Blind auditions and gender bias

Possibly relevant to the ongoing online discussion of why adult SF/fantasy anthologies so often tend to be predominantly male, and the common response that editors are just choosing the best possible stories out of what they receive.

Blind auditions key to hiring musicians.

I’ve known for a while now that the simple act of adding a screen to hide the gender of classical musicians at auditions has had a significant impact on the gender balance of orchestras. Some relevant bits from the article:

Among musicians who auditioned in both blind and non-blind auditions, about 28.6 percent of female musicians and 20.2 percent of male musicians advanced from the preliminary to the final round in blind auditions. When preliminary auditions were not blind, only 19.3 percent of the women advanced, along with 22.5 percent of the men. Using data from the audition records, the researchers found that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent.


About 10 percent of orchestra members were female around 1970, compared to about 35 percent in the mid-1990s. Rouse and Goldin attribute about 30 percent of this gain to the advent of blind auditions.

I’m guessing many of those who did auditions without screens would have claimed — and honestly believed — that they were entirely unbiased, and that at least some of them were genuinely surprised at the difference adding a screen (and, I’ve been told, carpet to hide the sound of high-heeled shoes) really made.

Gender and race bias are tricky things, in all fields and realms. Often we don’t mean to be biased, and don’t realize we are unconsciously being biased — if it didn’t so often sneak in under the radar, after all, it wouldn’t be so hard to address. Which is why we all need to check in, from time to time, for the assumptions we don’t even realize we’re making.

(ETA: Though the assumptions are not always unconscious. Via wulfsdottir, I found the justifications made by the Vienna Philharmonic as to why being not only male but also European was crucial infuriating, and one can hear its arguments echoed in discussions of SF/fantasy anthologies, too. I gather the orchestra technically allows women these days, but still has not admitted many.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *