Many ICSOM orchestras are aspiring to increase diversity throughout titled and section positions. Analyzing a hiring process and its outcomes through an ethical lens can help elucidate what role, if any, the audition procedure itself has in influencing the results of auditions. If orchestras find that full disclosure of their audition process leads to undesired outcomes, they may choose to amend their audition process.
Utilizing an ethics framework to provide appropriate transparency in hiring practices protects committees, management, and audition candidates. The Ethics of Management, by LaRue Tone Hosmer, provides an excellent framework to determine if an audition process is transparent enough to meet an organization’s ethical standards. Increased transparency also increases the confidence candidates have in the integrity of the audition process, as candidates cannot make a fully informed decision about whether to take an audition if important information is withheld. Our industry often boasts of the merits of blind auditions but rarely delves into other elements of the audition process that can profoundly affect hiring outcomes. From a candidate’s perspective, a fully screened audition that results in un-screened trials, or an orchestra that has invited a candidate(s) to an unscreened final round before screened preliminary auditions even take place, may seem to be no fairer than a fully unscreened process. If an orchestra feels their audition process produces the best results for their organization, there should be no hesitancy in disclosing the process to everyone involved.
The following is adapted from Hosmer’s principles to apply more specifically to the ethics of hiring of orchestral musicians. The first step in utilizing an ethics framework is to determine, what is the ethical question? This is the question that we will use throughout the following framework and will begin with the words, “Is it right for…” As an example:
Is it right for an orchestra to fully disclose the details of their audition process, along with recent results, before candidates audition? Does greater transparency take power away from those who deserve it the most? Or does greater transparency create fairer procedures and enable candidates to make fully informed decisions?
Hosmer’s framework begins with a series of questions, designed to test the ethics of a given process:
Who benefits from greater transparency?
Candidates, especially those with the least influence and power. Orchestras, as they will be asked to continually review whether their process is truly inclusive and fair. The entire organization, as they will be participating in transparent hiring practices that avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.
Who is harmed by greater transparency?
Arguably, no one. Committees can still select winners from unscreened rounds, or even handpick them, if the orchestra makes it clear from the beginning that they will be doing so. If orchestras and their audition committees believe in their procedures, they should be proud to disclose how the audition will be run.
Whose rights are exercised by greater transparency?
Candidates have the right to participate in a fair hiring process, especially one described as ‘blind’. Orchestras still have the right to hold unscreened rounds, but they then lose the privilege to refer to their auditions as blind.
Whose rights are ignored by greater transparency?
Arguably, no one. Orchestras still have the right to conduct auditions as they wish, but they do have to disclose the process accurately and completely. If there is reticence by an orchestra to disclose their process, that could be an indicator that the process does not meet the organization’s ethical standards.
What are the economic costs and benefits of greater transparency?
Candidates would waste less time and money taking auditions in which they can more accurately assess their poor chances of winning. At the same time, candidates will be encouraged to spend their time and money on orchestra auditions with the fairest process.
What are the legal requirements?
In the case of orchestra auditions, we assume that all ICSOM orchestras satisfy legal requirements. The law represents the agreed-upon minimum moral standards of our full society, and those minimum moral standards must be observed by all to maintain the peace among all and advance the well-being of all.
What are the ethical duties?
Normative philosophy (the study of ethics) helps us to examine the moral rights and wrongs of any society. As no society—or orchestra—is the same, each will have its own ethical norms.
For a complete analysis of ethical duties, we return to the original question and examine it under each of the eight universal principles of normative philosophy. In the following example, the ‘decision’ is to give full disclosure regarding the audition process.
- Is this decision in the enlightened, long-term interest of yourself and of the organization to which you belong, and does it avoid the possibility of future retribution and harm from others?
- Is this decision open, honest, and truthful, and would you be proud to have this widely and publicly reported?
- Is this decision kind and compassionate toward others, and does it forward a sense of community, of everyone working jointly toward a common goal?
- Does this decision violate the law? (The law in this case could be your orchestra’s CBA.)
- Does this decision result in greater net benefits than harms for the full society of which you are a part?
- Is this decision one that you would be willing to see others, faced with the same situation, be free or even encouraged to take, and does this action treat all others with respect and dignity?
- Does this decision ensure a more equitable distribution of benefits? Does it harm the least among us, those with the least income, wealth, influence, and power?
- Does this decision interfere with the rights of others to develop and improve their skills and abilities? Because if it were to interfere, this would deny the rights of all of us, not just the least among us, to pursue our own self-interests through our own voluntary exchanges.
Ethical questions are by nature difficult and require significant analysis. After considerable thought, I have come to the following proposals. So that candidates can make fully informed decisions, I believe orchestras should include the following disclosures when sending invites to candidates.
- Number of resumes received, and percentage of resumes invited: were there specific requirements to be invited, such as having already won an audition or currently holding a titled position?
- Pre-advancement: The percentage of candidates invited to start in each round, including the number of ‘direct to trial’ candidates, if any.
- Screens: In what round will the screen come down? Is there anyone who will be invited directly to an unscreened round?
- Trials: Will a trial be required? Does your orchestra select direct-to-trial candidates before the audition is even held?
- No-hires: Does your orchestra prohibit no-hire auditions? If not, what is the percentage of auditions from the last five years that resulted in a no-hire?
- Conflicts of Interest: Does your orchestra have a conflict-of-interest clause that applies to audition committees or elsewhere in the audition process? If not, will spouses or family members of candidates be on the audition committee? Students? Musicians with a vested interest in the outcome, such as the possibility of being appointed themselves? If you do not have a conflict-of-interest clause, the most ethical course of action would be to disclose to all candidates, prior to the audition, whether spouses or family members of candidates will be present on the committee, or all other conflicts of interest.
- Gender and Race Statistics: Of the auditions that did produce a winner, what percentage of winners over the last five years were men? Women? People of Color? Some ICSOM orchestras still have few female principals and even fewer People of Color among their ranks. For more information on this proposal, see Advancing Inclusion by Shea Scruggs and Weston Sprott (https://www.local802afm.org/allegro/articles/advancing-inclusion/).
It is possible that after making these disclosures, some orchestras may find that their processes deter candidates from auditioning. If your orchestra invites candidates directly to an unscreened final round and discloses that in advance, a consequence could be lower turnout at the audition. This may indeed be the desired result–after all, most musicians do not look forward to listening to full days of auditions, so it may be preferred that turnout is low, especially if an orchestra already knows that their player of choice will be starting in an unscreened round.
If an orchestra discloses that it guarantees a winner will be selected, will the quality and number of candidates be greater than without that guarantee? Simple disclosure of these facts allows candidates to be fully informed before spending months preparing for an audition, taking time off (often unpaid), and incurring the cost of travel to an audition.
The answers to the questions in the above framework will be different from orchestra to orchestra and from person to person, and there should be no expectation that all orchestras or all people will arrive at the exact same conclusions. Reflection upon what we deem to be fair and ethical gives us the opportunity to look at our processes and examine who benefits and who is harmed by our decisions.
If increasing trustworthiness and integrity is a priority for your orchestra, this framework can be applied to any decision that you or your organization may be considering, from finance and accounting decisions, to marketing and work rules.