I have written previously about blind auditions and interviews. These are ideas that are now gaining a bit more traction as companies look to reduce potential racial discrimination in their hiring practices. Others look at these measures as misguided and that taking race into account is the only way to diversify hiring. I understand that the author is an arts critic trying to make a point about the industry he covers, so being a provocateur is an important part of the article. However, he proposes ideas that I think should be evaluated.
First is that, basically, all applicants for playing positions at top tier orchestras are all pretty much the same. I am sure that all of those people in the suburbs who pay top dollar to go into the city to listen to an orchestra would be thrilled to know that they can really stay closer to home and hear essentially the same thing for a lot less money. But, the author then goes on to say that there are (potentially, as he does not manage an orchestra) other aspects of being an orchestra member that should be considered (e.g., being a good educator and openness to new musical experiences). The implication here is that these are job duties where there are meaningful differences and can be used to screen applicants. His point is a good one—we can do a better job of hiring when we consider how job duties have changed when creating selection systems. And, some of these changes may lead to more diverse selections.
He brings up a good point when he says that the problem with diverse hires occurs well before the audition stage in that few Black or Latino kids get interested in symphonic music. In the case of those who enjoy the music, they don’t have the same access to training as white kids who also want to make a career out of it. Whether it is for jobs that have traditionally discriminated based on sex or race, developing interest via training or mentoring programs is one of the long-term solutions to hiring a more diverse workforce.
The last point addressed is representation—the idea that the racial diversity of an orchestra should reflect…well, what should it reflect? The people who listen to the music? The orchestra’s ticket buyers? The city/town where the orchestra is located? The pool of applicants? This is where people get queasy about hiring diversity. We start wading into the murky waters of quotas, tokenism, and how finely we define representation. The goals may be noble, but it is the process that counts.
I would argue that representation should reflect the diversity of the qualified applicants rather than some pipe dream about how popular a white European art form is to modern day American youth (see this article for a somewhat divergent opinion). In the near term, that means creating and maintaining unbiased selection systems that reflect what the job truly requires. In the longer term, it means developing pipelines to all students who are interested in careers where there is and/or has been systematic discrimination.
Some companies may feel that in the current climate they have to do something now to improve their diversity and they should. Additionally, they should address systemic hiring discrimination, which requires more foundational changes. These can include programs that make their industry welcoming to all (e.g., providing classroom experiences) and training/mentoring programs for those who are interested in careers who have come from groups that traditionally were excluded from jobs with them.