Diversify the Stage Organization Rolls Out Inclusivity Pledge for Music’s Touring Industry

Noelle Scaggs talks about the goals of the initiative, which has support from Live Nation, AEG and the music world's top agencies, in getting the touring biz to step up.

noelle scaggs touring industry inclusivity pledge
Diversify the Stage

Diversify the Stage, an organization formed to promote inclusivity in the touring industry, is rolling out an “Inclusion Initiative” today that the group hopes to have companies and individuals throughout the live entertainment business sign onto. Among the industry leaders that have already put their names to the pledge at its launch are such promoters as AEG and Live Nation and agencies including UTA, WME, CAA and ICM.

Making room for women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community and others who traditionally have faced trouble breaking into the touring industry is a key goal for Diversify the Stage, founded a year and a half ago by Noelle Scaggs, singer for the group Fitz and the Tantrums.

“One thing we all really agreed on is that there needs to be a standard practice across the board for all of the companies to really adhere to in order for this to really have any type of effect,” Scaggs tells Variety about the new initiative. “All of these organizations really working together to create more of a standard practice of intention was super important to do, especially for us artists out there that want to take the initiative and have our internal teams really reflect what we would like to see.”

Says one of the signees, Ali Harnell, president and chief strategy officer of Live Nation Women: “Live Nation is proud to be part of Diversify the Stage’s Inclusion Initiative as we work to create new pathways that bring underrepresented people into roles across live music. Every hire is an opportunity to make a difference, and taking the DTS pledge and committing to the mission serve as critical guideposts we should all embrace.”

The pledge reads in part, “As members of the Live Entertainment industry, we are committed to making our stages as diverse as our communities. We recognize that Black, Indigenous, Latin, Hispanic, and Asian Identifying persons, as well as Women of all backgrounds and identifications, Gender Nonconforming and Non-Binary Individuals, LGBTQAI+ individuals, Disabled Persons, and particularly those at the intersections of these groups have been marginalized and are drastically underrepresented in our industry. To address this, several leading organizations, including, Diversify the Stage, UTA, WME, CAA, Wasserman, ICM, Live Nation, Omalily Project and others, have pledged to strengthen the industry’s diversity practice by creating and utilizing a strong pipeline of professionals from historically excluded groups and increasing the experience, diversity and strength of the talent pool within our industry.”

The initiative doesn’t focus on quotas or rules so much as guidelines and intent. “I think everything that we’re asking for is pretty reasonable,” says Scaggs. She and Aaron Parkin started with a 10-page statement and got boiled down to one, as she tried to get to the essence of what companies need and can commit to at present. “It’s my conversation with a multitude of individuals that I had to talk to: ‘Is this a feasible ask, for you guys to say, “Yes, we can absolutely do this?” Are you already doing it? And if you are, let’s just put that on paper, because we already know some things that are already being put into action. Let’s have that be an example for other companies that may not know where to start.”

Lazy loaded image
Noelle Scaggs, singer of Fitz and the Tantrums and founder of Diversify the Stage Luke Dicky

Scaggs continues, “I’m not looking for anybody to change their entire program in a year. But what I would love to see is some action. There are a lot of databases that are available. There are new ways of looking for staff nowadays. There’s a multitude of DEI counseling and training that’s available to people nowadays. and I think it’s just a matter of not being lazy about it and really, really taking it seriously, because at the end of the day, it’s only going to make our industry better.”

Scaggs was motivated to start the org from her recognition of how she resided in a world of nearly all white men on the road. “I will never do another tour where there’s not a female technician,  production manager or tour manager on the road with me. I won’t do it. I literally will not go. Because I know that experience of being not just the only woman of color, but then also the only woman, on tour. I’ve experienced that. And as much as I love my band, it wasn’t fun for me. … It took me a tour or two in the very early stages to be able to say, ‘Yo, I can’t be the only woman anymore. You need to do better.’ It took a little while for me to recognize that it wasn’t normal.”

