Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable!

I was pleased to be asked to be part of a symposium on Partnership and Progress – The Development of Music Hubs in the UK and present at this years ISME conference in Glasgow by Pete Moser especially when I was given the topic he wanted me to present on – Building a Culturally Diverse Workforce.

There are 123 Music Education Hubs (MEHs) in England and, as an Assistant Head of Ealing Music Partnership Hub in West London, I am one of the very few people who identify as BAME and is in a senior leadership role.

Samantha SpenceI frequently attend music education conferences and events and more often than not, do not 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.

When I started my journey into music education leadership I was a reluctant leader.  Why? Because I felt as if I didn’t belong. I felt isolated.  I know now this is not uncommon unfortunately for many people but especially those who are BAME.

The case for Cultural Diversity in the Workforce is more pertinent now than ever I believe. We need to challenge this homogenous culture where decisions are made by one monolithic group of people.  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.

BAME1Arts Council England (ACE) have began to take 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 out 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 – once working for you, are there an opportunities for growth for BAME employees within the organisation? What support might some of these people need?
  • Support networks –  I was fortunate enough to lead and co-ordinate a Black Educators Network for BAME teachers in the borough of Islington. 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 and be supported by those who were leaders and can share their knowledge and experience.

Increasing the number of BAME artists and music educators 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 find myself in a position of power and influence I am able to make things happen.  I am able to contribute through the skills and knowledge I posses but also present my perspective from the culture to which I belong.

But in order to make things happen we need to get – to quote Aaron Dorkin the founder of the Sphinx organisation – a little bit uncomfortable. He states that 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 some conscious or unconscious bias present. But often it is not that. More often it simply not on organisation’s radar. Not a priority. Not considered relevant. I believe it is more relevant now than 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 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 Spence at

Arts Council England – The Creative Case for Diversity

Tony Robbins – Re-awaken the Giant Within


Blog first published by Youth Music

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