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Building a culturally diverse workforce - Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable! (Sept 2016)

Back in 2016 I was asked by Pete Moser, to be part of a symposium on Partnership and Progress - The Development of Music Hubs in the UK and present at the ISME conference in Glasgow. I was given the topic to present on - Building a Culturally Diverse Workforce. This is a subject very close to my heart. There are 123 Music Education Hubs (MEHs) in England and, as an Assistant Head of Ealing Music Partnership Hub in West London, I am a one of the very few people who identify as Black and is in a senior leadership role.

I frequently attend music education conferences and events and more often than not, don't see many people who look like me. Those that do are generally not in a senior leadership role and appear not to have any plans or opportunities to do so. Preparing for the conference made me think. How did I get here? To be an Assistant Head? A leader? I am here because a long time ago someone I worked with told me I was a leader. I just didn't know it at the time. I didn't feel like a leader. I was in my early 20s and a class teacher then. To me leaders were head teachers, directors or CEOs. Not me.

Leadership I now recognise is a challenge, a privilege, a responsibility, hugely rewarding and also... from where I was standing back then in the wonderful field world of Music Education... very very white.

This was a problem for me and the reason for my reluctance. It shouldn't have been but it was. Why? Because I felt as if I didn't belong. I know now this is not uncommon unfortunately for many people but especially those who are Black, Asian or ethnically diverse.

The case for Cultural Diversity in the workforce is more pertinent now than ever I believe. As a sector we do talk a lot about diversity. We need to be more diverse, more representative etc. Why? To tick a box or meet targets?

Building a culturally diverse workforce is much more than a tick-box exercise . It is ultimately about building the strength of your organisation.

A culturally diverse organisation brings different people together with different ideas and perspectives that can ultimately increase an organisation's ability to develop and grow, be relevant and relate to a wider audience. The leadership and workforce of the arts and cultural sector, especially those in receipt of public money, should reflect the diversity of the society we live in. The first step is to understand what this currently looks like.

Arts Council England (ACE) have taken these steps towards a wider view with their Creative Case for Diversity which require all companies supported within the national portfolio to demonstrate how they will contribute to the case. But is this enough? Will publishing this data elicit any meaningful change or will it be small, incremental and have no impact? We don't know the true picture of what is happening in Music Education Hubs as ACE does not currently ask for information about its workforce as part of the annual data return. But how hard would this be? What does the workforce diversity in our Music Education Hubs look like? Perhaps it's time to ask the question and actually answer it!

In the meantime, what can we do to encourage and develop a more culturally diverse workforce?

  • Research - search for and find regional culturally diverse artists. Who are they? Where? What are they doing?

  • Advocacy - actively promote diversity to schools and highlight the impact and benefit for all pupils.

  • Succession planning - Are there an opportunities for growth within the organisation? What support might some of these people need?

  • Support networks - Networks are extremely useful as a forum to discuss issues and concerns around working environments or access and can provide opportunities for members to learn from those who are leaders and can share their knowledge and experience.

Increasing the number of artists and music educators from under-represented is a challenge but parallel with this need to ensure our artists are represented is the need to look at our leadership of arts organisation and developing leaders of tomorrow. Now I am part of a leadership team, I am able to contribute through the skills and knowledge I posses but also present my perspective from the culture to which I belong and, more importantly, make things happen.

Conversations around diversity can make some people uncomfortable. Like they are being accused of something. They avoid it. No-one likes to be uncomfortable. Well guess what?

We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable!

The truth is that there may be conscious or unconscious bias present. But more often it is simply not on organisation's radar. Not considered relevant. I believe it is more relevant now that ever. With the presidential race in the US and Brexit, we are in danger of putting power in the hands of people who don't want a more diverse society let alone workforce. People who would make us believe that diversity is a threat.

"The path to success is to take massive, determined actions" to quote Tony Robbins. So when you go back to your organisation ask the question: "Building a culturally diverse workforce. What are we going to do about it?"

We do what we do because we know the transformative powers of the arts. We also know that diversity is at the heart of what we do, know and love. Therefore I believe we have a responsibility to not only have conversations about diversity but to make a plan and take action. One day we might truly have a culturally diverse workforce. That is the world I want my daughter to grow up in. Don't you?

For advice on how to make a plan and take action contact Sam Stimpson at

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