OPERA America Field-Wide Opera Demographic Report 2021 Shows Good News for Gender Representation while BIPOC Languishes

By Chris Ruel

OPERA America (OA) has released its Field-Wide Opera Demographic Report 2021.

The first-of-its-kind report provides a snapshot of the demographic landscape of administrators and board members two years after the death of George Floyd, which spurred a flurry of diversity and equity initiatives within the industry. Since this is the inaugural report, there aren’t baseline numbers for year-over-year comparisons. The 2021 report has now set those baselines for future research. In lieu of having numbers from previous years, OA compared the findings with U.S. census data.

OA deployed its survey in the spring of 2021, targeting program staff, advancement staff (those in development and marketing), general administration, senior leadership, and board members/trustees. The anonymous survey data cuts across all five of OA’s membership budget groups.

The survey received 2,700 responses, 1,200 of which were from administrative staff and 1,500 from trustees. Responses came in from 97 U.S. and Canadian companies, about half of the 184 asked to take part.

Overall, gender demographics are bright spots within staff representation. However, racial/ethnicity findings confirmed serious underrepresentation.

Here are highlights.

BIPOC Findings

BIPOC communities represent 40 percent of the U.S. population, yet 77 percent of all administrative staff are white.

At the leadership level, 81 percent of leaders are white, 21 percentage points higher than the white U.S. population, which stands at 60 percent.

The most represented BIPOC communities within administrative staff are Hispanic/Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander/South Asian, and those who identify as two or more races/ethnicities. Each of these groups came in at around 5 percent. Black administrative staff stands at 4.5 percent.

Yet, Hispanic/Latinx and Black community representation in staff positions are far lower than their percentage within the U.S. population. According to census data, those who identify as Hispanic/Latin X comprise 18.5 percent of the U.S. population. Those identifying as Black represent 12 percent.

BIPOC-identifying board members and trustees was a dismal 15 percent.

Gender Findings

Women hold most administrative positions at 61 percent, ten points higher than the U.S. female population. Another positive is that 54 percent of women have leadership positions, compared to 44 percent held by men. Under 1 percent identified as non-binary. Gender percentages of board members were a near-even split, with 49 percent men and 49.5 percent women.

Budget Group Findings

The numbers within budget groups and regions mostly aligned with field-wide percentages and were consistent between groups.

Within budget groups 1 and 2 ($3M+), Women comprise 61 percent of total staff, men 37 percent, while members of the non-binary community comprise 2 percent. Gender composition within leadership roles is 55 percent women and 43 percent men. On the race/ethnicity front, 80 percent of leadership staff are white.

Within Groups 3, 4, and 5 (under $3M) the gender makeup of total staff is 60 percent women and 40 percent men, barely off from groups 1 and 2. Gender representation within leadership positions were near even at 51 percent women and 48 percent men, with non-binary just under 1 percent. Board members and trustee gender percentages are 54 percent women and 45 percent men. Turning to race/ethnicity, 84 percent of leadership, and 82 percent of board member/trustees are white.

Departmental Race/Ethnicity Findings

Across the board, BIPOC communities are underrepresented within departments. White people comprise 83 percent of artistic administrator positions, 82 percent of development roles, 81 percent of executive office staff, 72 percent of Marketing/PR, and 85 percent of technical/production jobs. Blacks represent only 1 percent of artistic administrators, 2 percent of development staff, 4 percent of executive office staff, 3.5 percent of marketing/PR, and 1 percent of technical/production. Hispanic/Latinx representation is higher, ranging consistently between 4 and 5 percent.

Regional Race/Ethnicity Findings

While demographic differences in the general population vary across the U.S., the racial makeup of opera industry staff was consistent across regions. White people account for 80 percent of staff in the Midwest and South, with lower percentages in the Northeast and Wester regions at 78 percent and 74 percent, respectively.

Click here to access the full report.