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The livelihoods of many musicians have suffered during the pandemic, and social inequalities already experienced by marginalised groups have worsened. Insecurity and heavily polarised debates about Brexit and vaccinations have deepened divisions in our communities. Social issues making the headlines have put discrimination in the spotlight, including Black Lives Matter, women’s safety, and the exclusion of disabled people and their voices from public spaces.

When the picture feels so bleak there is consolation in understanding that equality is a trade union issue. The collective weight of the MU is the key to successfully creating safer and fairer workplaces and communities for members. This is only achievable by actively involving a wide diversity of members at all levels of the Union. The MU has embraced this challenge over the last year, making significant progress in demonstrating its commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion through delivering training, building the members’ networks, facilitating a range of campaigns, and creating the Equality Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) action plan. One silver lining of the pandemic has been the ability to maximise remote working to make it more accessible to engage with the Union.

Supported by the MU’s Head of ED&I, John Shortell, the ED&I Committee raises issues and sets goals for addressing discrimination and inequality. The Committee is dynamic and engaged, consisting of elected members from a range of backgrounds across different sections of the music industry. Feedback from members is central to understanding workplace issues and priorities, and the Equality Member Networks provide safe spaces to share views and get involved on an informal basis. Robust diversity data collection is a priority to complement this work and forms part of the 10-point ED&I action plan. The action plan identifies targets to increase diversity, access and engagement, while educating and challenging discrimination in musicians’ careers.

Combatting harassment and discrimination

The sexism faced by women in music is frequently raised, ranging from sexual harassment and lack of facilities, to the impact of discrimination after having children. The Union has developed a template policy for breastfeeding at work and lobbying for a statutory right to paid breaks for breastfeeding and expressing. The MU also believes it is important to take a stand over the way that women are discriminated against at the highest levels of society. The MU is proud to back the Pregnant Then Screwed judicial review case against the Chancellor for the discriminatory criteria that prevented many freelance women from accessing the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

Ongoing work aims to protect members from sexual harassment and make it easier to report their experiences. The For The Love Of Music report prompted the launch of the Protect Freelancers Too campaign, which lobbies the UK government for better protections from sexual harassment. The website contains a set of resources to educate members and support venues to implement anti-sexual harassment policies.

Olive Mondegreen. Photo by Kenny McCracken
ED&I Committee member Olive Mondegreen. Photo by Kenny McCracken

The MU’s Safe Space scheme, an anonymous online reporting tool for members to share their experiences, has now been developed into an app. ED&I Committee member Lynn Henderson noted that this scheme is especially valuable for freelancers who have no HR department to raise concerns with. In addition to challenging discrimination, the MU acts to celebrate diversity and support inclusion. Intersectional working empowers members to find common ground, build allyship and amplify each other’s voices. ED&I Committee member Olive Mondegreen said: “It’s really important for me to understand different types of people, so I can make better decisions in my life when I need to support certain people. I find the committee just an incredible space for also having solidarity between different minorities and I think this is what we really need at the moment.”

Working together towards diversifying syllabi and moving towards screened auditions

The MU supports good work elsewhere in the industry, backing the UK Music Diversity Report 10-point plan. The MU’s anti-racism work has been shaped by the Members Who Experience Racism network, as has the work to improve representation and participation in music education, resulting in an open letter challenging the ABRSM to diversify their syllabi. This action opened up a positive dialogue with the ABRSM and saw them implement some of the demands.

Resources and playlists are available to help members to diversify their own syllabi. Linton Stephens, chair of the ED&I Committee, highlighted screened auditions in orchestras as an important move in removing unconscious bias from the process, although more work is needed to address discrimination during trials. The process of change is slow, but Linton feels that organisations are starting to question how they can accommodate people with different needs.

Removing barriers for all musicians

The MU also seeks to remove the barriers that exist for disabled musicians. Securing reasonable adjustments and access to venues can be difficult and led to the development of the Access Rider. A Disabled Musicians’ membership rate has been implemented, which does not require members to provide evidence of eligibility. This has the potential to remove unnecessary barriers and recognises that disabled members often experience additional financial pressures in their working lives.

Verity Susman ; Photo: Annabel Staff / Getty Images
ED&I Committee member Verity Susman. Photo by Annabel Staff / Getty Images

During LGBT+ History Month, the Activism and Allyship panel discussion raised the visibility of the issues faced by LGBT+ musicians. Advocacy work is ongoing and new resources include guidance on supporting trans colleagues and travel advice for LGBT+ musicians when touring in countries that are hostile to LGBT+ people. The ED&I action plan sets out clear and measurable goals for the next two to three years. Training for staff and members on a range of topics is provided, including unconscious bias, anti-racism and Mental Health First Aid.

Diverse representation is needed throughout the MU’s decision-making structures to create a long-lasting change in the Union and in workplaces. The MU has recognised this by creating reserved seats on the Section Committees, with a commitment to achieve 50:50 gender balance on committees by 2022, and actively reaching out to under-represented members. These aren’t token gestures. The Union values the professional expertise that members bring as well as different perspectives informed by their lived experiences. This approach builds a stronger and more representative union, and as John Shortell explains:

In terms of building ED&I into our campaigns and our lobbying, we must make sure that we’re always asking these questions about whose voices are represented here or who does this issue disproportionately impact?

The ED&I Committee was an important first step for Verity Susman to build her confidence and understanding of the Union, which has encouraged her to consider standing for other seats. She said, “because I face so much sexism, I want to feel like I can actually do something about it. It’s about all of those different perspectives feeding into that high level. Otherwise, you’re going to miss a whole perspective, not even intentionally. They’re just not going to think of certain things and that’s why you do need diverse committees.”

"The network of power"

As well as contributing to the Union’s work, becoming involved is a great way to develop new skills and gain support, no matter where you are in your career. Linton Stephens encourages young MU members to come forward:

A union is a great place to be connected, both for activism, but also for knowing people within the industry who are going to stand in your corner. You’ve got this network of power around you and I think that’s a really important thing. We all like the comfort of knowing that somebody’s got our back.

The MU has a strong vision for its ED&I work and every member has the power to make a difference. Whatever your lived experience, there has never been a better time for your voice to be heard within the MU.

How Member Networks are making an impact

ED&I Committee member Olive Mondegreen described how the networks allow for a diverse range of opinions to inform the committee, rather than being restricted to the experiences of the elected members. Involvement brings other benefits for her too. “In my music life I actually don’t know that many LGBT+ professional musicians in the circle that I’m in. It’s been really nice in the network to be around other professional LGBT+ people.”

In addition to the ED&I Committee, the MU is committed to increasing diversity on the elected regional and industry-specific section committees, and the Executive Committee which is the national governing body of the Union.

Since being elected to the ED&I Committee, Lynn Henderson has been co-opted to the TUC Women’s Committee in the young members’ seat, providing an opportunity to represent members’ interests to the wider trade union movement. She encourages members to give the elections a go, “it’s so easy, a tiny little bio and send it off – and being an ED&I Committee member isn’t as much work as it might seem.”

Get involved

Remember, you can also influence the Union’s services, policies and campaigns by sharing your views with elected members.

Join our Member Network

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Natasha Hirst

Natasha is a deaf freelance photographer and writer. She is also a disability activist, and is the vice-president of the National Union of Journalists.

MU ED&I work

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