Notes from OMTF’s Value of Inclusion Conference 2017

Value of Inclusion was a day-long conference organised by the Opera and Musical Theatre Forum exploring diversity and inclusion issues in the arts performance sector. Delegates from a wide range of venues and performance groups up and down the country were treated to a rich series of presentations, panel discussions, and thought-provoking debates.

The conference’s scope included ethnicity, gender, and LGBT+, both on-stage and in organisational staff administration. The conference sought to examine what the sector has already achieved in terms of diversity and inclusion, where it needs to go next, and identify what some of the blocks to effecting change are.

I’ve included some of my notes from the day in this blog post. If you were in attendance and would like to add to this collection, please drop me a line at

Unreasonable Adjustment

In an uncompromising and punchy start to proceedings, Andrew Miller from Royal and Derngate in Northampton, highlighted some of the key issues facing disabled audiences and staff in arts venues across the UK.

  • We are at a breakthrough moment.
  • Equality of experience is vital for the arts world.
  • Reasonable adjustment means: we’ve made our venues accessible – you can get in – at least you can see stuff.
  • Miller wants: I should expect at least as good an experience as my able-bodied peers have.
  • As a wheelchair user I’m often dumped at the end of rows in concert halls, opera houses, and theatres. There needs to be an equality of experience.
  • What one unreasonable adjustment are you going to prioritise to bring about change in your organisation?

Travers Smith & PwC / Diversity and Inclusion in other organisations

  • Organisational performance at Travers Smith following a D&I policy saw 19% greater staff retention.
  • Research saw that 86% of female and 74% of male young people consider prospective employer’s diversity and inclusion policy when research company
  • Travers Smith – Just Like Us Mentoring scheme pairs up 25 mentors with LGBT+ university students helping to make the transition from University to the workplace easier
  • PWC’s gender pay and bonus gap 2017 revealed that BAME pay is 13.7% behind white pay at the organisation
  • Improved team performance is increased by diverse, well-managed teams – these teams out-perform non-diverse well-managed teams.
  • Diverse teams not well-managed on the other hand, perform poorly
  • Challenges facing individuals when improving diversity and inclusion: complacency; the task being ‘too difficult’; controversial tasks like diversity and inclusion might ‘offend clients’; the project is ‘too expensive’.

Unconscious Bias

  • We all do it, we will never stop doing it, so we need to be aware of what’s going on in order to change things
  • Biases include: education, culture, religion, ethnicity, seniority, income, marital status, sexual orientation, gender, upbringing, physical ability.
  • Experiments have shown that the brain categorises people by race in less than 100 milliseconds about 50 milliseconds before determining sex.
  • When applicants were behind a screen, the % of female new hires for orchestral jobs increased from 25%-46% (Goldin & Rouse) (2000)
  • Gut instinct is your brain connecting your experience with familiarity.
  • What makes you more likely to act on your unconscious bias? Conflicting priorities, deadlines, need for quick decisions, being challenged, fear, low blood sugar.
  • What can you do: (i) Identify bias (ii) correct images (iii) watch for micro messages (iv) seek contact (v) collaborate to correct

Micro-inequities include:

– checking emails or text during during 1-1 conversation
– consistently mispronouncing name
– interrupting person mid-sentence;
– making eye contact only with men;
– taking more questions from men than women;
– raising your voice;
– mentioning the achievements of people but not others whose are equally relevant;
– make jokes

Change behaviour by:

– acknowledging success
– build on suggestions
– identify development interventions
– appreciative enquiry
– positive body language
– invitations to meetings / events they don’t have to be at
– introducing them to people ‘it might be good for them to know’

Thoughts arising

We’ve started but we can’t stop here There is a need to be bold, to maintain the momentum. Endeavours like Chineke! are not the conclusion but the beginning of increased representation, for example.

Audiences have a skewed image of what the classical music and opera world – is that down to the inherited bias of a conservative clique of writers? Classical music and opera practitioners and producers separate their content into the ‘museum’ pieces and the new. It’s easy to forget that especially in the digital sphere where everyone follows similar content plans (reviews, previews, profiles, interviews etc) fuelled by tried and tested but largely unambitious PR strategies. Writing needs to reflect a wider classical music and opera culture, bringing the audience into the business of the arts – this could help amplify issues and causes.

Creating new PR strategies that different stories to different audiences It was refreshing to hear composer Raymond Yiu state his active involvement in shaping the PR strategy for one of his new works – “I didn’t want this to go solely to the classical music press.”

Diverse fundraising staff make connections with a variety of different audience groups Diverse fundraising staff is not just about satisfying a requirement for Arts Council funding. Look at the benefits of recruiting diverse talent to create diverse funding streams.

Increased diversity, inclusion and representation increases the relevance amongst the audience If they don’t see themselves on-stage or in the office, then the assumption is made that the organisation, ensemble, or company isn’t relevant. More people seeing the organisation relevant, the bigger the potential audience. But how to pursue that strategy at the same time as maintaining the existing audience?

Most audience and administration behaviours can be tracked back to unconscious bias The key learning point from Aesha Zafar’s presentation: the brain is malleable; behaviours can be changed; merely being in the presence of diverse range of individuals can begin that process of change.


This was a genuinely fascinating day, rich in information, offering thought-provoking questions to take back into the field. Everyone involved in the arts – those who make it, produce it, present it, or write about it has a shared responsibility to effective change. The diversity and inclusion challenge needs louder voices and greater commitment. This day helped focus thinking and give delegates a sense of impetus.

  • Following a career in arts management, and a passion for classical music, Jon Jacob writes regularly about the sector on his Thoroughly Good Blog
  • He is also a BBC-trained and ICF Accredited Coach, specialising in management, executive, and leadership coaching.
  • He currently works with people in the arts, media, and higher education, sharing his twelve years experience as an award-winning BBC digital editor.
  • Contact him on 07768 864655 or at

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