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Report finds classical music industry at risk of losing talent and decreasing diversity

'Bittersweet Symphony' reveals how employers are failing their parents and carer workforce.

New research into parents and carers in the Classical Music sector by charity Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) and Birkbeck's Department of Organizational Psychology, supported by Help Musicians and Musicians' Union, has found that the Classical Music industry is at risk of losing talent and decreasing in diversity. This signposts an urgent need to improve employment practices to be more inclusive of its parents and carers, and in particular women.

The first report of its kind, 'Bittersweet Symphony' reveals that parents and carers pay a significant penalty in terms of well-being, work opportunities and remuneration to maintain a career in classical music. They struggle given outdated working practices in the industry.

The findings highlight:

  • Self-employed women, over 85% of whom have caring responsibilities, reported a pay penalty of £8,000, earning the least, at £12,000, compared to £20,000 for freelance men.
  • Outdated work and caregiving structures in Classic Music that are highly gendered, with women twice as likely to turn down work due to caring responsibilities.
  • 50% of respondents are unsatisfied with their work-life balance and 82% reported managing work and family commitments as moderately to extremely stressful.
  • 40% of respondents are thinking of leaving their careers in music.

Additional findings reiterate the urgent need for positive change in employment culture in the sector.  The report found that:

  • Only 4% of respondents referenced a supportive employer, with the vast majority relying on a network of support from family, partners or friends to help them manage work and family.
  • 65% of respondents revealed that income from music never or rarely covers unexpected costs, while almost half (48%) said that income from music never or rarely covers basic needs.
  • Nine out of ten musicians, composers, opera singers and conductors reported turning down work due to caring responsibilities, indicating a significant risk to the longevity of the Classical Music workforce. Based on the results, there is a high risk of losing talent, especially freelancers. 
Professor Almuth McDowall, who led the research team, comments: “Parents and in particular self-employed women report significant career penalties in terms of access to work and earnings. Our research signposts a clear need to address outdated work practices and a culture of employers not taking responsibility for duty of care and equal opportunity.“

Cassie Raine, Co-Founder, Parents and Carers in Performing Arts commented: “Long and irregular working hours, long periods away from home on tour, and a lack of flexibility are unnecessary barriers to inclusion. The report highlights deeply ingrained, traditional working practices that were originally designed to meet the needs of the ‘stereotypical’ affluent man, with a partner at home to look after the children. So, whilst that’s not how we think today, these traditional working practices still prevail. We need bamboo scaffolding- strong and resilient, yet flexible- an infrastructure that is built for everyone. The industry needs to find better and more inclusive mechanisms to support and develop its talented workforce.” 

PiPA will now establish a working group of sector bodies and employers across the industry to design a Best Practice Charter to support the sector to work towards family friendly working practices.

The research of 443 participants was funded by Help Musicians UK, Musicians' Union, Birkbeck's School of Business, Economics and Informatics and supported by the Association of British Orchestras, Black Lives in Music, Independent Society of Musicians, Liverpool Philharmonic, SWAP'ra and UK Music.

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