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Deborah Annetts gives evidence to Misogyny in Music enquiry

On Wednesday (19 April) ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee's inquiry into Misogyny in Music.

This was the third hearing of the inquiry, which provided a valuable opportunity to reveal the extent of discrimination and harassment of women across the music industry. Speaking alongside YolanDa Brown, Chair of the BPI, and Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, Chief Executive of UK Music, Deborah told the committee that through the ISM's Dignity at work 2 survey women told us that they felt discrimination was 'endemic' in the music sector.

Deborah said that the ISM research revealed there is a power imbalance in the sector, particularly because so many musicians are freelancers: 'It is still the case that women are told that if you want to get ahead, you have to sleep with the person who has influence over your career. And because by and large, they are freelancers, they have very few rights and if they say anything, they will not work again.'

After opening questions from the committee about misogynistic lyrics in pop music and the lack of female nominees for Best Artist at the recent Brit Awards, Deborah pointed out that misogyny affects all genres of music, not just pop, saying: 'Discrimination is discrimination, no matter which genre you're looking at.' She referenced the recent Donne report, Equality & Diversity in Global Repertoire, which revealed that nearly 88% of classical pieces scheduled in the 2021-22 season were written by white men. Deborah also raised the issue of the use of NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) across the music industry, which often prevent women in senior positions from speaking out.

Deborah told the committee that discrimination is getting worse, and compared figures from the ISM's 2018 Dignity at work report with the 2022 report, which showed discrimination had risen from around 47% of respondents to 66%, while non-reporting of discrimination had also increased. She then referenced the 2019 Dignity in study report about discrimination in higher education institutions, which revealed that inappropriate behaviours start within colleges and move from there into the profession.

Committee Chair Caroline Nokes MP asked whether one of the problems was that the music industry hasn’t had its '#MeToo' movement. Deborah agreed, saying that the fear of reprisals, particularly loss of work by freelancers, was a significant factor in this.

The committee discussed the problem of retaining women in the music industry, including providing support for childcare and women going through the menopause. Deborah pointed out that while childcare and menopause policies would be welcome, they will not help freelance musicians: 'If [musicians] don't look right, if they've got a bump that's showing, if they're in some kind of musical they will lose that job, let alone thinking about menopause policies.'

Deborah emphasised that it's not enough to have discrimination policies in place; they must be delivered and there must be consequences for non-delivery: 'The legislative framework is not up to the job in relation to making sure that people are properly protected.'

When asked what is being done to highlight these issues, Deborah referred to the ISM's recent letter to the Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch MP, which was signed by over 700 members of the music sector. The ISM recently received a response from the Minister for Equalities, Stuart Andrew MP, which declined to implement any legislative change.

Asked what else could be done to improve protections, Deborah said that a two-handed approach is necessary to make the music industry a safer place for women: 'The sector needs to get its house in order... but we also need legislative change.' She referred to the third-party harassment bill currently passing through parliament, and extending the time period in which you can bring a complaint from three to six months.

In terms of cultural change, Deborah raised the need for transparency via codes of practice that deliver consequences for inappropriate behaviour, referring to the ISM's own Members' Code of Conduct. She also emphasised the importance of training both employees and freelancers about their rights in relation to discrimination.

The committee had earlier heard from Jen Smith, Interim CEO of the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA) currently under development, and the hearing concluded with questions about the CIISA. Deborah voiced some doubts about CIISA's effectiveness, saying that the music industry is 'like the wild west' due to the widespread use of fixers to employ freelance musicians, which increases the risks of losing work for musicians who raise complaints. 'I think we need more than CIISA can possibly deliver.'

Deborah went on to raise other concerns regarding CIISA, saying it lacks teeth due to its non-statutory status: 'The most it can do is name and shame and that is not enough.' It also risks displacing the government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission which needs more funding and is 'very interested in doing an investigation into the music sector.'