Looking at music education conferences through the lens of EDI, the first thing that most people think about is the diversity of the speakers, but how much thought goes into the diversity of the vendors and sponsors?
Equity can be defined in so many different ways as I'm sure many of you reading this will have experienced. The second half of Lily Zheng's definition of equity is: 'Equity is achieved by eliminating structural barriers resulting from historical and present-day inequalities and meeting individuals', groups' and organizations' unique needs'.
With increased focus on trying to combat some of the structural barriers that many people and groups face, finance is often cited as a large barrier. The Office for National Statistics' latest report into the ethnicity pay gap, reveals that 'Black, African, Caribbean or Black British employees earned less (£13.53) median gross hourly pay than White employees (£14.35), which has been consistent since 2012.' (ons.gov.uk)
Unsurprisingly, it is rare to see a Black or Brown-owned company sponsoring or displaying their merch/educational resources at a conference, for two reasons.
Firstly, a report compiled by Samantha Stimpson in 2021 on behalf of Music Mark, revealed that in London, 14% of the music education workforce self-identified as being Black, Brown, or of Mixed/Dual heritage (read the report here). The limited amount of people who identify in this category means that the amount of folks who have the capacity, means and time to start a company are very few.
Secondly, for those who may have a company with resources to sell or promote, they will either be in direct competition with large international companies with tens, if not hundreds of staff, or have created resources that speak to their own lived experiences, which may sit outside of curricula and use styles of music which may require CPD or additional support.
For example, a resource (online or print for example) that may focus on elements of Hindustani music or hip hop, will generally be harder for a teacher to buy and use, than a resource that explores different time signatures or how to read staff notation.
Add together the fees to purchase a booth, plus the time commitment to travel to a conference, means that many Black and Brown folks can find it extremely difficult to have a presence at conferences. If organizations are interested in trying to bring about equity in this area of their business, what can be done?
A free booth for a Black or Brown-owned business (BBoB)
While this represents the most 'radical' of options, it gives a business a chance to showcase their work, underlining the importance of giving to those who can not themselves.
2. A booth for a BBoB, subsidized by the other vendors
Depending on the numbers, could it be written into a contract when purchasing a booth that 5% (for example) of the total cost was going towards funding another booth for a BBOB? This not only helps said BBOB, but signals to other companies that they are actively taking part in this idea, all the while without incurring any extra costs. Any shortfall in fees could be paid by the BBOB itself, knowing that the rate has been heavily subsidized.
A solution that costs nothing, but highlights a (or multiple) BBOBs and the work they are doing. This could be done in a main session when most delegates are in the same room, or an insert into a welcome package. While in this scenario there is no physical presence, again it highlights to all in attendance that BBoBs are valued.
Equity is acheived by elimating structural barriers resulting from historical and present day inequalities and meeting individuals', groups' and organizations' unique needs.
Of course, the arguments against this may cite unfairness - why should another business get anything for free under capitalism, when other businesses have been started, maintained, and have grown without this type of help? Using the metaphor of a pie (which could be time, money, space or any other resource), to help others it's not always a question of baking another pie. Sometimes we have to allocate pieces of the existing pie to others who aren't able to eat, and find creative ways to share time, money, space or any other finite resource.
Moving outside of the UK, there are many Black, Brown and Indigenous folks within music education for whom the financial barrier of presenting or displaying their resources at conferences prevents them from attending. By granting equity in this way, it could instill a sense of confidence in those wanting to start a business, knowing that there is an increased possibility of being visible at national or international conferences.
Running a business while caring passionately about music education is hard enough. Knowing that organisations are willing to bring about more equity in their conferences can be the difference between someone developing resources that will inspire and educate young people, or risk leaving it to organizations, who may not have a diverse workforce, to potentially never create it.