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‘Toxic culture’ of harassment uncovered among professional musicians

Of the 600 musicians who took part in the survey, 47% said they had experienced discrimination. Photo: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock
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Almost half of musicians have experienced discrimination and inappropriate behaviour during their careers according to a new study of the profession that also exposed widespread issues around speaking out.

The findings have prompted calls for a sector-wide code of conduct and improved processes to help tackle harassment in the workplace.

Musicians from across the industry took part in a survey by membership organisation the Incorporated Society of Musicians. Its results cover individuals working in musical theatre (7%), in orchestras and large ensembles 14%), schools (22%) and conservatoires (11%), among other areas.

The ISM stressed that many respondents selected more than one choice due to the nature of the work.

Of the 600 musicians who took part in the survey, 47% said they had experienced discrimination, including sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviour, in the course of their work.

Among these, 60% said they had been sexually harassed. The majority (82%) were female, and 72% were self-employed at the time.

The ISM’s report also uncovered a pattern of people not reporting their experiences. Of those who said they had been sexually harassed, 77% did not tell anyone.

Fears about losing work and not being taken seriously were the most common reasons for this, as well as a feeling that this behaviour was considered part of the culture.

Of the respondents who had experienced some form of inappropriate behaviour, 23% recorded incidences of prejudice and discrimination, based on sex or gender, while 7% said they had been bullied, including intimidation and verbal abuse. 6% claimed to have been raped or sexually abused.

Musicians were also asked to suggest ways the culture and conditions of the industry could be improved, with nearly nine out of 10 of respondents calling for a sector-wide code of conduct.

The ISM confirmed that it would be consulting on a draft code which employers would be required to sign up to ensure that individuals are protected.

ISM chief executive Deborah Annetts said the research had revealed “a worryingly high level of discriminatory behaviours and practices, including sexual harassment”.

“The music sector has a high level of self-employed workers, which makes them particularly vulnerable. Very often they do not have access to the protection and support mechanisms that are found in more traditional employment. As a consequence this highly talented but vulnerable workforce is afraid of reporting their experiences for fear of victimisation and losing work opportunities,” she said, adding that it was the responsibility of the entire music sector to “change this toxic culture by putting in place a sector-wide code”.

The Stage’s own research into harassment within theatre found that 31% of respondents said they had been sexually harassed, with more than 40% reporting bullying.

Exclusive: Study reveals extent of harassment in theatre

Similarly to the ISM’s research, results of The Stage’s harassment report uncovered the fact that more than two thirds of people did not report the behaviour they had experienced, often for fear of losing work or gaining a negative reputation.