Keith Harris, director of performer affairs at U.K. collecting society PPL and spokesperson for the Alliance for Diversity in Music & Media (ADMM), horrified an audience of music and media folk yesterday (Feb. 8) at the launch of the British music industry's first official Equality & Diversity (E&D) charter.
In the 1970s, he said, he had to drive 90,000 miles in about 15 months for radio promotions for a small indie label Transatlantic Records because, at the end of a long day, no bed-and-breakfast establishment (or motel) would take a black person.
"In 1976 that kind of blatant racism was abolished by law," said Harris, who is also Stevie Wonder's U.K. representative.
He then emphasized that racism has never been that extreme in the country's music business. "However, a cursory glance around the room at most of the industry awards shows would indicate that we have failed to adopt a suitable policy when it comes to ethnic-minority recruitment."
The newly launched E&D charter, coordinated by the industry umbrella organization U.K. Music, seeks to address that serious deficiency by aiming for 100 individual, company and organization signatories by the end of 2012.
In signing up, each signatory would be agreeing to commit to and accomplish at least two of the following four actions to include ethnic minorities, women and the disabled in the music industry workplace.
The four actions are to recruit from a wide talent pool; improve equality and diversity at senior decision-making levels; participate in or run activities that promote equality and diversity in the music industry; and share methods of increasing equality and diversity.
"Our creative talent and the audience who enjoy our music is diversity personified," said Jo Dipple, U.K. Music's CEO, in a statement. "Promoting that key strength to the companies and organizations in between can only be good for our business."
Remi Harris, U.K. Music's director of operations and the ADMM's chairperson, said she had been moved to kick start the concept for a charter by discovering similar initiatives in the British TV and film industries. "Large broadcasters had invested in a diversity charter and made a success of it; we wanted to do the same," she told yesterday's audience.
The following organizations immediately became signatories to the charter: AIM (the Assn. of Independent Music); the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors; the labels trade organization BPI; the Music Managers Forum; the Music Publishers Association; Musicians' Union; collecting societies PPL and PRS for Music. Remi Harris told Billboard.biz: "We're confident we shall reach the 100 signatories."
Debbie Wiseman, one of the U.K.'s most prolific film-and-TV soundtrack composers and a conductor, disclosed in her speech that only 14% of PRS for Music members were female.
"I'm aware of the many talented women at the Royal College of Music, but many never enter the profession. I try to demystify the profession by taking part in workshops but hope this change could be made more swiftly."
Peter Leathem, PPL's CEO, added: "It is important that companies within the industry adopt people strategies that provide individuals from a variety of backgrounds access to the same opportunities in the workplace."
And Baroness Hussein-Ece OBE, commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and an adviser to the U.K.'s deputy Prime Minister, stated: "This charter not only brings benefits but sends out a signal that the music industry is taking this issue very seriously."