The following MBW op / ed is from Paulette Long OBE (pictured) who has a 35+ year career in the UK music industry in artist management, music publishing, PR and more. Long is Vice-Chair of the UK Music Diversity Task Force and Co-Chair of the BPI Advisory group on equality and justice.
I sat on a board of directors in the music industry for the first time over 16 years ago and at the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I came from the more diverse oasis of the independent black music scene and was the only woman of color in the room. While I now have a term to describe my own “intersectionality,” I didn’t really have the time to focus on my own gender disadvantage back then (and frankly it was visibly painful to see so few women at the table ), and that’s because I was aware that I was different because of my ethnicity.
It wasn’t always pleasant, but I quickly learned to adapt my style to get the most out of every interaction in the boardroom.
Britain is similar to the US in that, when looking at the two protected traits of ethnicity and gender, gender was (and still is) the subject people would feel more comfortable with and talk to, while ethnicity is not.
Over the years I have managed to navigate my way through this room, to be the lonely voice in the room, and to use the references of my lived experience to speak for the black community to which I belonged. My specific knowledge as a music publisher in the independent scene was valuable, I had a lot to say and I have said a lot. But I also spent a lot of time wrestling my mind trying to find new ways to talk about racial inequalities without sounding like a broken record and my audience falling apart. Fortunately, there have been a few allies over the years (without them the journey would have been much more difficult) who every now and then nodded their support to let me know that I wasn’t just making up my mind how bad things were.
I learned quite a bit on these boards, but two very simple points that stood out were; If the CEO isn’t on an issue, there won’t be any real movement (but there can be a lot of hot air and symbolic words). I have also found that companies with a lot of power in the room if they felt that an item on the agenda was not going to have a positive or negative impact on their bottom line (even if it was for the public good) they would not get involved ( hence there) would be switching off certain topics) and their perception was often viewed through a very, very narrow lens. Diversity usually sat somewhere between these thought processes. And so nothing has really changed for diversity for years.
Fast forward to 2020 and it was great to see black women like Binta Niambi Brown of the Black Music Action Coalition in New York and Sheryl Nwosu, Afryea Henry-Fontaine, Komali Scott-Jones and Char Grant of the Black Music Coalition in the UK. These are just a few of the many black women in music using their influence in a room and current examples of headstrong, powerful women bringing their voices to the table for a very public talk about races in the music industry. Now realizing that reputational damage from diversity is bad for business, CEOs need to check their black squares. Let’s not forget that Black Out Tuesday was started by black, female US music managers Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas. These causes and movements really helped get the ball rolling, meddling, and making headlines.
Add to the mix the ten point plan promoted by Ammo Talwar, Chair of the UK Music Diversity Taskforce. This plan has been refined together with Ammo and me with the heads of the UK music affiliates and we are starting to see some movement and direction of travel
The plan has a clear set of outcomes to be achieved between 2020-2022 and is implemented with respect, values and accountability.
A year after Black Out Tuesday, it is therefore appropriate for UK Music to release for the first time the detailed ethnic data from the 2020 Diversity Report showing where black, Asian and ethnic minorities are in the industry in terms of career levels are located. Or more to the point where they aren’t.
The data shows the gaps that need to be filled, data that will finally break down the ‘BAME’ term our ten-point plan recommended by ethnic group. And the results confirm what we intuitively knew to be true, systemic inequality still exists and we still have a way to go. This clearly shows that the elimination of ‘BAME’ was the right way to go. Now we’re going to see the real story for black and brown people in the industry.
More much-needed data on the UK music industry will soon be available via Black Lives in Music, led by another black woman, Charisse Beaumont, who leads a survey whose groundbreaking goal is key to understanding diversity in the music industry among black creatives and creatives Professionals.
The voice of the black woman has always been there, with values such as dignity, unity and solidarity, she fights for diversity in its many forms for the coming generation. At this moment, however, the power comes to reinforce our message by connecting across generations and continents and coordinating and complementing each other’s work. Let’s stay on track, stay focused, and band together to introduce an industry change in our lives.Music business worldwide