Great Article from the team at themusic.com.au
In light of Sony Music Entertainment Australia’s ongoing workplace crisis, ‘The Music’ team has been speaking with industry across the country to gauge their reaction on what this means for the Australian music industry. Here, ‘The Music’ team share these thoughts, as well as our own as publishers, to examine whether this is the catalyst for change the music industry has been needing.
Here’s what we know so far
On 13 June, it was revealed that Sony Music’s US head office was reportedly “investigating claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment” within the Australian arm of the business.
It was revealed that the company’s global head of human resources had contacted past and present employees following complaints from a staff member at the label’s Sydney office. A source told The Sydney Morning Herald that the company “has held confidential discussions with at least four former and current staff members”, with others contacting the HR executive directly.
In the time since, three high level Sony Music Australia executives have been removed from their roles – either permanently or pending ongoing investigations.
On Monday, it was announced that long time Australian leader Denis Handlin AO – Chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment Australia and New Zealand – would exit the company “effective immediately”. The news was broken to Sony Music Australia staff in an internal email on Monday morning with Chairman, Sony Music Group CEO, Sony Music Entertainment Rob Stringer saying “I am writing to let you know that Denis Handlin will be leaving Sony Music Entertainment after more than 50 years with the Company, effective immediately.”
“It is time for a change in leadership and I will be making further announcements in terms of the new direction of our business in Australia and New Zealand in due course,” the email continued. “My team and I will be speaking further to your team leaders about this process throughout the week, but at this point I wanted to let everyone know this news at the same time…” Prior to his dismissal, Handlin was the business’ longest running employee anywhere in the world, having started as a junior record assembler in 1970 and working his way up the ranks.
On Tuesday night it was revealed that Handlin’s son Pat is one of two executives to be placed on “indefinite leave” amid the ongoing investigation. Pat Handlin – who is the Australian business’ vice president of artists and repertoire (A&R) – started with the company as an intern in 2006 and has held various A&R roles both in Australia and the UK.
In addition to Pat, Sony Music Australia’s senior vice president of strategy, corporate affairs and human resources Mark Stebnicki has also been stood down. Stebnicki has worked for the company for over 14 years, starting as a business and human resources advisor.
The news was told to Sony Music Australia staff in a meeting on Tuesday.
Prior to the initial 13 June investigation announcement, vice president of commercial music Tony Glover was fired from the Australian business following an investigation of inappropriate behaviour allegations that took place over numerous weeks. “Upon receiving complaints of alleged inappropriate behaviour, a Senior Counsel was immediately engaged to independently investigate the allegations,” a Sony Music Australia spokesperson said at the time. “Following completion of the investigation, the company acted on the findings. Sony Music Australia can confirm that Tony Glover has been dismissed with immediate effect.”
In the time since the announcement that Handlin was exiting the business earlier this week, a number of reports have emerged with allegations surrounding workplace culture at the Australian business. Most notably is a story from The Guardian where more than 20 former employees have come forward anonymously with allegations of “toxic culture” at the Australian business, including “allegations of sexual harassment at work events, intimidating behaviour, alcohol abuse and the unfair treatment of women in the workplace” which are reported to be span more than two decades. Read the article here.
It’s since been reported that Lauren MacDougall from MacDougalll and Hydes Lawyers has been contacted by a dozen former employees of Sony Music Australia to discuss a potential class action lawsuit.
Additionally, Sony artists and managers have told The Music that they “really have heard nothing of substance” since the departures and remain in the dark about what’s next for the business. “Effectively, we found out much the same way that everyone else did,” one insider shared. “I did speak with one of the members of our team after the news of Denis, and they kind of just reiterated that it’s business as usual.” Read the full story here.
The Take Aways
Point 1 – This was always coming
The Australian music industry’s day of reckoning as a whole – and whether this is it or not will be decided – was an inevitability. There have been too many anecdotes told, too many hushed stories of bad behaviour, too many instances without consequence; not just at Sony but within the industry as a whole.
Australia’s strict defamation laws have often limited the ability of these stories being told by victims and media, particularly in the time of #MeToo. Now, thanks to work of channels like Beneath The Glass Ceiling, campaigns like #MeNoMore and the brave work of artists like Jaguar Jonze, more and more stories have been coming to light.
Point 2 – We will never hear the full story
Whilst the incredible work of journalists at The Guardian and Nine has led to the current industry wide examination, the facts are that we will never know everything that’s occurred as there are still many in fear of what speaking out may mean to theirs, and others, careers.
One industry insider, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has said that “There is still a fear factor in all of this”.
Point 3 – This will affect change in our industry
In the past few days, The Music has received an overwhelming response from industry about wanting a cultural change in our business. The current happenings at Sony can provide opportunity for the changes which have occurred in smaller organisations to now happen at a “major”.
We need more diversity in leadership roles and board rooms, we need for pregnancy to not be a cause for redundancy, we need safer working environments. The door is now open for Sony Music Australia to make a statement that would resonate to the whole of the Australian music industry.
Point 4 – The next head of Sony Music Entertainment Australia has an undeniable challenge ahead of them
How do you change an entire workplace culture?
History shows that it is unlikely that the current dismissals will be the last and that any deep investigation will lead to more allegations in regards to what has occurred under Handlin’s leadership. An industry figure shared that the position as the ‘poison chalice’ that no one wants to grab. Not only will new leadership have this to contend with, there’s also likely at least a year of turmoil and possible lawsuits ahead.
Speaking with industry representatives, it seems people think it’s likely that a two-step process will occur. “They need to bring an outsider, possibly from overseas, in to do the clean out whilst finding a new head in Australia who can start with a clean slate,” one insider shared.
Point 5 – This can be the catalyst but we need to act now
There’s no denying that current leaders across major organisations in this industry are overwhelmingly white, straight and male. The conversation this week has been clear – Sony has the opportunity to lead change and appoint a leader outside of this demographic, with a number of names being put forward by industry representatives already.
One manager shared their dismay at the lack of diversity at the top of labels globally, something that made a substantial impact for their artist.
It’s not just anecdotal either, the hard evidence is there. Last week, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative – a “leading think tank in the world studying diversity and inclusion in entertainment through original research and sponsored projects” run through the University Of Southern California in the US – shared its Inclusion In The Music Business: Gender & Race/Ethnicity Across Executives, Artists & Talent Teams report.
The study found that across the 4,060 executives surveyed across 119 US companies and six industry categories – music groups, labels, publishers, radio, streaming, live music/concert promotion – that there was a huge disparity in the representation of women and POC leaders.
“The study examined executive diversity in three ways: among CEOs and presidents across 70 major and independent companies; across senior management teams at nine major music companies; and in executive roles across 119 companies from the VP-level and above in six industry categories,” read the report results.
“Beginning with the CEO, chair, and president roles across 70 major and independent music companies, 13.9% of top executives across were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, 4.2% were Black, and 13.9% were women. Unlike the majors, there were 10 underrepresented CEOs running independent companies across the music industry. However, only 2 of these were underrepresented women and only 3 were Black.” See the full report here.
Keep in mind that these numbers are reflective of the US music industry but there are some hard comparisons that can be drawn to the Australian industry.
It’s an obvious call for change and one that needs to be met for our industry to move past its current ‘old guard’.
Sony Music Australia has the opportunity to do this and we call on them to do so; to show that diversity matters, to show that inclusion matters.
This needs to be the example – not the exception but, in fact, the rule. It’s time.