Editorial: Diversity - Redressing An Imbalance

21 Jul 2016

Diversity Management In The UK Music Industry. UK Music business. MusicTank
Credits: pixabay

Ringing in my ears from last week’s UK Music Diversity Summit was one of chair Keith Harris’ comments as he introduced the afternoon’s proceedings.

It was genuinely shocking to hear, and was said against the background of increased racial tension in the US in the same week that saw another spate of Police shootings of young black American males.

“As a black man who’s worked in the highest levels of the music industry in both the US and the UK, I can tell you that a black American male has much better career prospects in the music industry than his UK counterpart.”

It was a chastening comment; a leveller for us here in the UK who perhaps assume that as a nation renowned for its diverse and integrated society, that we are somehow better, more advanced…

Launching at this event was our free publication – Diversity Management In The UK Music Industry: The Thoughts and Perspectives of Black Employees – a redacted paper, summarising Tamara Witt’s detailed 2015 MA research paper.

Unique in her approach to this topic, Tamara focused on the extent and range of felt discriminations across the UK music business, raising awareness of unfair practices in the expectation that the industry significantly improve its record on diversity.

As such, her work is both timely and significant, preceding the #BritsSoWhite campaign earlier this year – a social media response to the double-whammy of an all-white 2016 Brit Awards which sadly echoed the Academy Awards’ similar shortcomings – and the ensuing media storm about how these institutions choose their nominees.

Add to this, Music Week’s 2016 “30 under 30” list, consisting of 28 white finalists, you don’t have to look far to see bias at work, whether unconscious or otherwise; granted Music Week later apologised “for not doing our jobs well enough in this instance” and pledging immediate reform or its nomination and selection process.

Published under our Future Thinking strand, this paper concludes with a broad range of recommendations, among them being the crying need for better and more accurate data in order to get a true understanding of the extent of the music business workforces’ underrepresentation of black and minority ethnics.

With that in mind we welcome last week’s launch of UK Music’s Diversity survey, supported by all the main music organisations, the outcome of which seeks to enable “the ecosystem behind British music [to be] as representative, vibrant and diverse as the music we export globally.”

Readers are urged to take the survey here.

Practices less understood but revealed in this paper include the assertion that whilst the recruitment of ‘back office’ staff was believed to be ethnically diverse, the continued prevalence of the glass ceiling, the insularity of ‘old boys’ networks, perceived norms and endemic hierarchical practices collectively conspire to negatively impact career progression, equality of opportunity and maintain disparities in levels of pay.

As one interviewee summed up her experiences of repeated hollow promises of promotion…

“I was promised [a] head of department [position] a thousand and one times, but I don’t think it’ll ever really happen… it’s really bad… Like all my friends, I think they have all been promised head of department positions and never got them.”

Misunderstanding black culture, stereotyping and the lack of role models are other key findings of this paper…

“I think breaking the stereotype, of what they thought, or what people thought of a black man in the music industry or what he should be doing, or where he should be. I didn’t want to be boxed-in by the stereotype… That was probably for me, my greatest challenge.” – Darcus Beese. 

The BPI’s Ged Doherty is to be commended for his unwavering commitment to turn things around beginning with a much needed overhaul of the BRIT award nominations panel, and the distribution of the awards themselves. He pulled no punches when commenting at the Summit that on becoming the chair of the BPI in 2014, he found it to be “the least diverse organisation I’ve ever worked for.”

Tamara’s paper calls for the major labels to lead by example – they are the industry’s largest employers after all – yet diversity is an industry-wide issue and each must play their part in redressing this imbalance. We hope that the recommendations in this paper serve as a starting point for those companies and organisations currently failing to appropriately represent the rich and diverse make-up of the country.

It’s 2016. It’s time for change.

Editorial by Jonathan Robinson

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