(This is a flute.)

Is The Boston Symphony Orchestra Sexist?

You think the world of pop music is sexist.  Wait until you read this.  The issue is the principal flutist, Elizabeth Rowe, for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  She feels she should be paid the same as the man sitting next to her, principal oboist John Ferrillo.  He gets paid $64,451 more than her.

Is this fair?  Take a look at this:

“By the time the BSO approached Ferrillo to fill its oboe vacancy, he was a prized member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. In 2001, to lure him away, the BSO paid him twice what the orchestra’s rank-and-file make.”

This tells us two things:  1) There was a bidding war for Ferrillo.  To get him, the BSO had to really open up its wallet.  2)  This took place in 2001.  Rowe wasn’t hired until 2004.  Three years and two different instruments might really make a difference in what somebody gets paid.

We also learn from the article that there were 251 flutists who applied for Rowe’s position.  There was no bidding war.  The BSO had the leverage, not the musicians who wanted to be hired.  Of course they were going to pay less.  Why?   Because they could.

There’s also this: Rowe is 44 years old.  Ferrillo is 63 years old.  He’s 19 years her senior.  When she was born, he was already in a music conservatory practicing.  He’s put in 19 more years than her.  Why should she be paid the same?

If you look at this strictly from the viewpoint of the open market, Ferrillo was more wanted and more experienced at the time of his hiring.  He got paid more.  In the article, Rowe says that she asked to be paid as much as Ferrillo each year.  But why would they need to do that?  The law of supply and demand was not in Rowe’s favor when she got the job.  It’s fine that she kept asking to be paid the same as him.  It doesn’t make economic sense why she should get that amount, however.

There is a problem in the Classical music world between pay for men and women.  The top male orchestra member in America earns $535,789.  The top female earns $410,912.  That’s a major difference.  Men also make up the majority of orchestras; almost 61% are males vs just over 39% who are women.

Let’s go back to that open market idea.  If women are paid less and there are more men in orchestras, if I’m an orchestra trying to survive in a competitive entertainment landscape, why wouldn’t I hire more women?  My orchestra would ultimately make more money.

Now, this is an odd bias.  I’d be favoring women, which could be nice (but still a bias).  But I’d also be paying them under market value because they are women.  That’s not fair.

Orchestras start their audition processes with the decision makers and musicians separated by a curtain.  The race and sex of the musician is hidden.  No bias exists aside from a desire to hear the best player.  But some orchestras, like the BSO, lift the curtain for the final audition round.  Whether you want to be biased or not, the person you’re considering hiring is right there in front of you.

In this particular case, even though there is an over all problem in this industry, does that make it fair to the BSO and Ferrillo for Elizabeth Rowe to be paid the same as him?

Imagine if you worked in a highly skilled job and were paid handsomely.  Then imagine somebody almost 20 years younger than you was hired for a similar job and that person demanded the same wage.  Would you feel this was fair?  Shouldn’t your 20 years of experience be valued more than the the person just hired?

While there is a problem in the music industry, and in America, in which there is a wage gap between men and women – and that is NOT fair, in this particular case, with the information we have, I don’t think Rowe should win her lawsuit.  Unfortunately for the BSO, they’re caught in a culture change.  They will probably settle and Rowe will get a substantial raise.  The same pay as Ferrillo?  If I’m him and she gets it, I’d be insulted.  In fact, you know what I’d do?  I’d ask for a raise.

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Professor David Philp is Assistant Professor Music & Entertainment Industries and Popular Music Studies at William Paterson University. He is the co-host of the only FREE advice college radio-based music & entertainment industry talk show in America, Music Biz 101 & More, which airs live most Wednesday nights and is available as a podcast HERE every night (days too).  Your favorite professor is also co-author (with Dr. Steve Marcone) of Managing Your Band – 6th Edition.  Reach him at PhilpD@wpunj.edu or find him on LinkedIn HERE.

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