Over the past several decades, orchestras have changed how they hire musicians, and have begun to eradicate a long-standing bias that had prevented women and minorities from accessing opportunities in the industry. Since the mid-1970s, musicians have performed in the preliminary rounds of auditions from behind a screen, so that factors such as gender and ethnicity are not taken into consideration. With "blind auditions" becoming the norm, the percentage of female musicians in the five highest-ranked orchestras in the United States increased from less than 5 percent in 1970 to 25 percent in 1997.
Hearing without seeing :
- Today, the gender gap is even smaller. In the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, for example, female musicians outnumber their male counterparts, 51 to 45.
- In some orchestras, blind auditions are only used for narrowing the field, which has made it 50 percent more likely that a woman will advance to the final round. Other audition processes are completely "blind."
- Some orchestras even attempt to mask the distinctive sounds of women's footwear -- either by providing a strip of carpeting to walk on, or by asking applicants to remove their shoes before walking onto the stage.