The Australian music industry’s report into systemic abuse and discrimination, conducted by two independent consultants, Alexandra Shehadie and Sam Turner, and forced on the industry and its representative body by a succession of accusations, resignations and revelations of historical inaction last year, has been publicly presented.
It is both disturbing and vague at times, a result of the frankness of the hundreds of individuals who spoke to or addressed the consultants, and the limited scope of the report’s brief.
Here are some observations.
WHAT WE DIDN’T KNOW FOR SURE BUT SUSPECTED
Sexual harassment and abuse, bullying and discrimination, has been and remains rife in the music industry “across all areas and levels”, based on responses from more than 1200 people to the enquiry, 266 of them in direct interviews.
More than half (55%) of those who responded or contributed to the report had encountered sexual harassment or harm, though the difference between men and women was stark. While 39% of men reported this happening at some point or points during their career (a figure the report suggests reflects underreporting as “the issue is more hidden among men”), a staggering 74% of women experienced it.
Even worse, although the numbers of contributors in this category overall was low relative to others, 85% of those who don’t identify as either male or female (referred to in the survey as additional gender) experienced sexual harassment during their career.
First Nations women are three times more likely than non-Indigenous women to have experienced sexual harm.
Bullying – which was not in the original brief for the report but was explored “as it was raised frequently by participants during focus groups, individual interviews and in written submissions, as well as by a number of key stakeholders” – was experienced by 74% of participants, with 81% of women, 67% of men and 86% of additional gender reporting it.
In all categories, the abuse or a perpetrator was likely to be a man (74% of those sexually harassing; 67% of those bullying), and the abuse happened either in the office (21% of sexual harassment; 41% bullying) or what you might call for this industry the external office, a music venue (45% of sexual harassment; 29% of bullying).
In a related statistic “everyday sexism” was reported by 91% of women and 66% of men, most often perpetrated by senior manager (28%) or CEO/business leader (21%). While 15% of men reported this behaviour had negatively impact their health, well-being or career, that figure rose to 41% for women.
HOW BAD IS IT?
While sexual misconduct had effectively been “normalised”, almost no one reports it for perceived and possibly well-founded fears of retribution.
Of those who responded, 3% made a formal complaint about sexual harassment and 6% made a formal report about bullying. And when they did, they were punished rather than supported: 71% of those who made either a formal or informal report believe their career was adversely affected by that action.
Nor did most expect change. Of those who did not report bullying, 51% believed nothing would be done to address the issue. “People who you report to have an attitude of ‘what do you want me to do?’,” reported one participant. “There is no process they can assure you of when you make a report.”
One contributor to the report said “In music organisations, if you’re the only Black woman, you are not safe.” Another reported that “panic attacks, low self-esteem, depression … are just some of the effects that the harassment had on me”.
What few strategies and codes had been developed were “ad hoc, one-off and the product of individual organisations and subsectors” rather than industry-wide, reportable and verifiable.
The progression of women to senior roles and upper management remains stalled. “There is no career path. 100%, there is a very low glass ceiling,” one respondent said. “There are heaps of women it mid-tier levels, then further up, it’s mainly men.” And across the industry, a “boys’ club” is perceived to dominate.
For individuals of colour these experiences generally are worse in a “very white” industry and “you can’t help but feel you are overlooked because of your race,” according to one. “I have not felt valued and respected in the industry as an Aboriginal woman,” a contributor is quoted. Another said that “the music industry seems to have a general view that we are too much work”.
WHAT WE SUSPECTED BUT AREN’T BEING TOLD
Where the abuse happened, who was accused, what were the effects on individual victims, and what repercussions, if any, were there for perpetrators remains shrouded. Nor was there any exploration of why the majority of respondents believed nothing would be done within individual companies and organisations, including those which had, at least nominally, processes for handling such reports.
No individual, company or organisation is named anywhere. This is hardly surprising as even before you get to any questions of legal implications, we must remember that the review principally was set up by ARIA, and ARIA is made up of the record companies – against whom many, if not most, of complaints have been directed – who fund it, sit on its board and determine its actions. And inactions.
The organisations which did respond – there were seven of those – could choose how much or how little they included in their submissions.
The report’s authors explicitly state that the review “did not investigate any individual complaints or review the outcomes of any investigation”. Furthermore, “the review did not examine the specific workplace culture of individual organisations and companies … the experiences of audience members or those under 18”.
The behaviour of artists in relation to audience members/fans does not figure to any significant degree.
WHAT IS RECOMMENDED
Among the 17 recommendations are a code of conduct for the industry, with consideration to be given two options for compliance; education and awareness campaigns; a statement of acknowledgement by industry leaders of the harm caused; set targets for, and actions to implement, increased women’s representation and gender diversity, possibly tied to funding around the code of conduct; internal reporting and response mechanisms.
Driving all would be a Contemporary Music Industry Cultural Reform Council.
WHAT ISN’T RECOMMENDED
Naming, shaming and punishment. Or indeed any direct action by the industry body against problematic companies and individuals, past and present, or by the companies against those accused or suspected of problematic behaviour.
WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN
A good question. We can hope.