Behind the Screen

Justice in court isn't the only process that works best blindfolded.

Over the past two decades we have noted the fairness blind auditions bring to selecting instrumentalists for the world's symphony orchestras. In a nutshell, it's a job application process that has undercut the prejudice that kept so many orchestras all-male domains. Even the illustrious but custom-bound Vienna Philharmonic recently broke its only-men-need-apply tradition. In that case it wasn't a blind audition that cracked the gender barrier but pressure backed by the rising number of women in other orchestras.

Now economists at Harvard and Princeton have used major orchestras' office records for a "before and after" study. It shows that letting only sound from, not sight of, the auditioner emerge from behind a large screen has resulted in a 50 percent increase in women surviving the preliminary selection round and a several times better probability of getting the job.

Variables affect the change: affirmative action; final rounds when judges do see applicants to evaluate such abilities as synchronized bowing; and the spectacular success of soloists like Mitsuko Uchida and Anne-Sophie Mutter. But the change is emphatic.

Now, on to improved color-blindness throughout the work world....

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