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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. The ISM has now published a new report in 2022 Dignity at work 2: Discrimination in the music sector.

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The ISM has released a major new report, Dignity at work 2: Discrimination in the music sector.

Dignity at work 2
exposes the devastating scale of discrimination (including sexual harassment and racism) in all parts of the music sector, including education.

Those working in the music sector have come forward and shared with the ISM their deeply felt personal testimonies and we thank them for taking this step. We hope that this important report will be a vehicle for change in the music sector, making it unacceptable for anyone to commit discrimination or harass their fellow workers.

The first-hand evidence which forms the bedrock of the report paints a picture of unsafe workplaces where perpetrators face no repercussions and there is a scandalous lack of action by contractors and employers.

Very often the fear of being subjected to reprisals stops those who have suffered discrimination from making a complaint. Many of those working in the music sector are freelancers and do not have access to the type of HR functions which the rest of us take for granted. They are a particularly vulnerable workforce and as a result the fear of victimisation stalks our sector. This must stop. It is down to all of us in the music sector to be part of the solution to eradicate these practices.

The report is based on data collected through a 2022 ISM survey which received 660 responses from those who work or have worked within the UK music sector.

The report’s key findings include:

  1. 66% of survey respondents said they experienced some form of discrimination while working in the music sector.
  2. 78% of reported discrimination was committed against women.
  3. 58% of discrimination was identified as sexual harassment.
  4. 76% of workers within studio and live music event settings experienced discrimination, the highest level by type of work.
  5. 88% of self-employed respondents did not report the discrimination that they experienced when working; for 94% of them, there was no one to report to.

The survey results are clear. Being a freelancer exposes musicians to unsafe workplaces where it is extremely difficult to raise concerns. If concerns are raised, then the person making the complaint invariably suffers repercussions rather than the perpetrator. The culture of fear extends to those who are employed and if concerns are raised then this part of the workforce can also face victimisation, even though this is unlawful.

This latest report from the ISM suggests that over the past four years since our similar survey in 2018, the prevalence of discrimination and inappropriate behaviours in the music sector has increased.

Alongside direct quotes from the music workforce, the report makes a series of recommendations that both the Government and the music sector should implement without delay. Recommendations include trade bodies taking a much more active role in policing their members, extensive training across the sector, amending the Equality Act 2010 to protect freelancers, reinstating rights around third-party harassment (which accounted for 27% of discrimination in the report) and extending the period of time to bring claims in the tribunal. (All recommendations can be found on page7 of Dignity at work 2.)

Recent reports have revealed:

14% of those currently signed to 106 music publishers and just under 20% of those signed to 219 record labels are female (Counting the Music Sector: the gender gap in music – Vick Bain)

there is 30% difference in pay between males and females at music companies (Keychange/Gender Pay Gap)

only 15% of labels are majority owned by women (Keychange/A2IM)

only 2% of producers across 600 of the most popular songs 2012–17 are women (Keychange/Annenberg Inclusion Initiative) the music workforce is 70% male and 30% female (Keychange/Women in Music)

95% of concerts globally contained only music composed by men (Keychange/Women in Music)

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

    On 9 April 2018, ISM 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