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The ongoing dispute with English Touring Opera (ETO) about their work to recruit a more diverse orchestra, does not stem from English Touring Opera taking proactive steps to increase diversity.

The MU celebrates organisations that are working towards a more diverse orchestral sector and are currently talking to the majority of UK orchestras about diversity and inclusion and offering guidance and support to enable change to happen.

The dispute is about the lack of process that ETO have followed, the lack of consultation with players and the way musicians have been treated.

Recruitment processes that actively exclude groups of musicians, perpetuate a system that has resulted in a lack of diversity across the orchestral sector. Transparent, fair and inclusive recruitment processes, that support diversity, foster inclusion and prevent discrimination will create long term, lasting change, and that is what the MU advocates for.

It’s clear from the information we have received that ETO’s work has fallen short in this regard.

Potential to damage the substantial equality, diversity and inclusion work happening across the sector

ETO’s processes and the way they have chosen to communicate their work to increase diversity has resulted in claims that the new musicians have been hired not because of their talent but because of a characteristic that the organisation needs to increase representation of.

The MU does not believe that. These musicians have been hired because they are fantastic at what they do. The new members of the orchestra have done exactly what was asked of them and followed the audition process that ETO set out.

Unfortunately, because ETO’s audition processes were flawed, conducted without consultation, and actively excluded existing players, their motives have been called into question.

Had ETO consulted players and the MU at the start of the process and recruited in a fair and transparent way, the MU would be celebrating and supporting their work to improve diversity, but the MU cannot celebrate or support bad practice.

What could have been a positive step forward for the orchestral sector will now be viewed as a negative that has the potential to damage the substantial equality, diversity and inclusion work happening across the sector. To be clear, diversity and inclusion are not the enemy here, a lack of strategic thinking and bad practice is.

This feature was created consultation with our Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

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Thanks to

John Shortell

John Shortell is Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at the Musicians’ Union. He has over 20 years’ experience working in the creative industries and has worked for over 10 years specifically in Equality, Diversity & Inclusion for trade unions and as a consultant in the creative and education sectors. John’s role has oversight of the Union's Equality, Diversity & Inclusion work across all sections and is secretary to the MU’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

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