Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Women Conductors: A Study of an Italian Major Symphony Orchestra

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Women Conductors: A Study of an Italian Major Symphony Orchestra

Article excerpt


The investigation sought the opinion of members of Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI on a performance directed by a woman. The assumption was that not being used to be directed by a woman would affect their opinion on the individual's ability and on all women conductors, i.e. if few women are invited to be guest conductors, it must mean that there are few women conductors who are good enough. A survey of 58 musicians interviewed using Alceste 4.6 statistical program revealed that musicians have stereotypes as regards women conductors and their ability to lead an orchestra. Such stereotypes are due to the small number of women who have been conducting. However, findings indicate that orchestras everywhere have much to gain from women's participation in terms of both visibility and opportunities to attract funding and sponsorships. Implications of these findings for orchestra management strategy and future investigation are also discussed.


The presence of women in artistic and musical organizations has been explored by scholars in several disciplines. Three major lines of investigation can be discerned in these studies: the inclusion of women in the ensemble, women in leadership roles in orchestras, and the obstacles that bar women's access to the podium. In the first area - women's inclusion - Lehmann (1982) addressed the demographic composition of symphony orchestras, traditionally seen as elite, male organizations: in the United States, for instance, women began to be found in orchestras in the 1950s, whereas their inclusion in British and German orchestras dates only since the seventies.

The literature on the composition of groups and organizations provides several clues about what we can expect when the proportion of women in orchestras increases. We know, for example, that women and men differ in their interaction styles (Moreland and Levine 1992), and that same-gender groups often show fewer conflicts, greater predictability and less anxiety on the part of their members than mixed-gender groups (Jackson 1992; Morgan and Lassiter 1992; Pfeffer 1983). But the absence of conflictual processes is not necessarily an advantage. The norms that tend to emerge in homogeneous groups can limit both the personal learning of members and their collective task performance: studies indicate that the conflict prompted by diversity and moderate deviation from traditional norms can enhance group creativity, a matter of special importance for the performance of groups such as symphony orchestras (Hackman 1992; Nemeth and Staw 1989).

A major contribution in this area was made by Allmendinger and Hackman (1995), who analyzed how including women or increasing their proportional representation affects musicians' attitudes, perceptions and behaviour, group processes (in terms of the quality of relationships) and the orchestra's organizational characteristics. Their findings indicate that when women enter an all-male or maledominated group, there will be a significant change in the level of satisfaction and the group's perception of itself as an ensemble1. Other effects found included heightened tensions and problems for individual players and the orchestra. As the proportion of women in the orchestra continues to increase, measures then tend to return to the levels reported before the entry of women (Allmendinger, Hackman and Lehman 1996).

According to researchers such as Eagly (1998) and School (1998), women's representation in orchestras is destined to rise until it stabilizes at what Allmendinger, Hackman and Lehman (1996) refer to as a balanced gender composition (School reports that the proportion of all player positions filled by women in professional symphony orchestras averaged 45% in 1996). In this connection, Lane (2002) invites women musicians to seek a more prominent role: in an article entitled 'Shoulders of the Orchestra', he states that whereas the podium is still a male domain, women can occupy a leadership role as concertmasters. …

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