Huffpost UK Entertainment
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Lara Baker Headshot

Calling Out Sexism and Sexual Harassment in the Music Industry

Posted: Updated:
Print

It's a well documented fact that the music industry is traditionally a white male dominated business, where women fill few of the real power positions and often don't achieve salaries on a par with male counterparts.

For this reason, for the best part of 10 years now part of my role at the Association of Independent Music (AIM) has been running networking and conference events for women in music. I've also worked with the team at music business trade magazine Music Week to develop their annual Women in Music Awards, celebrating the achievements of women across the industry. There are many other organisations offering grants, training and events to encourage women in music, like the fantastic SheSaidSo network and the PRS for Music Foundation.

I feel like we've made a tonne of progress. Just within AIM alone we have gone from having a board that is entirely male except for a female CEO, to being over a third female in just three years. Hopefully that trend will continue and hopefully the rest of the industry will follow suit. Plenty of research shows that the employment of women in senior positions and on boards enhances a company's performance; that doesn't just apply to the music industry, but all industries. In fact, recent research by Barclays and the University of Cambridge found that women-led start ups are more successful than those run by men.

The music industry is waking up to the fact that women are deserving of opportunities, both in business and on stage. While festival bills in the UK and overseas have been criticised in recent years for lacking female musicians, this year Glastonbury's Emily Eavis has made it clear that they intend to lead by example and will be "strong on women". Where Glastonbury leads others follow, so perhaps the industry traditions are slowly beginning to crumble.

But I was reminded last week, as I watched the internet discuss the many allegations of sexual assault against a music PR, that this is only half the problem. It's not just an issue of how many women are on a festival line up. How many women are in major label board rooms. How many women get invited to speak at industry conferences and so on. It's a question of how are the women who DO make it into the notorious boys club treated? And the answer is...pretty poorly.

I'm generalising of course, but almost every woman I've discussed sexism and sexual harassment in the music industry with has at least one story to tell.

This became a widespread topic of discussion in the music world last week when Amber Coffman of Brooklyn band Dirty Projectors took to Twitter accusing Heathcliff Berru of Life or Death PR of sexual harassment in an incident that took place some years earlier. Numerous other female musicians and music industry professionals then came forwarding describing similar scenarios involving Berru, resulting in him resigning from the company and checking into rehab. Friends have described similar situations to me here in London. It seems creeps are not in short supply in the music industry.

All too often we accept the "oh he was just drunk" defence and say nothing. Working in the music industry involves a lot of late nights, a lot of drinking, a lot of travelling and often the lines between professional life and social life blur. But unwanted advances and sexual harassment should not be tolerated, whatever the scenario. Unfortunately it's not easy for women to speak out when most cases of sexual harassment involve colleagues, bosses and clients and your reputation is at stake.

So what do we do? We clearly have a problem. The answer, I think, is to call it out. When you see people behave inappropriately, when something sexist is said in your presence, if you witness something that amounts to sexual harassment, don't say nothing. CALL IT OUT. It might be difficult for the woman being harassed to speak up, but if it's your colleague or friend saying something sexist or making inappropriate advances, call them out. Enlightened guys being part of this fight is essential to making any change.

This isn't my idea, it's the campaign of music critic and MTV Editorial Director for Music Jessica Hopper. It's also the premise of the incredible UN Women "HeForShe" campaign fronted by Emma Watson. If we are going to see better gender equality in the music industry, both in terms of numbers and treatment of women, we all have work to do.

At AIM I'm encouraged to see that most of the students who apply to volunteer at our conferences are female. When we recruit staff into entry level roles, a significant majority of applicants are young women. Young women want to play their part in the music industry.

Let's tackle this issue now so that the music industry is a great place for those young women to work.

Suggested For You