“Women Still Fight for Seat in Major Orchestras Worldwide”

That’s the title of Rory Williams’ article in the latest edition of Strings magazine which examines the Vienna Philharmonic’s past practice of no girls allowed along with the role female musicians play in leadership positions within US orchestras. Williams draws on figures from the orchestra compensation reports here at Adaptistration and his piece certainly gets you thinking…

Why are there so few ethnic minority orchestra CEOs?

The article is a good companion piece to an article in the February, 2010 Strings by Louise Lee that examines minority representation within the ranks of orchestra musicians. Undoubtedly, this issue is one that although it is improving, the nature of attrition and shrinking positions means it will likely be a slow churn before things really start to change.

But for all the worthwhile public discussion about ethnic diversity on stage, there is comparably little talk about it among the ranks of orchestra executives and board officers. Certainly, women comprise a strong ratio but that’s not entirely surprising given that nonprofit organizations have a long history of recruiting women administrators. But ethnic diversity throughout senior executive positions at 52 week orchestras is worse than on stage.

In fact, I can’t think of a single African-American, Hispanic, or other ethnic minority that occupies the CEO position at a 52 week orchestra (if I’m missing someone, please speak up!). As it turns out, we touched on this topic a bit way back in 2004 by way of a series of articles about ethnic diversity; some of which feature some excellent insight by Jerome Harris, a self described 50-something professional jazz musician, black American, native Brooklynite, working-class background/Ivy League grad/middle-class income, and omnivorous listener.

What do you think? For all the talk about ethnic diversity on stage as a key component to improving relevancy, shouldn’t the same arguments apply to executive administrators and board officers? Are they apples and oranges? I’m very curious to hear what you have to say.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on ““Women Still Fight for Seat in Major Orchestras Worldwide”

  1. Well there is Zarin Mehta in NY, but I agree with you that it’s just as important to examine this issue on the management and staff side as it is on the musician and conductor side. I would imagine that the major reason for the lack of diversity among senior managers or major orchestras is the lack of diversity among the staffs. By identifying ways of recruiting, encouraging and training more diverse staffs, we’ll eventually see the results at the upper levels.

    I do agree that it is a incredibly bright spot for our industry that we have so many talented and successful female CEOs, VPs and directors.

  2. Women, blacks, asians, etc.; the question is who DOESN’T have to fight for a seat in a major orchestra. Have you checked out the competition lately. It’s not difficult because you’re this or that – it’s just plain difficult.

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