The case for blind math

From the Afterword of "Blink" by Malcom Gladwell:

The story I think back on the most is the one from the conclusion: the tale of blind auditions and Abbie Conant's confrontations with the Munich Philharmonic. I'm drawn to it for a very simple reason: the classical music world had a problem - and they fixed it.

Before the advent of blind auditions, the percentage of women in major symphony orchestras in the United States was less than 5 percent. Today, twenty-five years later, it's close to 50 percent. This is not a trivial accomplishment. Suppose that back before the advent of screens, you and I had been on a committee charged with addressing the terrible problem of discrimination against women in major symphony orchestras. What would we have proposed? I think we would have talked about creating affirmative action programs for women in the music world. I think we would have talked about awareness programs for gender bias, and how to teach female musicians to be more assertive in making the case for their own ability. We would have had long discussions about social discrimination. I think, in other words, that our suggestions for change would have been fairly global and long-term. Think about what we would have been dealing with, after all. Orchestras are run by maestros, and maestros are powerful, brilliant, single-minded, highly entrenched men who run their organizations like their own private fiefdoms. It's not as if we can walk up to the maestro and say, "Maestro, you don't know me, and, to be honest, I don't know that much about classical music. But I really think the reason you aren't hiring women is that you are in the grip of some powerful, buried biases against women." I suspect, at the end of long days of meetings, we would probably have thrown up our hands and said that we would just have to wait until the current generation of maestros - with their ingrained biases against women - was replaced by a younger, and hopefully more open-minded, set of conductors.

But what happened instead? Experts in the classical music world tackled the problem by addressing the way in which the instinctive judgments in auditions were made. They didn't fixate on the person making the snap decision. They examined the context - the unconscious circumstances - in which the snap decision was being made. They put up screens. And that solved the problem then and there.

See the original research paper.