For most of the last 180 years the idea of a woman or women being in the Philharmonic was greeted with incredible amounts of bias. In fact, when women first started being hired to perform, they didn’t even have a restroom or dressing area where they could change. Today, women currently outnumber the men for the first time in the Philharmonic’s history.
Gender bias has been a recurring issue with orchestras around the world. In fact, women make up 17% of the musicians performing and currently there is only one woman leading the 25 largest ensembles around the world.
Through my work with the Harvard KennedySchool’s Women’s Leadership Board, we saw the impact that blind auditions had on increasing the number of women musicians being hired. LA Symphony was an early adopter of the blind audition. Everyone began auditioning behind a screen which immediately leveled the playing field. In fact, by employing the blind auditions, the LA Symphony saw the percentage of women in the ensemble increase from 17% to 40%.
This, however, didn’t work everywhere. In Nigeria, there were less than 14% of women performing in orchestras, so they followed the LA Symphony’s lead by conducting blind auditions as well. Even though each musician was behind a screen, once the maestro heard the clicking of heels, the gender bias returned. Barefoot auditions were then introduced, and we saw the number of women hired increase to 45%.
The New York Philharmonic has achieved something incredible with the composition of its orchestra. Let’s find ways to encourage and support thePhilharmonic so they continue hiring female musicians and promoting women to leadership positions. Perhaps we can see the woman in the world lead one of the 25 largest ensembles in our own backyard.
NYT:In a ‘Sea Change,’ Women of the Philharmonic Now Outnumber the Men https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/22/arts/music/women-new-york-philharmonic.html