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Opening day-two of Members’ Conference, MU Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion John Shortell explained the union’s role in building equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and why it is a fundamental trade union issue.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is a community effort

“Morning everyone. Thank you for joining us today, thanks for coming by. Yesterday we had a packed day. A really busy conference. So far, we’ve discussed mental health, ageism, LGBT+ inclusion, neuro-inclusive workplaces, universal basic income, and parenting and caring. Today we've got another packed conference where we'll be discussing anti-racism, gender equality, accessibility, social mobility and menopause.

“Now, I know all these sessions are separate, but these sessions, these issues are interconnected. All of these are issues that you, our members, brought to us and raised as barriers to opportunity, barriers to progression or barriers to even starting a career in the music industry.

“The trade union movement grew from a belief that when united, the minority can have the voice of the majority. Placing responsibility for EDI on one individual or one group won’t work. As Alex and Naomi were saying, this is a community effort. The MU must bring together members, officials, industry leaders and colleagues from across the music industry and the wider trade union movement to work on these issues and collectively make change. And that's what this conference is designed to do.”

"The trade union movement grew from a belief that when united, the minority can have the voice of the majority." Photo credit: Musicians' Union

Taking an active role building a more inclusive music industry

“There's lots of talk in the music industry about being more diverse and we do need to be more diverse. We can't sit back and hope that diversity will bring inclusion and equality because diversity alone won’t guarantee either. We can't just focus on diversity. We also need to look at what happens next.

“Are we creating diverse workplaces where the structures that enable racism, sexism, classism, or ableism still exists? Because if we're doing that, then we're failing our job.

“Are we challenging the structures that enable those behaviours to go unchecked? That's where the real work happens. If our goal is to diversify the music industry and make it truly reflective of society, then we must tackle the systems that produce inequality. That means a 360 approach to diversity and inclusion.

“We can't just focus on who's represented on stage or in the pit, in classrooms and recording studios. We must also focus on who's making those decisions, what framework they're making those decisions in, who's setting the agenda, and what policy and practices exist that inhibit inclusion.”

The Musicians’ Union is on that journey with members

“The MU is on that journey, and with our members and our partners that are here today, we are focusing on making the MU as diverse and inclusive as we possibly can, and we hope to bring the music industry along with us on that journey.

“The MU’s response to our EDI issues is shaped entirely by our members, and by our members’ lived experiences. We've got a fantastic EDI committee and fantastic member networks that give their time and share their experiences with us and really help us shape that work. And we've created those vital spaces for our members to have their voices heard. These spaces have guided the MU’s work, held us accountable and instigated change within the MU and across the industry.

“We've worked closely with our member networks and the EDI Committee to devise the Equality Action Plan that will guide our work over the next four years. And that plan covers all areas of the MU and the music industry, from recruitment and retention to training and education, with the ultimate aim of creating safe, accessible and inclusive workplaces for our members. It's an ambitious plan, and look I'll be honest with you sometimes I look at that plan and think how are we going to do all this?!

“But it should be ambitious. We are the MU, and we are led by our members and this is what our members want us to do. Thankfully, I've got the full support of the EDI Committee, our member networks, the EC, and me wonderful colleagues as well so thank you. I really do think that we can make that happen.”

Moving in the right direction

“We've already had some success. Our member networks have now got over 500 members in each of them, and our Women's Network is populated by over 1000 members. We've got almost 40% of our members’ diversity monitoring data so we're beginning to understand what our membership looks like, where we've got gaps in diversity and understand who we don't yet represent.

“We've trained thirty mental health first aiders so far with the help of Music Support, and we're really focusing on capturing the freelance community so wherever our members work, they can always be signposted support.

“Over the last 12 months, we've had five events targeted at our underrepresented membership and three events to build EDI knowledge and awareness for the broader membership. We've also worked with employees and engagers to create opportunities for our underrepresented members, help them build links with the wider industry and with diverse communities and help them implement best practice.

“But look, I'm going to be real, I'm not going to stand up here and say that the MU is perfect because we're not, we're far from it. We've got so much work to do. And again, that's what this conference is about is what comes next.”

The MU’s plans for 2023

“This next year we'll be focusing our efforts on engaging much more with our member networks in a much more structured way. These networks as a set of vital spaces for our members play a massive part in making the MU more inclusive, more diverse and more accessible, and they make us more effective in tackling issues because we're speaking directly to members about the issues that matter to them.

“We'll also be focused on our own committees, making them as diverse as possible. Not just diverse, but inclusive so committees are safe spaces where you can have your issues heard, and you understand that you'll be appreciated and listened to and we work collectively to work on those issues. We'll also be focusing on recruiting and retaining more diverse members, working closely with Wasim, our Head of Membership and his team.

“We’ll also, as Naomi said yesterday, be looking at tackling issues of discrimination, harassment and diversity of collective bargaining level. And there'll be a key piece of research coming out next year in January that’ll help us understand what the music industry looks like now, where the barriers are and who's working where. There’ll also be a focus internally on the staff at the MU, making the staff more diverse so all our members can see themselves represented in our union officials and organisers.”

Movement in the right direction

“Our work over the last few years has grown massively and that's down to our membership supporting this work, sharing the experiences, and investing their time and energy in driving this work forward not only in their workplaces but in wider society. We're still yet to see the change we desire or, in the words of someone who we respect massively, Paulette Long, we're seeing movement and we're seeing movement in the right direction.

“Representing musicians from every section of society, whoever they are, and wherever they work lies at the heart of what the MU does. And together I think that we can make real change. Together I think that we can make the music industry a truly inclusive and diverse place where everyone can belong.

“Thank you again for joining us and thank you again for being generous with your time and sharing your experiences with us.”

Building an inclusive trade union and music industry

John’s speech kicked off a second day of keynotes, panels and breakouts exploring different answers to the question: how do we build an inclusive trade union and music industry?

Members’ Conference breakouts looked at access for disabled members, ensuring access to music education and careers for working class musicians, tackling barriers that limit women in music, an anti-racist code of conduct for the industry, and other challenges facing musicians.

Further speeches came from Chair of the MU Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee Linton Stephens and keynote speaker Grammy nominated artist and singer Kelli-Leigh. Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin talked about her musical ambitions for West Yorkshire. MU Executive Committee Chair Alex Gascoine highlighted the EC’s complete commitment to EDI work.

Panels also considered mental health support available to musicians, and how musicians can advocate for themselves and others where they are.

The MU will be sharing more highlights, including a report with recommendations made by members, in the next few weeks. Log into My MU and make sure you’re opted in to receive news communications to get them delivered directly to your inbox.

Catch up with more highlights from Members’ Conference, watch the movie, and get involved in the union’s work for equality, diversity and inclusion.

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Be sure your voice is heard - and help make the music industry a better place for every musician. At the MU we stand for equal opportunities and inclusion for musicians, and aim for the industry to be more diverse and representative.

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