Women represent more than half of the national population, yet the percentage of women in leadership roles within the field of opera is comparatively small. OPERA America is addressing these issues by convening a group of stakeholders (female and male) to explore and work actively to advance gender parity field-wide. This page provides general resources for the public and specific resources for OPERA America members.

OPERA America’s Women’s Opera Network works to:
  • Increase awareness of and discussion about diversity and gender parity in the field.
  • Create action plans to promote the advancement of talented women.
  • Become a source of support for emerging female professionals.
Acknowledging the underrepresentation of women in arts leadership positions as a critical concern, a capacity crowd convened at the May 2015 Annual Conference for a very spirited, substantive and productive conversation. Now, a few months later, our shared commitment bears fruit with the creation of the Women’s Opera Network. With the support of OPERA America and all of you, we commit to creating an ongoing dialogue where we share resources, information, and insights in order to develop robust opportunities and innovative programs that will benefit women across our field.
- Deborah Sandler, Chairman

Join the Network
Be a part of the conversation. Any current member of OPERA America may join the Women’s Opera Network. Simply login to the website and request to be added to the listserv. Members are able to ask questions of the network, post headlines or relevant articles and request or become a mentor. Not an OPERA America member? Join today.

WON Mentorship Program
The Women’s Opera Network (WON) Mentorship Program is an ongoing initiative to promote the advancement of women leaders in the field of opera administration. This program will provide a unique opportunity for the most promising female professionals to be paired with administrative leaders who can help these protégés achieve their professional growth goals.

Three female professionals will be paired with established leaders in their areas of interest for a 12-month professional Mentorship Program beginning in January 2018. Protégés will be selected based on their demonstrated career arc and potential to make a significant contribution to the opera field. Mentors will be selected by OPERA America based on the career track and needs of the protégés. Mentors will share their knowledge and experience to guide protégés in a positive and nurturing environment, while identifying barriers and achievement gaps. Mentors and protégés will then establish and execute an action plan for professional growth. OPERA America will provide funding for mentors and protégés to travel to and attend Opera Conference 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri, from June 20–23, as well as support mentorship teams with a structured program and additional resources for in-person and remote mentoring sessions.

Application available online: September 18, 2017
Application deadline: October 18, 2017, at 11:59 p.m. EDT
Selected protégés notified: November 1, 2017

Guidelines: 2018 Women’s Opera Network Mentorship Program Guidelines (.PDF)
Apply: All applications must be submitted online.

Suggested Reading and Resources

Research and Data
Women make up a majority of the U.S. population (50.8 percent), earn almost 60 percent of all undergraduate and graduate degrees and earn 47 to 48 percent of all law and medical degrees. Although they hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, American women lag substantially behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership positions. They represent only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. They hold just 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats and continue to earn only 71 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts in all leadership positions.

OPERA America did two preliminary research surveys about women in leadership roles within our membership as a representation of the field of opera: one specifically of general directors/CEOs and one for all leadership positions (e.g., divisional directors, artistic leaders). Both surveys span from 1990 to current 2015 data.

Click on any chart to open in a new window.

The results show that historically there remains a static, very low (less than 8 percent) ratio of female general directors at the companies with the largest budgets (Level 1).

The GD/CEO percentages at Level 2 and Level 3 companies have shown more variance but remain on average between 17 to 21 percent over the last 16 years.

The place where there has been the most significant increase in leadership gender parity is at the Level 4 companies (those with the smallest budgets), which are often organizations founded by women. The historic average is over 38 percent, and in 2015, 49 percent of Level 4 GD/CEOs are women.

This data is less encouraging, showing an actual decline in the number of women in leadership positions at all levels of opera companies over the last 16 years. While the general numbers seem to indicate a steady increase in female leaders, the ratios to male leaders in the same positions show a decrease of between 4 to 8 percent from 1990.

The graphs below show the statics and percentages, followed by links to the detailed findings from several other resources that present research on women in leadership roles in other sectors of the arts.

[Click any graph to open in a new window]

Women in Leadership Positions at
North American Opera Companies, 1990-2015
1990 1999 2008 2015
Leadership Positions General Directors Leadership Positions General Directors Leadership Positions General Directors Leadership Positions General Directors
Level 1 Male 55 (66%) 12 (92%) 83 (66%) 15 (100%) 99 (73%) 12 (92%) 122 (74%) 14 (93%)
Female 28 (34%) 1 (8%) 42 (34%) 0 37 (27%) 1 (8%) 43 (26%) 1 (7%)
Level 2 Male 60 (62%) 15 (79%) 75 (59%) 10 (67%) 127 (63%) 22 (91%) 136 (64%) 21 (78%)
Female 37 (38%) 4 (21%) 53 (41%) 5 (33%) 75 (37%) 2 (9%) 79 (36%) 6 (22%)
Level 3 Male 46 (56%) 15 (75%) 60 (56%) 15 (75%) 75 (68%) 15 (94%) 82 (63%) 20 (87%)
Female 37 (44%) 5 (25%) 49 (44%) 5 (25%) 35 (32%) 1 (6%) 48 (37%) 3 (13%)
Level 4 Male 89 (61%) 30 (69%) 123 (63%) 32 (59%) 151 (65%) 38 (67%) 192 (66%) 40 (51%)
Female 56 (39%) 13 (31%) 73 (37%) 23 (41%) 82 (35%) 19 (33%) 101 (34%) 38 (49%)
Canada Male 23 (54%) 6 (67) 47 (71%) 7 (59%) 56 (67%) 12 (71%) - -
Female 20 (46%) 3 (33%) 24 (29%) 4 (41%) 27 (33%) 5 (29%) - -

Support the Women's Opera Network by contributing to Backstage Brunch: Women in Opera.

