Sony execs ‘on leave’ amid culture probe

It is understood the executives are Pat Handlin, the VP of A&R, and Mark Stebnicki, senior vice president of strategy, corporate affairs and human resources.Handlin is the talent scout son of former Sony CEO Denis Handlin, whose departure from the business after 51 years was announced suddenly on Monday.Sony’s global head of HR in New York is steering a months-long investigation into wide-ranging allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination involving others at the company.Staff at the music company were informed on Tuesday the executive team would liaise directly with their American counterparts on all business matters until a new CEO for the Australian arm of the company was appointed.There is no suggestion Denis or Pat Handlin or Stebnicki were involved in any inappropriate behaviour or are accused of any wrongdoing in relation to the claims about the company.Handlin’s departure, announced to staff via email from Sony Music’s global boss Rob Stringer as “time for a change in ­leadership”, sent shockwaves through the Australian industry. Many were genuinely shocked the chief executive had been unseated from the powerful position which he had held since rising to the top of Sony in 1984. His departure came just two months after he was due to be celebrated for his 50-year tenure at a gala party at the ICC in Sydney, which would also serve as a charity fundraiser for the Sony Foundation. That party, which was to have been attended by more than 500 powerbrokers from music, media and sport and feature performances from Tones and I, Amy Shark, Guy Sebastian and other chart-toppers on the label’s roster, was postponed due to Covid-19 outbreaks. But it now appears permanently cancelled.The shake-up at Sony is the result of direct complaints about the toxic workplace culture made by female staffers to Global Chief Human Resources Officer Andrew Davis in New York not long after his appointment to the role late last year. In April, Sony’s vice-president of commercial music Tony Glover was sacked after an investigation uncovered incidences of harassment, which he denied. “I want to reiterate that Sony Music does not tolerate harassment, bullying or discrimination in any part of the company,” Davis wrote in a recent email to staff. “We take seriously and look into all allegations brought to us and have been looking into recent complaints. Given our ongoing inquiries, we are limited in what we can share at this time.” But the Sony clean-out is being hailed as the tipping point for the burgeoning movement – led by women – to change the toxic culture of the Australian music industry After decades of industry-wide allegations of sexual assault and harassment and systemic discrimination have been left unaddressed or silenced by the writing of cheques and forced signings of nondisclosure agreements, victims have been sharing their harrowing stories anonymously via the Instagram account Beneath The Glass Ceiling. Producers, artists, venue operators, radio bosses and record label executives have been accused of behaviour ranging from sexual assault to abuse of power including threats of “you’ll never work in this industry again” should the victims complain. Indie pop artist Jaguar Jonze has been one of the figureheads for the drive for culture change since helping to call out a photographer last year who was preying on young female singers. “It has never been the responsibility of victims to educate and create change but with our courage, our strength and our voices combined, we have started fires that can’t be put out,” she posted on Instagram on Monday. “I have accepted my pain and now the industry needs to accept accountability. Time Is Up.”It is understood Jonze and former Sony artist Kate Miller-Heidke – who is now signed to EMI – are planning to release a single in coming weeks addressing the Australian music industry’s bad behaviour. Accountability is the key to driving the culture change, according to music industry leader Leanne de Souza, who shared her own experiences of toxic industry behaviours in 2014 with a blog post titled “What makes a gentleman – and an ar**hole – in the music business”. Without identifying the perpetrators, she said the drinking culture endemic in the industry made it unsafe for female staffers and punters. “When you are a young woman, that drinking culture is one more thing that makes it an unsafe environment,” de Souza said.“It layers hyper-vigilance and trauma on top of how hard women have to fight to be recognised for their skills and knowledge to be promoted.” Like the few dozen women who attended a culture change discussion organised by ARIA CEO Annabelle Herd and APRA boss Dean Ormston in May, de Souza asks “where are the men?” in the drive to bring the music industry’s workplace practices into the 21st century. “For us, it is an issue of individual accountability and community accountability and there is no sense the leaders of the music industry, the boards and the CEOS, are taking their legal responsibilities to their staff seriously,” she said.“Other workplaces, even politicians this year, have been dragged kicking and screaming towards accountability.” It is believed several male artist managers and label executives have been privately discussing via WhatsApp group chats how they can “act for change.” de Souza believes “after a few years of listening” to women’s stories since the MeToo movement began, it is now time for them to publicly stand up and act. She believes it could take up to 10 years to change the systemic problems in the Australian music industry.“I would like to see men – and the leadership of ARIA and APRA – to support research into what it is about the music industry that makes men feel this behaviour is OK,” she said. “It’s going to be frightening examining the complaints made and lack of action taken and I think it’s going to take 10 years before these workplaces can be safe.” It is understood the Temporary Working Group established after the industry culture change meeting in May will announce their next steps to combat sexual assault and discrimination in the music industry this week.

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