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How Youth Music uses data collection to track diversity

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Two people wearing Youth Music t-shirts with backs to the camera.
Young freelancers working at the Youth Music Awards. Photo by Blouhaus Photography.

By Remi Fairweather Stride - Research and Evaluation Officer, Youth Music

Collecting data on the diversity of the workforce is crucial in understanding where there may be inequalities, barriers to opportunities and to progression – a necessary step in working towards an inclusive and representative workforce.

We know that there is significant work to be done before the workforce of the music industries reflects the diversity of the population at large. The same is true of the arts and cultural sector, and for our own organisation. Many within the industries are taking significant steps to improve the diversity of their workforces. The way to measure the impact of this work is to regularly collect diversity data.

Building a picture of the industry

Regular surveys such as Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity and UK Music’s Workforce Diversity Survey are important industry-wide measures that provide a ‘state of the nation’ picture, enabling us to see where progress has or hasn’t been made. These surveys can be supplemented by other more in-depth pieces that dig deeper into particular areas, such as social class and gender.

Good practice in data collection

But collecting this data is not without its sensitivities. In this piece we aim to share our own practice about what data we collect, how often, and what we use it for: it is important for any organisation collecting this data to be transparent about how they plan to use it.

What data do we collect within our own organisation?

We collect data annually on many of the protected characteristics that fall under the Equality Act 2010. We also collect additional characteristics because we deem them to be important, such as socio-economic background and whether people consider themselves to be neurodivergent.

Individuals applying for jobs at Youth Music, and our current workforce, board and freelancers are all asked to provide data on the following characteristics (this form is submitted anonymously and is not stored as a record with people’s personal details):

  • Gender
  • Trans status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Socio-economic background
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion and belief
  • Disability
  • Neurodiversity
  • Caring responsibilities

We also ask respondents to state which job they are applying to or the level of seniority they hold in order to monitor applications, progression and retention of staff. We plan to extend this practice to volunteers with Youth Music, so that we can build an entire picture of what our workforce looks like.

The data is reviewed annually at board and senior management level and feeds into our equality, diversity and inclusion action plan. One practical application is in our recruitment processes. The last time we recruited new trustees we stated that we were seeking people from backgrounds underrepresented on the board (which included younger people, disabled people, people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and women). We then targeted our recruitment across specific channels to reach people from a diversity of backgrounds.

Collecting diversity data from organisations that apply for Youth Music funding

It is important to us that the workforces of the organisations within our funded programmes aim to be representative of society and reflect the diversity within our communities.

We ask all organisations that apply to us whether they are ‘diverse-led’. Those applying for larger amounts of money are also asked to provide a more detailed breakdown of their staff, board and volunteers (if known). Our highest-funded organisations (those in receipt of Fund C grants) also write an equality, diversity and inclusion action plan and report on it each year.

From an applicant’s point of view, we hope these processes could prompt them to reflect on the diversity of their workforce if they are not already doing so. Perhaps resulting in questions such as ‘Why is there an underrepresentation of this particular group at senior levels?’, ‘Is there a particular group that aren’t accessing progression opportunities as much as another?’ or ‘Does our workforce reflect the young people we work with?’

From our position as a funder, diversity data helps us to ensure equitability across our funding decisions. It also provides us with an indication of the makeup of organisations within our field. When provided continually, diversity data can demonstrate what progress has or hasn’t been made on both an individual level and across an industry. We can identify where there is underrepresentation and take action to try and address it.

Subjective opinion is not a true indication of progress and often these perspectives can overshadow lived experience – collecting and monitoring this data does, however, provide an accurate benchmark. Regardless of where an organisation is in working towards becoming an inclusive workplace, collecting this data can demonstrate progress or lack thereof and should inform an organisation’s approach to rectifying or strengthening its processes.

Collecting data on socio-economic background

Although not a recognised protected characteristic, we think it important to capture people’s socio-economic background within our Equal Opportunities form. This is because individuals from a working-class background are severely underrepresented in the cultural and creative sector. But it’s tricky to measure and there is no standard approach. We currently ask the following three questions:

This data helps us identify trends in the range of backgrounds of individuals that apply to us and that work with us – from volunteers to trustees.

How to be gender inclusive

How you ask people about their gender identity can be a signifier in how inclusive an organisation you are. We ask separate questions pertaining to gender, trans status and sexual orientation:

  • Which of the following best describes you? (regarding gender identity)
  • Do you consider yourself to be trans?
  • Which of the following best describes your sexual orientation?

We also provide an option for the respondent to ‘prefer not to say’ and include a space for respondents to choose to self-identify and provide this detail if they want to. To learn more about this topic, we recently published this blog post on Gender Inclusivity (including the adoption of sharing pronouns within our email signatures).

Transparency, commitment, action and accountability are integral to inclusivity. Diversity data collected should never be used to discriminate against individuals: instead, it should be used to combat instances of discrimination within systems and approaches. We think it should be required practice for all organisations (regardless of their size) to collect and review diversity data. We are committed to developing our relationship with organisations to support long-term learning, action and growth and would be happy to provide people with further advice and support.

Youth Music resources

Self-assessment tool

Youth Music's tool for reviewing equality, diversity and inclusion within your organisation.

Collecting data

Further reading


Report on social class, taste and inequalities in the creative industries