Equal Work, Equal Pay Lawsuit Could Change The Entire Landscape Of Musician Individual Agreements

For far too long, orchestras have relied on a combination of hierarchical tradition and path of least resistance to arrive at terms for musician individual agreements. Unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of environment that leads to cronyism, discrimination, and resentment. I like to call it the garbage in, garbage out method of negotiating individual agreements.

I strongly recommend everyone take the time to begin reading up on a recent bombshell out of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in the form of a lawsuit filed by their principal flute, Elizabeth Rowe, alleging sex-based pay discrimination.

Adaptistration People 125In a nutshell, here are some of the key points from Row’s complaint (emphasis added to items of note that haven’t been getting the attention they deserve in initial reports):

  • The BSO discriminated on the basis of gender in the amount of its pay under contracts of compensation for orchestra members holding comparable endowed principal chairs performing comparable work, by paying women less than that paid to men performing comparable jobs.
  • Utilizing employees’ salary histories which were demonstrably a tainted variable incorporating gender bias which was systemic in orchestral selection and pay practices.
  • Utilizing contracts guaranteeing males a fixed percentage above base salary while offering no female any such automatic adjustment.
  • By utilizing an overscale salary criteria based on suppressing the pay of those playing instruments traditionally played by women.
  • The BSO does not utilize a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, sales, or revenue.

In short, the alleged problems appear to stem from a lack of meaningful compensation policy.

And no, the whole “we’ll pay every principal the same minimum figure to guarantee fairness” approach does not constitute a meaningful compensation policy. That’s called a collective bargaining agreement and orchestra musicians already have one.

One of the most challenging aspects of negotiating suitable terms for individual agreements is engaging in a thorough valuation process.

We’ll be diving into all of this and more next week as I want to have time to thoroughly review the full complaint before wading into the depth of detail this issue deserves.

For now, here are some articles you can read to begin wrapping your head around all of the issues (check back throughout the day as I’ll add to the list as articles appear at new outlets).

Given the enormous complexities surrounding this issue, I would implore all readers to refrain from snap judgements and embrace this as the first step in a longer process of learning about this issue.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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