Leadership in Italian Major Symphony Orchestra: Analysis of Women Careers on Podium

Article excerpt

With the project 'The Image of Excellence', the research team coordinated by Giorgio Soro described and analyzed how a work group can achieve excellence. The focus was on the interaction between a guest conductor and the hundred or so professional musicians who make up a Major Symphony Orchestra (MSO). From our research data it emerges that on the podium of Italian MSOs women are absent. As the literature indicates, the difficulties that have always surrounded women who choose the conducting professions and can even now be an obstacle to their careers are largely due to the lack of a network of mentors and the violation of gender norms. We scrutinized the biographies of 81 women conductors in order to identify the shared elements which characterize their training and careers. The hypothesis was confirmed, and new items emerged from results: the absence of women from the podium seem to be a lost opportunity, the development of those skills that women have acquired culturally and socially could encourage a phenomenic presence that will lay the foundations for a context that is increasing likely to produce excellence, a goal shared by the artistic organization and the men and women who are involved in it.

Keywords: Leadership - Women - Major Symphony Orchestra - Italy


With the project The Image of Excellence', the goal of the University of Turin (Italy) research team was to describe and analyze how a work group can achieve excellence. While the factors discussed in the literature have helped foster an understanding of a number of basic dynamic mechanisms such as leadership style (Edgeman & Dahlgaard, 1998), organizational rules (Knights & McCabe, 1998) and group composition (Hackman, 2003), little light has as yet been shed on the dimensions that can come into play in stimulating a group's leader and members to produce excellence, or in other words, the relational context that, for any given set of organizational conditions, will work to encourage such a result (Soro, 2005). The team's investigation focuses on the interaction between a guest conductor and the hundred or so professional musicians who make up a Major Symphony Orchestra, or MSO. The rationale for this focus is to be found in the particular mission surrounding these organizational players: in the world of symphonic music, MSOs represent a pinnacle of excellence that is internationally recognized and enables them to attract audiences, garner coveted recording contracts and receive invitations to tour abroad (Lebrecht, 1991).

Over sixty performances by three of the four MSOs in Italy were observed on video. We then proceeded to analyze and describe the process that encourages the production of excellence, which the research group interpreted in terms of membership/ leadership context (M/LC): our findings indicated that the guest directors who succeed in eliciting an excellent performance are those who are capable of expressing a phenomenic presence whereby they attempt to establish a context oriented towards membership, involvement, a feeling of belonging and sense-making1 (Soro, 2005).

In the research group's results several points attracted our attention, prompting questions as to why the women we met accounted for only 3% of all the guest conductors who mounted the podium in front of the Italian MSOs we investigated (Acquadro Maran, 2008). And yet, a number of laboratory studies would appear to show that both women and men have the basic capabilities that promote acceptance and involvement (Yoder, 2001) and that women more than men help make individuals feel that they are part of a group (Carli & Eagly, 2001). This does not mean that studies show that women have a monopoly on these characteristics, but that thanks to the level of competence acquired through their social role (which tends to center on containment and caring - Eagly, Wood, Diekman, 2000) also on the podium could facilitate the construction of a dynamic context characterized by holding, involvement and groupship which could help men and women in achieving excellent results. …