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The ISM Chief Executive, on the ongoing challenges facing women in the music industry

2 September 2021

This week I was delighted to chair a panel discussion at the Third International Conference on Women’s Work in Music, hosted by Bangor University, on the topic of 'Reclaiming Women’s Work in Music: Reflections After a Global Pandemic'.

It was a real pleasure to share a (virtual) stage with a panel of such inspirational women from across the music sector: Michelle Escoffery, Deborah Keyser and Errollyn Wallen CBE.

It was a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion, which shone a light on the challenges which still face many women working in music.

Since I became Chief Executive of the ISM, I have been determined to fight for better rights and protections for women, and other under-represented groups, in our sector.

While there has been progress in the last decade, it is clear there is still a long way to go – from the appalling prevalence of sexual harassment (within the music sector, over 60% of workers have experienced sexual harassment), to the under-representation of women in leadership positions.

When it comes to women’s work getting the recognition it deserves, the sector still falls short. To give just two high-profile examples:

Of course, these challenges long pre-date COVID-19, but the discussion focussed on several areas – including protections for freelance workers, and ensuring creators can protect their rights to their work – which the pandemic has really brought to light.

Positively, there were some inspiring stories of groups of female musicians, coming together to help generate and share opportunities for work. Another encouraging take away was that due to studios being closed, many musicians have learnt new technical skills (for example, lighting or recording) which will empower them in the longer-term to retain more creative control over their work.

Digital workspaces have also, in the main, improved accessibility and attendance at events. For women with childcare, or other caring roles (women are still more likely to have these than men), this will likely have increased opportunities to participate in educational and networking events.

As panellists, we all reflected on the responsibility of women in leadership positions in our sector to encourage and empower others. To ensure women are aware of the opportunities which are out there and are supported to take them.

For my part, as Chief Executive of the UK’s professional body for musicians, I will continue to fight to improve the workplace for women and all under-represented groups in our sector.

I am really concerned that when the Government published its strategy for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls this summer, the steps intended to make workplaces safer did not adequately reflect the particular challenges of our industry.

For instance, new protections were referred to ‘for employees’, but consideration must be given to how these can be extended to freelancers too.

Equally, there is a real and valid fear that reporting incidences of sexual harassment will lead to blacklisting, victimisation and harm to the musician’s career.

The ISM’s 2018 report, Dignity at Work: A survey of discrimination in the music sector, found 77% of those who responded that they had been sexually harassed, did not report this behaviour and 46% reported ‘fear of losing work’ as the reason for not reporting. The Government’s strategy must consider the protections which can be put in place to guard against such victimisation.

The ISM will engage with policy makers, as this strategy is developed, to ensure that the voice of our industry is heard and its specific challenges are reflected; and we will continue to fight for representation and empowerment of women throughout the music sector.

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