Women Dominate the Stage Management Industry, So Why Are They Still Paid Less Than Men?

Throughout my years at college, I was involved with 18 theatre productions. Whether it was performing on stage or working behind the scenes, I was involved in some aspect of every show we put on. It wasn't until about 20 minutes before I started writing this column that I realized that there was a commonality with every show I worked on, they almost all had a female stage manager.

Realizing this, I opened up my old box of college playbills and sure enough, of those 18 shows, all but one were stage managed by a woman.  

They had names like Nikki Lalonde, Amanda Kelsey, Cate O'Brien, Erica Voisine and Nikki Hilchey. And these were amazing women, embodying everything you would want a stage manager to be. They were extremely organized, hard working and smart enough not to take griping from a cocky (but charming) underclassmen like me. 

So it was never a surprise to hear that when it comes who is typically employed in this supremely tough job, women grossly outnumber men. (Seriously, just Google "Stage Manager" and look at the images, it's not even close to which gender you'll see more)

However what has shocked, confounded and angered me is hearing that, on average, male stage managers are still paid more than females. 

How is that possible? How does that make sense? 

Given how much they dominate the field, one would hope that in this day and age, especially given how usually progressive the theatre industry is, that women would at least be paid equally as their male colleagues. 

Sadly it looks as if that would be hoping for too much. 

According to a recent study by Actor's Equity, they found that of the 11,632 stage management opportunities from 2013-15, 65.9% of them hired females as opposed to 34.1% males. 

The report stated,

"Though all of our members, through our negotiations, are guaranteed the same minimum salary, the disparity is also found in the wage gap between male and female Equity members. This wage gap is because women are more frequently hired on lower paying, lower minimum contracts.

Our data shows that while women may have had more work opportunities than men, they worked on contracts with lower average minimum salaries. And what’s more, women garnered less overscale, leaving them with a contractual salary that was lower than roughly $98....In several situations, women have been able to negotiate the same average overscale but still, earn less salary — as seen in national principal in a play employment where women are earning about $10 less."

While we would all like to think of the theatre industry as progressive enough to be the exception to societal norms, when you add this to race representation, it's almost like every other industry. 

While some of you tune out cable news and political terminology (I don't blame you if you do), you should know the problems with the gender gap in pay. Because while the gap certainly narrowing in some areas and age groups, it's still a persistent problem with no concrete solution.

The Pew Research Center found that in 2015 women earned 83% of what men earned. And that "based on this estimate, it would take an extra 44 days of work for women to earn what men did." While those numbers are much better than they were in the 1960's when women earned 67% of what men earned, they're still inexcusable. 

But while the reasoning behind things such as Day Light Saving and voting on a Tuesday are based on archaic scenarios, the supposed reasons for the gender gap in pay are based on present days issues. 

Surveys have shown that "women were more likely to say they had taken breaks from their careers to care for their family. These types of interruptions can have an impact on long-term earnings." 

Other issues such as female overrepresentation in lowing paying occupations and gender discrimination have also been sourced as possible reasons for the gap. 

Even more worrisome, is what was thought to be the reasoning why men were paid more isn't the same when reversed for women. For instance, it was thought because men had more education than women, that was a major reason for higher pay. However, as of today, there are more women in four-year colleges than men ( 55% vs. 45% ). Yet the pay gap remains. 

And if you're hopeful that this gap is going to change overnight, according to the same survey, only 63% of men agreed that “this country needs to continue making changes to give men and women equality in the workplace." 

That number is frighteningly low considering how many men are the salary structure decision makers for their companies.

But back to the original point, why is this happening in the stage management industry, one is that dominated by women, two to one?

While the reasoning might resemble what you saw above, I spoke to one Stage Manager (who wished to remain anonymous), who had a much different take, 

"The problem is that I encounter so few men in this field, that it's hard to compare what they earn as opposed to me. It's different for lawyers who can compare pay structures in an office setting but when you don't see your male counterparts often, it makes it much harder. We might think we're getting as much as them but that's probably not the case at all."

The other factor to take into account is the scarcity of these jobs. Remember, for a three year period there were only 11,632 Equity stage management opportunities compared to over 45,000 performing opportunities in plays and musicals. 

With numbers like that, it's not unrealistic to think that women (or anyone for that matter) would jump at a plum Broadway SM gig rather than investigate salary structures. The same stage manager told me, 

"As long as nothing looks egregious or fishy, timing is everything and I'm going to sign on before I think whether or not I could get more if I was a man."

So this is a problem right now, but it's a fixable one. And we need to put pressure on producers and executives to set an example by closing this gap, especially considering the number of women it will help. While Actor's Equity doesn't have a specific plan on how to do it, they have laid out some broad, social media based, solutions such as the hashtag #ChangeTheStage and have urged members to be vocal when they see issues. 

For an industry that puts the spotlight on women in these shows, we need to start taking care of the women who are calling them.