UK music industry study: diversity increase stalls at senior levels

Report finds that Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees account for fewer than 20% of executive roles, with women making up about 40%

The senior levels of the UK music industry remain stubbornly white and male, with Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees making up only 19.9% of executive roles, and women 40.4%, according to a study.

The latest biennial UK Music report into industry diversity found general signs of progress: Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation across the board rose from 17.8% in 2018 to 22.3% in 2020. Gender participation has held steady, with women representing 49.6% of industry roles, marginally up from 49.1% two years ago.

But despite an increase of gender and ethnicity diversity at nearly every level, career development for these groups remains sluggish, with representation tailing off in higher age and income brackets. The number of women in the 45-64 age group has fallen from 38.7% in 2018 to 35% in 2020. Nadia Khan of Women in Ctrl, an organisation that supports women in the music industry, said ageism was “rife”. “An older women is seen as past it, whereas older men are seen as wise and accomplished.”

Andreea Magdalina is founder of, a global community of women and non-binary people in the music industry. She described a number of challenges facing women’s advancement in the music industry, including maternity policies and the requirement to attend late-night events. “It’s a much better environment for young people who don’t have personal commitments or family and can afford to go out for a show every night.” She called attention to the confidence gap between men and women in the industry, and affirmed the importance of non-cognitive training in skills such as the art of negotiation and countering imposter syndrome.

Sheryl Nwosu, chair of the Black Music Coalition (BMC) and a barrister at 25 Bedford Row, said that cultural change was needed to address the career progression of Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. “There are so many reasons people at entry or middle levels sometimes don’t make it up the ranks: race-based issues, micro-aggressions, a lack of understanding of what they need to be supported in their work, which comes from a lack of understanding of their background and skillsets.”

Racially homogenous executive departments perpetuated the issue, said Nwosu. “When employees go forward for appraisals, sometimes when you have one set of people doing those appraisals, they’re looking for people who look like them.”

In a 10-point set of proposals, UK Music set out a plan to promote the cultural change that Nwosu described. Led by chair Ammo Talwar MBE and deputy chair Paulette Long OBE, its diversity taskforce spent nine months in consultation with music industry figures to address the challenges facing the career development of Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees, meeting many of the requests set out in an open letter published by the BMC following the group’s formation this summer.

UK Music chief executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said: “If our music industry is to tell the story of modern-day Britain, then it needs to look like modern-day Britain too. This groundbreaking report is an important step towards achieving that.”

UK Music’s members – among them the Association of Independent Music, the British Phonographic Industry and the Musicians’ Union and the Performing Rights Society – have committed to investing in recruitment and training to to ensure a diversity of candidates and fair career opportunities, as well as programmes to increase diversity in middle and senior management, working towards targets of 30% Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation and gender equality. Each member will develop diversity policies and targets and invest in social organisations whose work relates to gender and race.

The controversial term “urban music” is also to be replaced in all reports and communication by specific genre terms or “Black music”. Members will also stop using the acronym BAME.

The BMC welcomed the latter point but Nwosu said attention must be paid to participation of individual ethnic groups. “Within each particular group, you have separate communities that may be affected and underrepresented in different ways – for example, different parts of the Asian community may be nowhere to be found. Then you can see their barriers to entry, which may be very different to the barriers related to, say, the white Irish traveller community, who would also be covered under this acronym as a minority group.”

Some UK Music members have already taken action following the music industry blackout held in June following the death of George Floyd. PRS for Music said unconscious bias training was now mandatory for all employees. The Ivors Academy, which campaigns for the interests of songwriters, lyricists and composers, dramatically diversified its board this year, reaching gender parity and raising Black, Asian and ethnic minority representation from 6% to 25% – and disability representation from 6% to 13%.

The 10-point plan will also seek to improve transparency around the gender and ethnic pay gap. The 2020 report is the first to survey income disparity. Paying attention to socioeconomic conditions would lead to a fairer industry, said Magdalina. “The fact that we’re also asking interns to work for two years before they get paid is ridiculous and ensures that only a select part of the population can afford to start building a career in music.”

UK Music’s diversity taskforce was established in 2015, publishing its first report in 2016: reports are released every two years. A record 3,670 music industry employees took part this year. The British music industry contributes £5.2bn per year to the UK economy, and underpins 190,000 jobs.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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