Case Study: Orchestrating Impartiality

Women musicians are 5% more likely to be hired than are men when symphonies use blind auditions.

Even though we all have biases, we can take steps to mitigate our biases during the hiring process. A study of 11 orchestras showed how a simple change made a huge impact.

In the 1970s and 1980s, major symphony orchestras in the U.S. changed their hiring practices to a more open and routinized process that used blind auditions and brought in more candidates for those auditions. The blind auditions involved the applicant sitting behind a screen playing assigned music all the while hidden from view of the evaluating panel who can only hear the music.  The study found:

  • Blind auditions during the preliminary round increased a woman’s chances of moving to the next round by 50%. Almost all US orchestras use blind preliminary auditions today.

  • When blind auditions are used for all rounds of auditions (preliminary and final) women are 5% more likely to be hired than men.

  • 30% of the change in demographics of orchestra members is due to blind auditions. Another 30% is due to the increased number of classically trained female musicians and the open audition model, which increased the number of candidates.

Prior to the switch to blind auditions, the music director hand-picked new members. Under these hiring practices, women comprised less than 5% of the major orchestras in the United States. Today, women comprise between 25% and 30% of the musicians in US orchestras.

[Read the article: Claudia Goldin& Cecilia Rouse. “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of "Blind" Auditions on Female Musicians.”The American Economic Review.pp715-741 (2000)]

Best Practice: Establishing gender-neutral hiring procedures, such as evaluation criteria, blind evaluations, increasing the size of the applicant pool, or using structured interviews will lead to fair and inclusive searches. 

Find more best practices on the Search Committee Tools Resource Page.