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The Walrus    Tuesday, May 30, 2017
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San Francisco Chronicle    Friday, March 24, 2017
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Seven Women Conductors Who Deserve Attention
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VoiceofSanDiego.org    Wednesday, February 1, 2017
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New York Times    Wednesday, February 1, 2017
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LitHub.com    Wednesday, February 1, 2017
PBS New Hour    Wednesday, February 1, 2017
PBS Story on Hart Institute for Women Conductors
New York Times    Monday, December 19, 2016
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NY Times    Monday, December 19, 2016
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NPR    Wednesday, December 7, 2016
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NPR - Weekend Edition    Monday, December 5, 2016
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The Interval    Monday, December 5, 2016
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Vulture.com    Monday, December 5, 2016
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The New York Times    Wednesday, November 30, 2016
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Bloomberg News    Monday, November 28, 2016
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National Public Radio    Monday, November 28, 2016
Pauline Oliveros, Pioneer Of 'Deep Listening,' Dies At 84
New York Times    Monday, November 28, 2016
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Forbes Magazine    Monday, November 28, 2016
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Harvard Business Review    Monday, November 28, 2016
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The Washington Post    Monday, November 28, 2016
Congressional panel calls for new Smithsonian museum of women’s history
The Wall Street Journal    Friday, November 18, 2016
Lincoln Center Names Debora Spar As New President
Art Works Blog: National Endowment for the Arts    Thursday, November 3, 2016
#WomanCrushWednesday, Opera Edition
Politico Magazine    Thursday, November 3, 2016
The Congresswoman Who Paved the Way For Hillary Clinton
ArtsFwd.com    Monday, October 31, 2016
Can We Break the Glass Ceiling of Arts Leadership?
Fortune Magazine    Monday, October 31, 2016
Why Mentoring Won't Create More Female Leaders
New York Times    Thursday, October 27, 2016
New Jersey Symphony’s New Director on Defining Her Own Sound
NPR    Thursday, October 27, 2016
'Good Girls Revolt' Takes On Gender Bias In The Newsroom
Ballerina Boss    Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Ballerina Boss - redefining first position at the Cincinnati Ballet
Austin Business Journal    Wednesday, October 26, 2016
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HowlRound.com    Thursday, September 22, 2016
Kilroys in the Classroom: Activism, Databases and the life of the Artist
The Guardian    Wednesday, August 31, 2016
The Guardian view on female conductors: time to take the baton
ArtNet.News    Wednesday, August 24, 2016
18 Female Artists Give Advice to Women Starting Out in the Art World
The Boston Globe    Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Women run Berkshires’ four big theaters. Here’s why that’s remarkable.
HowlRound    Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Women’s Leadership: Research Results and Recommendations
Howl Round    Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Who Designs and Directs in LORT Theatres by Gender: Phase Two
CSIS.com    Monday, June 27, 2016
Smart Women, Smart Power
Inc.Com    Monday, June 27, 2016
Why the Next Steve Jobs Will Be a Woman
The New York Times    Tuesday, May 31, 2016
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The Wall Street Journal    Wednesday, May 25, 2016
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Harvard Business Review    Wednesday, May 25, 2016
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New York Times    Wednesday, May 25, 2016
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Smithsonian Magazine    Wednesday, April 20, 2016
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USA Today    Wednesday, April 20, 2016
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New York Times    Wednesday, April 20, 2016
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The Daily Skimm    Tuesday, April 12, 2016
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Sarasota Herald Tribune    Tuesday, April 5, 2016
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DSO.org    Friday, April 1, 2016
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New York Times    Thursday, March 10, 2016
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IRD.com    Tuesday, March 8, 2016
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Theater Jones    Monday, February 29, 2016
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New York Times    Monday, February 22, 2016
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The Guardian    Thursday, November 5, 2015
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League of Professional Theatre Women    Tuesday, November 3, 2015
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NBC News    Tuesday, November 3, 2015
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New York Times    Wednesday, October 28, 2015
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Lyric Opera of Chicago Press Room    Wednesday, October 14, 2015
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The New York Times    Friday, October 9, 2015
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New-York Historical Society to Open Women’s History Center
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TCG Circle - Gender Parity Salon    Tuesday, October 6, 2015
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DMagazine.com    Tuesday, October 6, 2015
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Steering Committee

Deborah Sandler, Chairman
General Director/CEO Lyric Opera of Kansas City

Laura Kaminsky, Co-Chairman
composer, administrator

Kim Pensinger Witman, Co-Chairman
Senior Director Wolf Trap Opera & Classical Programming

Carrie Ellen Adamian
Director of Marketing The Dallas Opera

Ana De Archuleta
Owner ADA Artist Management

Cori Ellison
dramaturg, teacher
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Juilliard, ALT, NYU

Nicole Ambos Freber
Director of Development Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Robin Guarino
Stage Director and Corbett Distinguished Chair in Opera Cincinnati Conservatory of Music

Carol F. Henry
President of the Board Los Angeles Opera

Susanne Mentzer
mezzo-soprano, teacher, writer

Nicole Paiement
Artistic Director, Conductor, Founder Opera Parallèle

Karen Quisenberry
Director of Production Minnesota Opera

S. Katy Tucker
projection designer

Diane Zola
Director of Artistic Administration Houston Grand Opera


Francesca Zambello
Artistic Director Washington National Opera
Artistic & General Director Glimmerglass Festival

OPERA America Staff

Laura Lee Everett
Director of Artistic Services

Marc A. Scorca

Brenda Huggins
Learning and Leadership Manager

Members of the Steering Committee and Advisors are available to be a resource for advice to rising female leaders in the field. Please contact them through the email addresses provided above.

Ask a Question
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