download below.

All ISM members have access to confidential advice from experienced in-house employment lawyers by contacting the ISM legal team at [email protected] or by contacting our 24-hour advice line on 01275 376 038. The ISM also runs a counselling helpline on 0800 042 0136.


If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, we also would encourage you to speak to one of the following organisations. They can provide support such as counselling and signposting of specific services to assist you in recovery and advise on reporting the incident to the police should you choose to:

Sexual Assault Referral Centre – dial 111 to find the nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre. They can provide immediate support and advice, including medical examinations and tests, and will not go to the police until you decide if you want to or not.

In 2018, the ISM and the Musicians’ Union launched a joint Code of Practice to help eradicate bullying, harassment and discrimination in the music sector. The Code of Practice is a set of principles that aims to eradicate bullying, harassment, discrimination and other forms of inappropriate behaviour within the sector. These principles also aim to aid employers in meeting their legal requirements as well as setting out a shared vision for promoting and maintaining a positive working culture.

Dignity in Study: Joint research between Equity, ISM and MU

Dignity in Study, joint research by Equity, ISM and Musicians’ Union, is available to view or download below.

Dignity in Study