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On 2 June 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd, an initiative created by two Black women, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, became a seminal moment in the music industry. The MU observed #TheShowMustBePaused in solidarity with our Black members and communities globally.

For the MU, #TheShowMustBePaused has had a huge effect on how we communicate with our members who experience racism and the way we approach conversations with the wider membership and the music industry about racism and its impact on musicians. We are thankful to Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang for instigating the initiative.

Amplifying, engaging and empowering

Finding ways for us as an organisation to amplify the voices of Black, Asian, and ethnically diverse members, engage these members in discussions and empower them to take the lead was essential if our work on anti-racism was going to be credible and have an impact.

Led by John Shortell our Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) and with the help of Chardine Taylor Stone, the Vice Chair of the MU’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee, we set up a dedicated, consistent space for Black, Asian, and ethnically diverse members to discuss issues that impact them, this was the most important first step.

The Network for Members who Experience Racism have been instrumental in shaping the MU’s anti-racism work and resources and ensuring that Black, Asian and ethnically diverse members’ voices are at the centre of conversations about anti-racism, and feed into the wider work of the MU.

The MU’s Equality Networks have gone from strength to strength since they were first established and now have over 100 members each. The networks, along with the EDI Committee, have been a driving force in shaping the MU’s anti-racism and wider EDI work.

Stepping up our work on improving representation and participation

There have been some wins for us since The Show Must Be Paused. Diversity in music syllabi was an issue the MU had already been working on, but after we posted the black square, we knew it was time to step up our work on improving representation and participation in music education. We wanted the MU to lead the way on ensuring music syllabi reflect the diversity of music teachers and the students they teach.

In August 2020 the MU published an open letter on behalf of over 70 organisations to the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), demanding they take measurable action to diversify their syllabi. In response, ABRSM committed to some of the demands, including ensuring that 20% of all syllabi content comes from composers who are Black, Brown, and Indigenous People of Colour.

The MU continues to work with ABRSM, Rock School London, Hal Leonard, Pearson Edexcel and London College of Music to ensure that their syllabi and networks of music examiners are diverse and fully representative.

We’re also really proud of our role as a founding member of the European Alliance for Audition Support (EAAS) led by The Chineke! Foundation. The EAAS will work to remove the barriers that musicians of colour face in the UK and European orchestras through preparation for auditions, intensive workshops, mentoring and provide financial assistance to attend auditions.

The formation of the alliance comes directly from a motion to MU Conference 2019 moved by Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE.

The MU are also signatories to UK Music’s ten-point plan to improve the diversity of staff at the MU and are taking steps to implement each of the points over the coming year.

Producing the MU Equality Action Plan

The Show Must be Paused helped us to reconsider our entire EDI work across the equalities spectrum and how we can better reflect member’s needs, members voices and have a more targeted approach to tackling these issues within the MU, the industry and in wider society.

We knew we needed to look forward and come up with a solid plan that would really effect change. John, the Head of EDI at the MU has worked closely with our various Equality Networks and the EDI Committee to produce the MU Equality Action Plan that will guide our EDI agenda over the coming years, enable us to be held accountable, keep our work focused and make sure EDI stays at the top of our agenda so we can drive change in the industry and beyond.

The action plan gives guidance on what members can expect from the MU and sets clear targets on how the MU plans to become a more diverse and inclusive Trade Union and support underrepresented members into leadership positions. The targets are aspirational, and they are there so we can measure success, measure how representative we are, identify barriers to joining the MU and help us to actively engage groups that may be underrepresented in our membership.

For the action plan to be truly successful it needed commitment from leaders. I am happy to say that the senior leadership team and the MU Executive Committee are all true advocates for equality and supporters of inclusion. Their commitment to the plan will help set the benchmark for the behaviours we want to see displayed throughout the industry.

One of our goals with the action plan is to create a trade union of allies, who push and promote the MU’s EDI agenda in their workplaces so that no one experiences discrimination, everyone can be treated fairly, and all members can work to their full potential.

Enabling our members to advocate for themselves and each other

Through focusing on activities and initiatives that create inclusive cultures such as regular EDI education sessions, blogs that promote best practice and highlighting the issues underrepresented members face, we want to enable our members to advocate for themselves and each other. These actions will help build an inclusive, fair, and equitable music industry with diverse musicians’ voices at its heart.

There is still so much work to be done before we reach that point and as the industry starts to recover from Covid-19, we will make sure EDI becomes more embedded in our work than ever before.

We want the action plan to help create an industry wide movement that focuses on equity and instigating change through education, policy, and action.

Read the new Equality Action Plan in full.

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Thanks to

Naomi Pohl

Naomi Pohl was elected General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union in March 2022 and is the first woman to take up the role in the Union’s almost 130 year history. She has worked in the arts sector in the UK for nearly 20 years representing creators and performers. Naomi joined the MU in 2009, and has represented and championed the rights of musicians, songwriters and composers working across TV and film, the recorded music industry, in education, orchestras and theatre. Since the Me Too movement started Naomi has been leading the Union’s SafeSpace service and the Union’s campaign to tackle sexual harassment in the music industry. Naomi is currently campaigning for improved streaming royalties for performers as part of the MU’s #FixStreaming campaign, in conjunction with The Ivors Academy.

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