Skip to navigation Skip to main content
Support our work with London's young music makers. Donate Now

Reflections from our ‘Beyond Diversity’ training day

On Friday 29 June, Sound Connections led a training day titled ‘Beyond Diversity’ at Amnesty International UK. In this piece Sound Connections Programme Coordinator, Tej Adeleye, reflects upon the day and considers how we might discuss these issues, find solutions and create true change in our places of work.

Our beyond diversity training day touched on a number of areas, below is a summary of some of the main threads of exploration, and practical solutions you can experiment with in your own organisations and practice.


Shining a light on the invisible

We often talk about needing to be more diverse, without looking at the structures and cultures that prevent diversity and cause harm and exclusion. So we spent time exploring whiteness and how that shapes team cultures and power dynamics. We also thought about decision making and how our backgrounds can impact our perceptions.

One thing that was evident on the day was the absence of leadership. We had lots of people in the room who are already reflecting on these issues, or open to change, but if we are to see real shifts, we need more people at senior leadership level to take the time to roll up their sleeves, get involved and do the work.


Reframing knowledge and diversity of opportunity

“In our analysis of ethnicity, the proportion of commissioned composers who are black or minority ethnic (BAME) was 7% which is half the 14% of people who are BAME in the general UK population according to the 2011 Census. This is especially low if we consider that over half of composers live in London where the BAME population is 30%. The pattern we found was different than for gender; we still see that commissioned composers are less diverse than those with the ambition to be composers, but BAME composers are additionally under-represented in higher education…We discovered that the proportion of commissioned works by female composers doesn’t reflect the proportion of those studying composition”  – BASCA

We explored the impact that whiteness and colonialism have on music education, and opportunity – this happens in a number of ways. Our excellent facilitators Pete Yelding and Cassie Kinoshi broke down how colonialism has impacted the intellectual value we place on music from around the world and how structurally this is reflected in the funding and respect we allocate to different genres, as well as opportunities afforded to different demographics. Terms like ‘world music’ and ‘African drumming’ for instance, uphold a narrative of cultural superiority in the West. Nate Holder has written about that here >.

Below are some questions to reflect upon in relation to your work:

  • Who is missing from the curriculum, and why?
  • How can you disrupt the idea of the single, Eurocentric story?
  • Who is teaching musical knowledge? Can you hire more genre specialists?
  • De-neutralising whiteness: can we also remember the political context of great white men?
  • Depoliticising and decontextualizing music, often we separate knowledge from the culture it comes from
  • Be specific: Who are you talking about? What tradition?
  • Give children the opportunity to discover their own musical identities by evening opportunities across genres.


Neoliberalism and our sector frameworks

At our Music and Social Justice conference last year, we explored how neoliberalism impacts the way we approach our work in the sector, and how it creates the framework for organisations, funding, the language we use for different demographics and more. Stephen Pritchard hosted the session, ‘Neoliberalism, Language and Engagement’. We used this extract to reflect on governance, funding structures, leadership and evaluation:

‘The state, local authorities, funders, sponsors speak the language of neoliberalism – particularly the language of New Public Management. Our projects must conform. Speak the language – their language. Tick the boxes – their boxes Outcomes, outputs, delivery, sustainability, resilience, adaptive resilience, ecosystems, revenue streams, partnerships, skills sharing, knowledge sharing, diversity, cultural capital, social capital, targets, wellbeing, coproduction, collaboration, cultural value, citizenship, civic pride, austerity, hard-to-reach, inclusion, NEETs, BMEs, participation, on and on and on… This is the language of neoliberalism. The language of neoliberal economics. The language of capitalism. The language of money.

This language is racist, classist and it others everyone that does not conform to the civic norms – to white, middle-class, male, heterosexual, physically able, Western norms. To conform is to be colonised. To conform is to colonise others. The drive for art to “civilise” those othered by society is strong and it is underpinned by neoliberal ideology and played out with neoliberal images and language’.

On the day, we discussed how the language of neoliberalism can often mean we can claim to be doing more than we are. We can have wellbeing policies but be unkind or inflexible when it comes to supporting colleagues with mental health issues. We can call ourselves champions of inclusion, but only if it comes with visibility or a reward. As a colleague noted, ‘as a sector we’re often not honest with ourselves’.  After events people will get in touch to share things they are too frightened to say to their peers for fear of offending or losing funding. So how might we make change?

Below are some useful points which were discussed on the day to reflect on/experiments to try around this topic:

  • We talked about anonymous suggestion boxes where people can drop in respectful criticism
  • We talked about having sector gatherings (like our Music and Social Justice meetings) where we can share honestly what we don’t know, what we struggle with and the mistakes we’ve made, so that we can learn together and think about where else we can pull/direct resource
  • No longer treating communities as commodities, but engaging with them collaboratively, from the beginnings of projects
  • Using examples from our recent launch event for our Impact programme, we talked about having conversations with funders to re-think criteria and evaluation mechanisms.


Internal accountability

During the training day, we spoke about how whiteness can impact team cultures and the work we do. Hiring members of staff that reflect the diversity of society is often the beginning of change, not the end, and might often be the first time you’ll have to reflect on structural issues within your team and office.

If your core team has always been white, able bodied, typically from a similar class background, then having team members from different backgrounds will mean new perspectives and new ways of approaching the work you do as an organisation. It might mean having to recognise that some of the approaches to date have been upholding structural inequities, even with the best intentions. The process of being honest about what we don’t know or recognising difference, rather than neutralising or avoiding it, can be a tricky – it can often result in defensiveness or working relationships that become unbalanced or toxic. We reflected, for example, on this useful diagram of the experiences of women of colour in not for profit organisations >.

Below are some useful points to reflect on/experiments to try around this topic:

  • Does anything feel familiar in the diagram?
  • Can you create space in team meetings or facilitated sessions so minority groups can feel safe and supported to reflect on the ways that structural inequities might be impacting your work, outcomes and team dynamics?
  • Who does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to thinking about race, class and social justice in your organisation? Is this in addition to their job role?


Sound Connections is committed to tackling issues around social justice and will continue to develop work in this area, please keep an eye out for future events and news. If you are interested in joining our Music and Social Justice Network please contact for more information. Our next network meeting is due to take place on Wednesday 5 September.





As a small charity we rely upon donations from generous individuals, trusts and companies to support our work with children and young people across London.

Send a Donation +


Follow @Sconnections
Support our work with London's young music makers. Donate Now