Groundbreaking research by PiPA reveals risk of talent exodus as vulnerable parents & carers in crisis report profound impact on income and wellbeing

Groundbreaking research into parents and carers in the Classical Music sector by charity Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) and Birkbeck, University of London and 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The first of its kind report, Bittersweet Symphony’, reveals that, parents and carers struggle given outdated working practices in the industry and pay a significant penalty in terms of well-being, work opportunities and remuneration to maintain a career in classical music.

The findings highlight:

  • Self-employed women, over 85% of whom have caring responsibilities, including mothers, 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  • Outdated work and caregiving structures in Classic Music that are highly gendered, with women twice as likely to turn down work due to caring responsibilities.
  • Half of respondents (50%) 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.
  • Two thirds (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.“

With the majority of those working in music self -employed, career barriers identified by respondents included:lack of flexibility and scheduling; lack of affordable, flexible, ad-hoc childcare; the logistical and financial demands of touring and working away; and the need to meet inflexible demands of additional work, such as teaching, to subsidise earnings.

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. Black Lives in Music, Help Musicians, Independent Society of Musicians, Liverpool Philharmonic, Musicians’ Union, Phonographic Performance Limited, Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera and SWAP’ra are among the confirmed partners who will help address the challenges raised by the research.

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.”

Musicians’ Union General Secretary Naomi Pohl comments:“The MU fully supports PiPA’s new report “Bittersweet Symphony” and its recommendations. Having children or caring responsibilities can limit career opportunities for classical musicians and the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities that disadvantage women. There remains a culture of silence around these issues and about the discrimination that pregnant musicians experience; this report brings light to those issues and it is our responsibility as an industry to tackle them head on. There is a clear need for more inclusive working practices and that includes flexible working structures that would benefit everyone. The Government must also to step up and provide, universal, flexible, high-quality childcare that is available to all from the point at which paid maternity or parental leave ends.

The MU looks forward to working with PiPA and the industry to create a sector that works for women and those who have caring responsibilities in all their diversity, to enable them to reach their full potential.”

Help Musicians CEO James Ainscough comments: “The majority of those working in music are self-employed, so face an especially challenging situation when they also have caring responsibilities. This report highlights that there is a lot to do if we are to create a more supportive working environment for all those with parental and caring responsibilities. If we don’t, the sector will not retain the diversity of talent it needs to thrive, which is a loss for us all. At Help Musicians we will be reflecting upon the recommendations made within the report to understand how we can make a difference, through our direct support, wider partnership and collaboration.”

Tasmin Little, OBE, PiPA Ambassador, comments: “Musicians spend years honing and refining their craft, yet they frequently find that their career becomes more precarious when they become parents. This is especially the case for freelance women. Childcare is expensive and usually geared towards a “normal” 9-5 working day, which is something that performing musicians never have. As artists, we strive to be relevant to our world and it is essential that the people creating the work have the widest possible range of lived experiences. Bringing that depth of experience to life through music is what gives performance its nuance, poignancy and strength. This report makes a strong case for flexible and inclusive working practices that would benefit not just parents and carers, but everyone who values and appreciates the creative industries.”

Anna Phoebe, PiPA Ambassador, Violinist, Composer, Ivors Academy Board Director comments: It’s a huge juggle being both a parent and a freelance musician. There can be a lot of uncertainty, which makes it difficult to plan. It’s great to highlight the needs of parents and carers across music through this important research. I welcome PiPA’s research which highlights the extent of the challenges that parents and carers face in the industry, and I’m really interested to see how the industry engages and acts to take it forward. If we want a more diverse music industry inclusive of people with caring responsibilities from all walks of life, we must take vital steps towards real, lasting culture change.”

Black Lives in Music CEO Charisse Beaumont comments: “We are haemorrhaging talent at all levels in the music industry due to lack of support and policies in place for parents and carers. This has had a snowball affect across the sector where we a see blatant lack of understanding to the current needs of the music workforce. The economic penalties parents and carers in music are currently facing is damning and also the continued awareness that the Black parents and carers are the most disadvantaged in the music industry. This procrastination to make change in policy contributes to the lack of gender balance at senior leadership level in the industry. This is an urgent situation that can no longer be ignored. I welcome the Bittersweet Symphony report by PIPA and hope the entire music ecosystem embrace the findings and carry out the recommendations with integrity.”

The report signposts clear recommendations for the Classical Music industry stakeholders which include:

  • Share, promote and learn from existing family friendly best practice
  • Consider and support flexible working both formally and informally
  • Conduct business research into the long-term benefits in terms of retention, particularly in freelance roles
  • Make inclusion and intersectionality a key focus: ensure continuous recording and sharing of diversity statistics to monitor progress, and to identify potentially vulnerable groups
  • Offer enhanced support for small organisations to ensure good practice and breadth of cultural capital
  • Offer training and career development as part of music education which prepares holistically for managing work and caring responsibilities.

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

Read the full report and recommendations (Live from 7am 20th October)