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.

Spotlight on Women Leaders
5 women in opera you want to know

Ana De Archuleta
President ADA Artist Management
"I believe credibility and trust are earned. It has taken me 12 years to get where I am."
Read more…
Carol F. Henry
Chair, Executive Committee Los Angeles Opera
"The opportunity to become a part of the formation of a brand-new opera company was one I couldn’t pass up 30 years ago. I’ve been hooked ever since." Read more…
Laura Kaminsky
American Opera Projects/Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, State University of New York
"Pay attention to the broader world in which you live. Being an artist requires being an engaged citizen." Read more…
Nicole Paiement
Artistic Director/Principal Guest Conductor Opera Parallèle/The Dallas Opera
"'Career' only looks cohesive in hindsight. Choices are sometimes hard and that is okay." Read more…
Deborah Sandler
General Director and CEO Lyric Opera of Kansas City
"At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own excellence and our own achievements. So be the very best you can be." Read more…

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%) - -

Suggested Reading and Resources

The Wall Street Journal    Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Women in Elite Jobs Face Stubborn Pay Gap
Harvard Business Review    Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?
New York Times    Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Decades After ‘Boom-Boom Room’ Suit, Bias Persists for Women
Nonprofit with Balls    Monday, May 9, 2016
7 hopeful trends in philanthropy
Smithsonian Magazine    Wednesday, April 20, 2016
These Women Composers Should Be Household Names Like Bach or Mozart
USA Today    Wednesday, April 20, 2016
'Happy Equal Pay Day,' said no woman ever
Pew Research Center    Wednesday, April 20, 2016
On Equal Pay Day, key facts about the gender pay gap
New York Times    Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Change for a $20: Tubman Ousts Jackson
The Daily Skimm    Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The Skimm's Guide to Equal Pay
The Economist    Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Where have all the good tenors gone, and where are all the basses?
Rhapsody News    Tuesday, April 5, 2016
The Ithican    Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Media Wonderwomen: Ithaca College celebrates women in media
JPMorgan Chase & Company    Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Good and Growing Middle-Skill Jobs Exclude Women, New Report Shows
Sarasota Herald Tribune    Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Festival within festival focuses on women
DSO.org    Friday, April 1, 2016
Detroit Symphony and Carhart Partnership
New York Times    Thursday, March 10, 2016
Women in the World Summit
IRD.com    Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Celebrate International Women's Day
Theater Jones    Monday, February 29, 2016
Gender Parity in Opera Management
New York Times    Monday, February 22, 2016
Met to Stage Its First Opera by a Woman Since 1903
New York Times    Monday, February 15, 2016
Madeleine Albright: My Undiplomatic Moment
Azernews    Monday, February 15, 2016
Shovkat Mammadova - brave woman and talented artist
Dubbo Photo News    Monday, February 15, 2016
Chicago Tribune    Thursday, January 28, 2016
What one CEO wants women to do to reach the top
HowlRound.com    Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Submitting Like a Man: My year resubmitting scripts as a dude
New York Times    Tuesday, January 12, 2016
When Teamwork Doesn't Work for Women
Fortune.com    Monday, January 11, 2016
Why Women Make Great Chief Operating Officers
Festival d'Aix-en-Provence Newsletter    Monday, January 4, 2016
Festival d'Aix-en-Provence offers workshop on Women and Performing Arts
Nonprofit with Balls    Monday, January 4, 2016
All right, everyone, we need to freak out more about nonprofit leadership
NPR - Planet Money    Monday, January 4, 2016
The Jobs With The Biggest (And Smallest) Pay Gaps Between Men And Women
NPR    Monday, January 4, 2016
Women in Hollywood seek gender equality
HowlRound    Thursday, December 3, 2015
Achieving Gender Parity: The 100 Women Plan
New York Times    Thursday, December 3, 2015
The 2016 Pirelli Calendar May Signal a Cultural Shift
Woman of the Year - Nonprofit Award Winner    Thursday, December 3, 2015
Patty Beggs Wins WE Celebrate Award
The Guardian    Thursday, November 5, 2015
Negotiating advice for women in the arts
League of Professional Theatre Women    Tuesday, November 3, 2015
League of Professional Theatre Women’s Women Count Project Continues
NBC News    Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Mexican Conductor Alondra de la Parra Makes History
New York Times    Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Female Producers and Directors Mean Female Crew Members, Film Study Finds
Lyric Opera of Chicago Press Room    Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Lyric presents TEN: A Season of Creative Women at Lyric
Harvard Business Review    Monday, October 12, 2015
Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?
The New York Times    Friday, October 9, 2015
Gender Bias in Hollywood Reportedly Draws Federal Scrutiny
The New York Times    Thursday, October 8, 2015
New-York Historical Society to Open Women’s History Center
The New York Times    Thursday, October 8, 2015
Women’s Voices Theater Festival in Washington Is an Energizing Showcase
Women Arts    Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Women’s Employment in the Arts
TCG Circle - Gender Parity Salon    Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Being Female is Inherent to My Work
DMagazine.com    Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Why The Dallas Opera Is Bringing More Women Conductors to the Podium
WNYC Freakonomics Radio    Thursday, October 1, 2015
Meet the Woman Who Said Women Can’t Have It All

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

Leah Wilson
Director of Learning and Leadership

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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