LONDON — A U.K. Parliament committee is calling on the British government to address the “endemic” misogyny and discrimination that many female artists face in the music industry.
A report from the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) published Tuesday (Jan. 30) urges ministers to take legislative steps to protect musicians and creators from sexual harassment, including banning the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in cases involving sexual abuse, bullying or misconduct.
The highly critical 70-page report acknowledges that female representation is improving in many areas of the business but warns that progress remains slow with sexual harassment and abuse against women common occurrences in an industry “still routinely described as a boys club.”
“People in the industry who attend awards shows and parties currently do so sitting alongside sexual abusers who remain protected by the system and by colleagues,” said the cross-party committee of MPs.
Their inquiry found a “culture of silence” existed across the music industry with many victims of sexual harassment or abuse afraid to report such incidents.
Victims who do speak out struggle to be believed or may find their career ends as a consequence, the committee found. They said that much of the evidence they had received had to remain undisclosed, “including commentary on television shows and household names,” due to confidentially and legal clauses.
The report follows an inquiry into misogyny in the U.K. music industry, which began in June 2022 and saw a number of artists and executives give evidence, including senior executives from all three major labels, representatives of the live industry, former BBC Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac and British pop singer and Ivors Academy board director Rebecca Ferguson.
Giving evidence in September, Ferguson, who first shot to fame on the U.K. version of The X Factor, said that misogyny in music was just “the tip of the iceberg of the things that are happening behind the scenes.”
She said that women in the music business who experience abuse often feel that they “can’t speak up” because “they are scared they will never work again.” Ferguson told MPs that she had been informed rapes were going unreported.
In addition to sexual abuse and harassment, the inquiry found that women pursuing careers in music face limited opportunities compared to men, a lack of support and persistent unequal pay, while female artists are “routinely undervalued and undermined.”
The committee recommends that ministers introduce legislation to give freelance workers the same protections from discrimination as employees, as well as imposing a legal duty on companies and employers to protect workers from sexual harassment by third parties.
On the subject of non-disclosure agreements, the report said the government should consider a retrospective moratorium on NDAs signed by victims of sexual abuse.
The report also called for stronger safety requirements for industry sectors where harassment and abuse are known to take place, such as recording studios and music venues.
Additionally, managers of artists should be licensed, while record labels were recommended to regularly publish information about the diversity of their creative rosters, workforce and gender and ethnicity pay gaps – a practice that many labels and large music companies already do.
The committee said the music industry and the British government should increase investment and support in diverse talent, particularly in male-dominated areas such as A&R, sound engineering and production.
“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,” Caroline Nokes, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said in a statement.
Responding to Tuesday’s report, Jo Twist, CEO of U.K. labels trade body BPI, and Yolanda Brown, BPI chair, said all parts of the music industry have “a shared responsibility” to tackle misogyny in music “head on.”
Silvia Montello, CEO of the London-based Association of Independent Music (AIM), said the report “makes for uncomfortable but sadly unsurprising reading.”
“It should not still be this hard, here in 2024, for women to be supported to succeed and to be taken as seriously as our male counterparts,” said Montello in a statement.