Listen Now

Lawsuit Against Boston Symphony Orchestra Exposes Extensive Gender Pay Gap

Dec 11, 2018
Originally published on December 11, 2018 12:22 pm

Rachel Martin talks to Geoff Edgers of The Washington Post about a lawsuit brought against the Boston Symphony Orchestra that has put a spotlight on the gender pay gap in the classical music world.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is no secret women sometimes get paid less than men for doing the exact same job. On average, women earned 82 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2017. That's according to Pew Research. And it's not just pay. Women are less likely to be in positions of leadership. A new lawsuit against the Boston Symphony puts a spotlight about how this disparity shows up in the world of classical music. Reporter Geoff Edgers has been following this, and his story appears today in The Washington Post. And Geoff joins us now.

Good morning.

GEOFF EDGERS: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Who is suing the Boston Symphony and why?

EDGERS: Well, Elizabeth Rowe, who is the principal flutist, is suing the Boston Symphony Orchestra because she feels that she's not being paid fairly. And she feels that that's based on the fact that she's a woman. So she's raising this idea of, you know, gender disparity or gender pay gap in the orchestra world. It's never - you know, this lawsuit is the first of its kind.

MARTIN: What's the basis for her claim? What does she point to?

EDGERS: Well, she was hired by the BSO 14 years ago. And the fellow who plays next to her, who she loves as a musician and a friend, principal oboist John Ferrillo - you know, from the start, she knew he was earning a lot more than she was. And it's varied over the years. But in general, it's been about $70,000. So she just sat there playing with him, and they played together on almost everything. They call it the floboe - the flute and the oboe...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

EDGERS: ...Together. And - but finally, she felt like she wasn't getting, really, taken seriously and filed this suit in July.

MARTIN: What has the Boston Symphony said about it?

EDGERS: Well, the symphony has defended its pay structure. And they're saying that the flute and the oboe are not comparable. And, you know, as somebody who can tap out a little bit of something on a piano, any instrument, to me, is mysterious...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

EDGERS: ...And mystical. But they say the oboe's more difficult to play. And they say that there are fewer great oboists in the pool, the country, so that it makes it a more marketable instrument. But I will say that that is not science (laughter).

MARTIN: What does science say?

EDGERS: Well, there's no way of knowing, you know, what - how do you value what somebody does for a living? And, you know, it's very, very complicated. I mean, many people who've studied how women and men are paid say one of the greatest ways to devalue a job is have women become the, you know, predominant people who do that job. And, you know, the flute is played by more women.

MARTIN: Just the nature of having women do it, it is devalued. It's paid less.

EDGERS: Exactly. But, you know, Elizabeth Rowe has been the featured soloist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra more than any other principal musician. And the principals are the stars, you know, like the starting lineup I guess you'd say. Sports analogies aren't great in this, but she is a star. And, you know, she's sitting there and just feels like she's not being treated fairly...

MARTIN: Right.

EDGERS: ...In that way.

MARTIN: So let me ask you just briefly. I mean, the salaries in this case is already quite high. I mean, you say it's a $70,000 gap, but we're talking about a quarter of a million dollars a year. It doesn't seem like a big deal. But presumably, it would set a precedent for other musicians who make far less. What's the upshot of all this?

EDGERS: Well, I think she's uncomfortable with being public about this - took me weeks to get her to talk to me. But she also sees this as a larger issue, you know, really, that - you know, yes, I earn quite well for being in a job that's my dream job. But there's a structure here. I mean, we analyzed how women are paid in orchestras. And it's clear, you know, out of the top 78 paid players in the country, only 14 are women. And that's in orchestras that are made up of, you know, 40 percent women. So there's something wrong here. And I think she's hoping to correct it.

MARTIN: All right. Geoff Edgers for The Washington Post. You can read more on his story later today on their website. Thanks so much, Geoff. We appreciate it.

EDGERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.