Jump to main content

Why we are surveying the music sector about discrimination

Hi, I’m Kathryn. I started working for the ISM as a research & policy officer in equality, diversity, and inclusion in March 2022. Based north of Manchester, I work part-time from home to balance my freelance flute playing work, independent research projects, and my caring responsibilities.

My first project in this role is to relaunch the 2018 Dignity at Work survey and write the subsequent report. This is a huge responsibility that I feel honoured to be taking on, and I have spent the past couple of months preparing for this by diving into employment and discrimination law, pouring over Equalities Human Rights Commission resources, and having discussions with the brilliant ISM legal team. On a personal level, having worked as a professional freelance musician for over ten years, I have unfortunately experienced, as well as witnessed, discrimination and inappropriate behaviours. I know that I am not alone in that all-too-familiar sinking feeling when you know something wrong has happened, but you don’t know who to tell, and doubt that the potential consequences to your future work will be worth making a fuss.

Discrimination is everywhere

Do you know of anyone who hasn’t experienced discrimination or inappropriate behaviours? A staggering 97% of young women aged 18-24 in the UK have experienced sexual harassment. The government’s 2020 Sexual Harassment Survey revealed that certain demographic groups were significantly more likely to have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment at work: women, ethnic minorities (excluding White minorities), LGB individuals, and those with disabilities. The ISM’s 2018 report found that 60% of respondents reported that they had been subject to sexual harassment and of these, 72% were self-employed at the time of the incident. Freelancers represent a highly versatile and talented workforce who are made vulnerable by falling outside legal protections and support which are found in more traditional employment. People who experience discrimination at work need to be protected, no matter what the technical employment scenario is. Of course, this is equally true of full-time employed musicians or people who work within the music sector in other roles, many of whom also have freelance elements to their work.

What are protected characteristics?

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination, harassment, and victimisation because they have or are perceived to have a protected characteristic or are associated with someone who is perceived to have that protected characteristic. The nine protected characteristics are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation. Under the Equality Act, discrimination can be direct (such as a performer not being booked just because they are pregnant), indirect (such as mixed sex changing rooms), harassment (such as being made fun of for not drinking alcohol when it’s against your religion or beliefs), or victimisation (for example, getting a reputation for being ‘difficult’ for making a complaint of harassment and losing out on work). If you want to learn more about types of discrimination, I recommend this link as a starting point.

Take our survey

The pressure of building up a successful career in music, freelance or otherwise, is difficult enough. We all deserve to work in a sector that is free from discrimination and that has clear ways of dealing with it when it happens.

Please take our survey today and share with your friends and colleagues so that the ISM can campaign for musicians’ rights. It only takes a few minutes. Please be assured that all responses are anonymous and treated with dignity and respect.

Dr Kathryn Williams - find out more about Kathryn.

Filter articles