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Half of women in music have experienced discrimination, says new report

Half of female musicians have experienced discrimination according to a new report which paints a troubling picture of gender inequality in the music industry.

The Women Musicians Insight Report was based on the responses of 2,526 musicians who identified as women in the Musicians’ Census, which was conducted by the Musicians’ Union and the charity Help Musicians in association with Women In CTRL.

It found that women experience much higher levels of discrimination, sexual harassment, financial issues and structural barriers to career progression and also sheds light on the gender pay gap in the music industry. It also concludes that women often have shorter careers than their male peers, despite on average being more highly trained and educated.

A third of women were found to have experienced sexual harassment while working as a musician, while a further quarter had witnessed it happening to others. This was shown to have a detrimental effect on their careers, with women making up 62 per cent of respondents who said work-related abuse or harassment held them back in their career progression as well as 60 per cent of those who said discrimination was a barrier for them.

In addition, the average annual income for a female musician was found to be £19,850, almost 10 per cent less than that for a man, which was £21,750. Women also make up just under a fifth of musicians who said they earned over £70,000 from music per year.

As such, women also report facing more financial issues, with 27 per cent of female musicians saying that they don’t earn enough to support themselves and their family compared to 20 per cent of male musicians.

Women’s visibility in music was also found to decrease with age. Overall, 47 per cent of 16-55 year old musicians were women, but this declined to just 26 per cent of over-55s. More women (30 per cent) also reported experiencing age discrimination than men (21 per cent).

Woman on man’s shoulders dancing in nightclub with DJ behind playing records. Credit: Nisian Hughes/Getty

The report also highlights how the disparity in caring responsibilities affects female musicians, which also has a bearing on their career progression and longevity.

Female musicians were found to have a higher rate of primary caring responsibilities (28 per cent compared to 20 per cent of other genders) and 22 per cent said they were the primary carer of a child. Meanwhile, 29 per cent of women stated that family and caring commitments are a barrier to their career (versus 11 per cent of musicians of other genders), with 15 per cent pointing to difficulties finding childcare and 29 per cent to unsociable working hours as obstacles to career progression.

“The findings of the latest Census report show there’s still so much work to be done to make sure that working as a musician is equitable for all,” said Sarah Woods, Chief Executive of Help Musicians and Music Minds Matter. “We hope these insights will encourage the industry to continue collaborating to reduce gender-based barriers and ensure gender equity in every part of music.”

“It’s alarming to witness the persistence of gender disparities highlighted by the UK Musicians’ Census, where discrimination, harassment, and unequal pay remain prevalent issues faced by women musicians, demanding urgent action,” added Nadia Khan, founder of Women In CTRL. This pivotal moment presents a unique opportunity for change ahead of the next musicians’ census. It’s vital that the industry makes genuine commitments and takes decisive actions to prevent the recurrence of the same data.”

The report follows similar findings made about the level of gender inequality in the music industry. In January, the Women And Equalities Committee (WEC) that women pursuing careers in music face “endemic” misogyny and discrimination and “urgent action” was required to tackle the issue in a sector “dominated by self-employment and gendered power imbalances”.

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