It’s not just about hiring practices, Scaggs emphasizes. “For me, the hiring is a big thing, but also, you can’t just hire — you have to be able to make it a place that is safe for people. You can’t do one without the other. You can’t all of a sudden just hire a bunch of persons of color, but you don’t keep them, and you don’t know why you’re not keeping them, because the inclusion part of it is not there. They don’t feel like they’re actually a part of the fabric of the team. They just feel like they’re checking a box. You have to make it a space that is inclusive, mentally, for folks that are entering into a space that they would otherwise have been left out — unconsciously, in a lot of cases. … I often bring up conversations that I’ve had with people that have really diverse crews on tour. And they’re like, ‘We’ll never go back. We’ll never go back to the way it was when we were first starting to do this, and there was really only guys.'”

Lazy loaded image
Diversify the Stage pledge Diversify the Stage

It’s one thing to get the big orgs on board — the ones that have more than 100 employees and are already required by law to have chief diversity officers. It may be another, she allows, to take these goals industry-wide, in a business that is largely decentralized, full of subcontractors and, Scaggs admits, sometimes mysterious to artists that typically leave their hiring to be filled from existing networks.

“We are also really looking at how we can make a real big impact in areas that are going to be a little bit more difficult. thinking about our union-based productions and organizations, and how they really take the initiative and create more diverse populations even in their memberships,” Scaggs says. A lot of touring businesses “have always been a family-to-friend kind of operation. So to really kind of change that habit is going to be a challenge for I think the industry as a whole, if we don’t collectively come together to say, ‘Hey, this is how we would love to see the unions working with us, in order to change what we see on the stadium/arena scale, and even at our historic venues with stagehand workers there.’ So that for me is the next-step conversation.”

Other industries may take having human resources personnel in place for granted. “For touring teams, we need to look at the lack of HR that we have,” Scaggs says. “There’s no touring team in the world that I know of that has an HR team that really knows how to identify problems with sexual harassment, and that really understands that issues of racism happen on the road constantly. But sometimes it’s an education thing — an ignorance thing. This person may have come from a different generation they’re from, and you have to teach them, ‘Hey, you can’t say that. That is not an acceptable way to move in the world anymore’  — how you’re making a person feel that may be the only person in the room that looks like them, and you don’t even realize that you’re being offensive.”

She’d like to see increased inclusion and diversity as its own reward. “What I’m hoping starts to change is people start to identify that it’s a good thing to publicize diversity in your infrastructure — to really take that seriously, and I hate to say it, but want to be the best at doing the right thing. You should want to be the best at actually doing the right thing, all the time, and not just when the spotlight is on you. I mean, there’ve been real conversations about whether or not we should create an award for it, and I don’t  think that you should get an award for practicing inclusion and diversity and equity within your business. But I get it. We give each other awards all the time! So I don’t hate on it, but I want you to do it just because you’re horrible at it and you need to improve!” she laughs. “And as your client, I want to see you improve in this area because I am your client, and it represents me. Why would I want to be assigned to a company that is not inclusive of folks that look like me?”

Scaggs says those who’ve officially signed on to the pledge by no means represent all the companies she and Diversify the Stage have been working with.

“Some of the companies that are not listed in there, we’ve been working with on the education front, and I think they’re really trying to analyze how they can do better on their end without necessarily publicizing it first — seeing what actions manifest and within a year, being able to kind of like report on that. There are a lot of folks that are in place that won’t be mentioned in the press, which I’m pretty happy about. I’m seeing this as just like a starting point.

“Just looking out over the last two years, I know a lot of people are a little bit apprehensive about whether or not they’re going to believe anyone” making promises, she concedes. “Like, is this just going to be another black-box performative moment? And I am very much putting it on myself to make sure that these promises are kept, because it’s also my name on the line at the end of it, and I’m taking it very, very seriously. TI’m getting involved with one agent at a time, or one band at a time. It’s important that it’s actually pushed forward and it’s not just something that we get to put our name on it and then do nothing afterwards.”

