Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians

“Blind” orchestra auditions reduce sex-biased hiring and increase the number of female musicians.


The difficulties associated with proving and addressing gender discrimination in hiring processes have presented policymakers with a major challenge over the past few decades. In an attempt to overcome gender-biased hiring, a vast majority of symphony orchestras revised their hiring practices from the 1950s. Many orchestras opened up their hiring process to a range of candidates, rather than only hiring musicians who were handpicked by the conductor. As a result of these changes, most orchestras now hire new players after about three rounds of live or recorded auditions: preliminary, semi-final, and final. Additionally, as part of these revisions, a number of orchestras adopted “blind” auditions whereby screens are used to conceal the identity and gender of the musician from the jury. In the years after these changes were instituted, the percent of female musicians in the five highest-ranked orchestras in the nation increased from 6 percent in 1970 to 21 percent in 1993. Given the low turnover found in most symphony orchestras, the increase in female musicians is significant. In this seminal study, the authors examine whether these new hiring practices were responsible for the increase observed in women’s employment in symphony orchestras.


“Blind” auditions for symphony orchestras reduced sex-biased hiring and improved female musicians’ likelihood of advancing out of preliminary rounds, which often leads to tenured employment.

  • Using a screen to conceal candidates from the jury during preliminary auditions increased the likelihood that a female musician would advance to the next round by 11 percentage points. During the final round, “blind” auditions increased the likelihood of female musicians being selected by 30%.
  • According to analysis using roster data, the transition to blind auditions from 1970 to the 1990s can explain 30 percent of the increase in the proportion female among new hires and possibly 25 percent of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras.
  • In short, “blind” auditions significantly reduced gender-biased hiring and the gender gap in symphony orchestra compositions.

In the 1970s and 1980s, most symphony orchestras in the United States began adopting “blind” auditions whereby the identity of potential candidates was concealed from the jury by a screen. In this study, the authors make use of existing audition records and orchestra personnel rosters to examine the effects of “blind” auditions at various stages in the audition process on the likelihood of women advancing and eventually being hired. The dataset is unique because it contains the complete contestant pool for each audition and allows authors to link individuals across multiple auditions.

Audition records were collected from 8 major symphony orchestras, dating from the late 1950s to 1995. The analysis sample for auditions consists of 14,121 person-rounds, 7,065 individuals and 588 audition-rounds.

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