Of Blind Auditions

New learnings from an old classic.

In 1952, the Boston Symphony was looking to diversify its male-dominated orchestra. So it conducted an experiment with a series of blind auditions.

For the auditions, the musicians would be playing behind a curtain. It looked to remove all chance of bias and allow for a merit-based selection only, a selection that would hopefully increase the number of women in the orchestra.

To their surprise, their initial audition results still skewed male.
Then they asked the musicians to take off their shoes. Apparently, the sound of the women’s heels as they entered the audition unknowingly influenced the judges.

Once the musicians removed their shoes, almost 50% of the women made it past the first audition.

Beyond general awareness training, precision surgery (to track down biases and remove) works best for biases. Also, the Boston Symphony may not have cured the biases of the judges. Instead, from curtains to shoeless musicians, they brought in systems to ensure that the biases didn’t get in the way of decision-making.

Perhaps being conscious about our unconscious biases is a good start.

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