Resources Article

Fear – A Barrier to Change!

Inclusive Cultures (IC) participant and Co-Founder and CEO of Evolve Music, Ben Vleminckx shares his reflections on his journey through the IC course. 

Before embarking on my Inclusive Cultures journey, I had identified ambitious goals for making significant changes to our inclusive practices at Evolve Music. These included recruiting ethnically diverse trustees (one of whom will be a young mentee); to recruit and mentor a Programmes Assistant (a new role) from an underrepresented background and gradually increase their strategic responsibility; to increase the number of men working in the early years and to support emerging music leaders from diverse backgrounds.

I have to admit, I never doubted that we would not be able to achieve these ambitions, but as a leader of a young arts and cultural organisation I spent much time living in fear about putting a foot wrong. What will people think of me if I get this wrong? What will people say about our organisation? What if I inadvertently upset someone through my unconscious bias? Do I have enough experience to do this or say that, to have an impact? These fears reside in awareness of my own privilege, and I will continue to battle and reflect on these throughout my life and career.  This is essential to personal and professional growth.

Like so many I have witnessed working in our sector, before IC I went around in circles talking about change, what change might look like, what I think needs to happen but not really making any!  We spend so much time thinking and talking about inclusion but often progress isn’t made quickly enough. I know we have to be realistic that change won’t happen overnight but within the sector and wider society, we are way behind where we should be. In 2021, inclusion and diversity should be on everyone’s lips.

I spend a lot of my time analysing systems, environments and people’s attitudes towards inclusive practice; “Do others not think about this in the same way? If they do, why are we not seeing change emerge more consistently?”  What are the barriers?

I believe it’s FEAR with a capital F!

As human beings, fear is uncomfortable, and we do all we can to block it out. In order to protect ourselves, risk-taking feels dangerous. When it comes to inclusion and diversity, I believe that the fear of getting it wrong is causing leaders to freeze, catastrophic for any change or growth.

I am not for a moment suggesting we need to handle inclusive changemaking with reckless risk-taking. This would lead to thoughtlessly barging our way forward, doing more damage, ignorantly thinking we are doing good without having the support in place for sustainable change. However, without looking fear in the eye to tease out some of these difficult issues, nothing will change. We need to have the right conversations, support from the right people and consistently keep humanity at the core of decision-making. We need to embrace change and not be afraid to do things differently. There is a delicate balance to be met, grappling uncomfortable but crucial topics whilst being sensitive, open and reflective. Part of this process will be holding our hands up when we get things wrong, humbly learning from mistakes and recognising our personal contributions to organisational journeys.

At Evolve Music, we are taking this approach through a workforce development lens. How can we diversify our community music workforce and support emerging music leaders, underrepresented due to gender, disability, ethnicity and class?

Some people might think we aren’t experienced enough to take on such ambition, and in many ways they would be right. However, we can’t stay silent until we are ‘experts’, but must instead step out of fear to make change, prioritising what we care about, taking a risk and changing our corner of our world. We are getting the right people around us who will bring their unique knowledge and lived experience to help inform and shape our development. We know we will make mistakes and that feels scary, but we are still doing it and stepping out of our comfort zone in order to move forward.

During my time working through the Clore Leadership IC course I have made time and space (real time and space) to STOP and THINK. I have had conversations I wouldn’t normally have had (which felt uncomfortable) and have met like-minded people who have got my back. I now feel more supported than ever to take risks and make change happen.

Ask yourself this: What about inclusive policy making and putting into action scares you?

Write it all down and work through it.

We must be brave and courageous to see real change.

Biography Ben Vleminckx

Ben has been working in the arts and cultural sector for over 10 years both as a music leader and now as a senior leader. Evolve Music is a community music organisation that co-creates new music with families, young people and adults based on their experiences and interests. As an organisation, they are committed to inclusive change making, both through their music programmes and workforce development.

Themes Inclusive Leadership Practice