The initial list of contributing members includes Sam Kirby-Yoh, Kristen Saig, Kevin Bhatia, Shanique Bonelli-Moore, Marissa Smith of United Talent Agency; Kevin Shivers, Gisselle Ruiz, Romola Ratnam, Brian Edelman, James Rubin, Steve Gaches or WME/Endeavor; Ali Harnell and Lesley Olenik of Live Nation; Binta Niambi Brown of Omalilly Projects; Rob Light, Ina Jacobs, Niloofar Shepherd and Sharoni Little of CAA; Jessica Blanc, Denise Melanson, Stephanie Morris, Lindsay LaBennett of Wasserman; Shakira Gagnier of Lightbay Capital; Jae Pi’ilani Requiro of AEG; Marni Bobich of AEG Presents; Tadia Taylor of W.O.Q.E & The DoLab; Aluna and  Mike Kadziulis of Aluna/AlunaGeorge; Matthew Walt of Thrive Entertainment/Hustle Like You Broke; Susan Eisner of PRG; music festival contractor Talia Ortisi; Adam S. Harrison of FullStop Management; Rob Gibbs, Joi Brown, Yves Pierre, Julia Johnson, Travis Merriweather of ICM; and tour manager Lotje Horvers.

Scaggs says she believes that it took an artist and not someone who is ingrained within the touring business to spearhead this movement.

“To be quite frank, I’m not exactly sure I would have been able to get as many folks on the phone of rival companies on the same Zoom talking about the same thing had I not been who I was or who I am,” she says, clarifying: “I don’t see myself as some major star. But even with the success that I have had, it enabled me to be able to call the heads of the companies and not have to go through their middle people.

“I think it’s super important for artists to take a look at this, because a lot of us don’t even recognize the power that we have, because it’s always kind of taken away from us: ‘Y’all don’t need to worry about that. You don’t really need to think about like how we’re hiring your tour manager or whatever. If you don’t get along with them, let us know and we’ll find somebody else.’  … There are a lot of artists that are incredibly business-minded individuals, but when it comes to our touring business, because it is such a mysterious thing — it’s like, ‘How do you find your team? What is the budget?’ We’ve never been taught that it should be a part of our knowledge experience. We should understand how our teams are put together, so we have a better foothold in who to ask when we want to see something change. At the end of the day, there is no show without the artists, so we have to be the ones that are spearheading this. We have to want to be the ones that are saying to our production communities: ‘We’re no longer going to stand up for this boys’ club shit.’ Excuse my French.

“The world is changing, and our industries have to change with it. We are literally the leaders of the most universal language on earth. We push a lot of culture. A lot of people are making money off of our talent. We no longer want to see this play out the way it has been. Things need to change, and people are going to have to make it happen if they want to continue working with us.”

The mission statement reads in part:

“As members of the Live Entertainment and Production Industry, we recognize that Black, Indigenous, Latin/Hispanic, Asian, and Pacific Islander Identifying persons, as well as Women of all backgrounds and identities, Gender Nonconforming and Non-Binary Individuals, LGBTQIA2+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersexual, Asexual, Two-Spirit and all sexual identifications), Disabled Persons, and all intersecting identities between these groups, have been marginalized and are drastically underrepresented in our industry.

“To address this, several leading organizations, including Diversify the Stage, UTA, WME, CAA, Wasserman, ICM, Live Nation, C3 Presents, AEG Presents, TAIT, Touring Professionals Alliance, Omalilly Projects, TMWRK; NIVA AND NIVF, and others, have pledged to strengthen the industry’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility practices by creating a strong pipeline of professionals from historically excluded, and or underrepresented groups, and increasing the experience, diversity, and strength of the talent pool within this sector of the industry. We strive to encourage more fair and equitable systems for the benefit of all persons, including all social and intersecting identities, throughout the concerts, events, and touring industry.

“This ‘Diversify the Stage’ Inclusion Initiative (DTS) provides guidance and recommendations aimed towards specific objectives on I.D.E.A (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), and a wide range of readily available resources to access in support of furthering the DTS mission. Please consider these measures during recruitment, talent bookings, on-boarding, retention, promotion, rewards, benefits programs, succession planning, and off-boarding procedures. 

“By joining us in this mission to transform the live entertainment and production industries, and taking this pledge, YOU AGREE TO HOLD YOURSELVES ACCOUNTABLE FOR WORKING WITHIN YOUR ORGANIZATION(S) ON MEANINGFUL IMPLEMENTATION OF THESE ACTIONS.  Please stand with us in activating this INDUSTRY LEADING and UNIFIED effort towards change across all stages.”