The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra removed bias from the recruitment process by accident.

Female trombone player Abbie Conant was hired using a blind audition method but harassed for 13 years by the Orchestra that hired her.

When the curtain went down, the discrimination went up. They had no idea they selected a woman.

In 1980, the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra was hiring for the trombone position. Now here’s where it gets interesting: one of the applicants was the son of a famous musician. So, the Orchestra decided to have a blind audition, in which musicians would play behind a curtain. The goal was to avoid favouritism, but it ended up removing bias from the recruitment process.

Our hero is Abbie Conant, a female trombone player. She was one of 32 musicians applying for that position.

When she played behind that curtain, everyone was amazed at her performance! Sergiu Celibidache, the Guest Conductor, exclaimed "That's who we want!" There was a lot of excitement with the performance of the unknown musician.

Abbie Conant playing trombone. Bias was removed from her recruitment process because she did a blind audition
Abbie Conant - (Credits Abbie Conant)

When Abbie came on stage for the following round, without curtain, there was an audible gasp. No one was expecting to see a woman! The mindset was that it was a men’s job.

There was an overall scepticism that Abbie wasn’t able to fulfil the role properly. Amongst the sceptics, there was someone very vocal about it: Sergiu Celibidache. She ended up getting the first chair position, despite initial turmoil.

Abbie was evaluated solely based on her skills and she blew the competition away

At the time, Celibidache was still Guest Conductor. But he soon became General Music Director and with great power came, unfortunately, very little responsibility.

Celibidache demoted Abbie to second trombone, and years of legal battles and harassment ensued. She eventually regained her first trombone position, but at a significantly lesser salary than her male counterparts. More legal battles emerged.

In October of 1991, well-renowned German newspaper Der Spiegel had a three-page story on Abbie, causing an international uproar.

In March of 1993, almost 13 years after her blind audition, the court declared that Abbie had to be given the same pay and seniority status of her male counterparts.

Victorious, Abbie left the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and joined the distinguished State Conservatory of Music in Trossingen as tenured professor.

Abbie is an absolute hero for having fought hard. She fought not just for her rights, but for everyone’s rights! The only things that match her talent are her tenacity and courage! We strongly encourage you to listen to her music as a way of celebrating her bravery.

Trombone & Organ, by Abbie Conant and Klemens Schnorr - album cover

If you want to support Abbie, consider buying her music.

Bias in recruitment:

  • According to research by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse, the evidence suggests that the blind audition procedure fostered impartiality in hiring and increased the proportion (of) women in symphony orchestras.
  • By evaluating candidates blindly, the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra ensured they selected the absolute best one. It is now a common practice to have blind auditions.

  • Why don’t companies do the same?

  • Recruiters and organisations looking for the absolute best candidate for the position should use “blind-audition” equivalent techniques to make sure they remove any bias from the recruitment process.

Read more about Abbie Conant: