Some modern orchestras have up to 40% women musicians. One of the premier orchestras of the world, the Vienna Philharmonic, currently has eight women out of 136 members. It was only in 1997 that it first had a fulltime woman member and for ten years after that, the number remained at one. In recent years, there has been increasing pressure on them to have more women members, and the rate at which women are hired is now apparently on par with other orchestras. The orchestra’s long tradition of fathers passing on their positions to their sons now also includes at least one father passing on his position to his daughter. (Link is to a podcast.) (Incidentally, gender is only one area in which the Vienna Philharmonic is being forced to catch up. Race is another area.)
The increasing pressure on many organizations (faculty positions in universities, for example) to hire more women (“affirmative action”) has some corollaries worth thinking about. The one that women mention to me the most is that those women who get hired are viewed, always and forever, as candidates who were not necessarily the best but got hired anyway because of their gender. As a result, you sometimes find that women themselves do not support affirmative action schemes — they wish to compete with the men on an equal footing. In this sense, it is a no-win situaion at the moment. But perhaps the affirmative action schemes are only a temporary phase. Once there is a healthy number of women, there will be a balance in hiring once again, and affirmative action will become unnecessary, but as of now, the women candidates remain unsatisfied, whether you hire them or not.
It is interesting to consider methods that are blind to gender. For instance, some orchestras do auditions with the candidate being behind a screen, and this is the main step of the hiring process. But this method may not possible for other jobs and even for orchestras, it isn’t the only step of the process. Besides, organizations often wish to hire based not only on the technical abilities of the candidate, but also the personality of the individual who is likely to be a long term colleague. This makes the process less objective and more opaque.
Many organizations that were originally formed as being exclusively for men have opened up to women over the decades. For organizations that are partially or fully dependent on state funding, this has often been forced. One place that is privately owned and is therefore free to deny membership to women is the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, easily the most famous golf club in the US, and which annually hosts the very prestigious Augusta Masters tournament. Membership is only by invitation and it was only in August 2012 that membership was extended to (two) women for the first time. (The club first admitted a black member in 1990.)
It is true that classical music, golf and, to a lesser extent, universities are extremely tradition-bound environments and are very conservative when it comes to embracing change. In any milieu that places a great emphasis on history and the upholding of history, women and minority races have a hard time making their way in. The Vienna Philharmonic and the Augusta National Golf Club cling on to their exclusively white male history. The former claims that this gives it its distinctive sound, which it is loath to let go of, the latter, being private, does not really feel the need to explain. The universities seem to be handling the change most gracefully, though the women getting the jobs there are not overly thrilled with the affirmative action initiatives. In all cases, it is a dynamic situation, and worthy of keeping a close eye on.