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We can’t wait another generation for the music industry to get diverse and equal.

Is the music industry serious about equality and diversity? Where next after #BritsSoWhite, Music Week’s ‘30 under 30’ and Billboards Power 100? [Originally published on in March 2016]

Audience members at YGN Event in March 2016

In the last month the music industry has experienced a series of PR fails when it comes to its diversity. #BritsSoWhite, Music Week magazine’s ’30 under 30’ list of young business talent in which the ‘future of the music industry’ pictured was almost entirely white, and the Billboard Power 100 being criticised for its relative lack of women and ethnic minorities. In the UK, the skills organisation Creative and Cultural Skills publishes the best statistics on the demographics of the industry. In 2013 it estimated that the music industry workforce was 4% Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) and 32% female compared to 10% BAME and 46% female in the UK workforce as a whole.[1] This seems particularly low on ethnic minorities when you consider that Creative and Cultural Skills also says 29% of the industry is based in London where 40% of the population are non-white[2].

As a black woman in the UK music industry I have often been the only one around the board table or one of a handful at mainstream industry events, but I hoped that over time this might change.

The further I’ve progressed in my career the starker the lack of black people at senior levels has been. Mostly, I’ve worked with other professionals, done my job and gotten on with it — and it’s been fine. But I’ve become increasingly disquieted about my industry’s approach to equalities over the years. Nearly a decade ago in 2007, I was the founding chair of a group called Alliance for Diversity in Music and Media. It called for the music industry to establish, for the first time, a plan to address equality and diversity across gender/race/disability/sexuality etc. Five years later in 2012, when I was working at industry body UK Music, I was able to bring together the CEOs of 9 music industry organisations to sign a public pledge, the Equality and Diversity Charter for Music, vowing that they would work to build a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Has it made a difference? The statistics and the headlines we’ve seen recently would suggest not. There are individuals who are passionately committed to improving things. But the Equality and Diversity Charter for Music initiative is adrift, when I checked today the website had last been updated in February 2013, so something clearly still needs fixing.

What is being done? Well there’s support for young people to “find out about career opportunities” in music or “get into the industry”. The BPI’s Big Music Project, Urban Development’s Urban Takeover and other projects have received substantial public funding over a number of years to support their work in this area. Apprenticeships are currently an appealing and affordable way for employers to diversify their recruitment and the music industry has embraced them. Small Green Shoots, a charity where I am a trustee, is one of several organisations that has had great success in nurturing apprentices and embedding them within the workplace. The music industry is currently included in the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s ‘Creative Pioneers’ program to open up even more entry-level positions to apprentices.

But once young people are ‘in’ the industry and have that job, things aren’t so easy. On top of talent, they need support, training, mentoring, opportunities, a profile and a network that has their back in order to progress. I’ve been in a position to hear anecdotally from black and brown people at both junior and senior levels who have talked to me off-the-record about their feeling of isolation within their organisations. Progression routes for ethnic-minority people when they are no longer the fresh young “urban street team” members are vital. We also need some way of developing the many entrepreneurial individuals who set up their own labels, PR companies and management companies. Most of all we need to think about how we will develop our ethnic minority business talent into leadership positions.

In February 2013 Young Guns Network (YGN) was launched. YGN, which I co-founded and funded together with Sam Potts, was put together with the help of an amazing team of young people from a range of diverse backgrounds; people who already had their foot in the door, but were ambitious to progress and make their mark in the industry. We have hosted a total of more than 1000 people at our events to date. We consider ourselves a group that has diversity ‘built-in’ with a great gender and ethnic diversity in our team, and we’d like to see our industry tackle the diversity issue in a serious way.

It’s YGN’s third birthday event on 24th March 2016, and we will be proposing that the music industry creates a Future Leaders Programme for mid-career ethnic-minority talent in the industry (aged for example around 25–35) working not just with those within corporations but encompassing our freelance and entrepreneurial workers as well. It could be based on the Music Leaders Network, for example, which was a highly regarded and successful pilot-project created by the Music Publishers Association to develop mid-career female leaders in 2007/8. I was lucky enough to benefit from this program which included training in leadership skills and the provision of executive coaching. I was subsequently promoted twice and have continued to benefit from the development I received. A similar Future Leaders Programme could bring through a cohort of talented executives from diverse backgrounds and feed them quickly into the industry’s leadership and senior levels. We can’t wait another 20 years for diversity and equality to happen.

Many black and ethnic minority people in the music industry have shown a commitment to making this difference by starting informal networks or organisations, sometimes funding them out of their own incomes or by applying for grants or giving time free as informal mentors.

But now YGN is calling on our industry to support them. An equal and diverse industry doesn’t just happen by accident — it needs planning, resources and commitment. There must be progression routes for our members beyond the admin assistant, A&R scout, street team and social media manager level. If they have set up their own companies they should be joining and refreshing the ageing membership of trade bodies and be being developed by the industry and supported into leadership roles.

Our music industry needs to change its culture when it comes to equality and diversity, and if it doesn’t take this issue seriously, and do something different, then expect to see no change in the statistics — or in the headlines — in future. @remimcharris @YGN

[1] 1350901070-Creative-and-Cultural-Industries-Music-Statistics-2012–13, figures are based on the Annual Population Survey in 2010/11.

[2] According to the 2011 Census.

Words: Remi Harris

Photograph: Louis Browne


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