Netizens Express How it’s Time To End The Pay Gap For Speakers At Tech Conferences

Netizens Express How it’s Time To End The Pay Gap For Speakers At Tech Conferences

"It would be different if it were an across-the-board policy not pay anyone’s fees and not to pay anyone’s travel. SXSW does that, for instance. When you find out some people do get certain things covered and others don’t is when it becomes a complete insult. It turns the conversation to something else. It becomes not a policy — it becomes a preference."

Nigerian author, speaker, and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi expressed her frustrations through twitter over a client who asked her to speak for free.

How to end pay gap between speakers

February 15, 2017, author Ajayi took social media to share her thoughts: “Was asked to speak at an international conference that grosses 15 million EUROS. My agent emailed them and they said they don't pay speakers”.

She also stated that if she accepts the offer, she will have more audience, publicity and a tour in Amsterdam. The tweet caught the attention of other public speakers who received the same offer.

Aminatou Sow, a US-based business woman replied to the tweet claiming she got the same offer from the same event as well. Sow says her exposure is already very good and believes their offer of good exposure is not enough.

However, journalist Sabrina Hersi Issa replied to Ajayi’s tweet sharing her experience of being invited to speak at a conference for free, at the same time and same event her brother was also asked to speak but was offered with 20 thousand dollars and a private jet to the venue.

Journalist Christina Wallace has expressed her thoughts about the issue of public speakers who were asked to speak for free. She believes that it is a reasonable argument. As Wallace shares, just like Ajayi, she has been an active speaker for seven years but only started getting paid in the last two years.

"Oh my gosh, I’ve donated so much of my time. I still do for high schools and other places that don’t have money and are important to me. But now I’m at a level that I expect to be compensated." She said.

She asked a famous speaker in advertising circuit named Cindy Gallop to weigh in. Wallace says: "I did a certain amount of speaking for free when I first left [Bartle Bogle Hegarty] back in 2005, in order to raise my profile as an independent speaker. For the first few years, it was a combination of free and paid, as I began looking for a speaking agent to represent me."

In early 2011 Gallop signed with Robinson Speakers and has never accepted an unpaid gig. People who have listened to Gallop know that she cares about pay equality and everyone in twitter even in the other side of the world knows when she speaks. As they say, she always leaves a social media imprint.

Gallop is also known for being in favour of radical transparency on public speaking rates. She has revealed that her current fee is 25 thousand dollars and is even planning on raising it this year.

Disparity in fees between speakers

"My current speaking fee is $25,000, although I'm in discussion with [my bureau] about raising that this year. I will occasionally charge less depending on the circumstances (e.g., a panel appearance or a discounted 'bulk buy' - a client booked me for multiple speaking engagements on a global tour, so I agreed to a package deal)."

Ajayi has affirmed that her frustration wasn’t just only about unpaid speakers who invested their time and money to develop expertise and speaking skills. The problem is believed to be the lack of transparency on who gets paid, how much as well as the unreliable reasons that they have no budget to pay for the speakers.

"This is not just about The Next Web. This is about the entire conference industry. It’s really important for men in the space who are getting benefits that women aren’t are willing to speak up about them. The people who are being cheated are not the ones who can dismantle it. It requires people who are benefiting from it to put it on the line and push back. Even if I were getting paid for this, I don’t want to be the exception to the rule. I want the rules to be fair across the board."- Wallace

March 14, 2017 Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, Founder & CEO of The Next Web, sent his reply through email.

"[W]e told Luvvie Ajayi that we didn’t have a budget for speakers, and don’t ever pay speakers. That’s factually incorrect. It is about as factually incorrect as saying ‘It isn’t you. It’s me’. Most people understand you are just trying to be polite but it would be more honest to say ‘I just don’t love you anymore, and feel the need to see other people.’

"When we reply saying ‘we don’t have a budget for speakers’, the whole unpleasant truth is that we need to prioritize whom we spend our limited budget on, and in this case it’s speakers that are perhaps more relevant for our audience, more sought-after. That is far from saying we think Luvvie Ajayi isn’t worth paying – we’re absolutely sure that for the right audience and in the right city, she easily commands her fee.

"The conclusion is that there is a pay gap for speakers at events, but a logical one based on a lot of factors such as knowledge, success, fame and most importantly, demand. I hope you also understand, based on what I explained here, and from the research you did, that the choice to pay speakers or not is disconnected from gender, race, age or any other factor except quality and demand.

"We can also conclude, however, that we should’ve been more clear in our explanation on why we wouldn’t pay Luvvie Ajayi. We will try to be more open and honest from now on. It will lead to more bruised ego’s [sic], but at least we will be less likely to be accused of discriminating."

Issue not only in the tech industry

While it is only recently that the issue on pay gap between speakers has come to light, it is an on-going and definitely not an isolated issue in the tech industry. Also, it is a growing reminder of event organizers as well as speakers to work together in setting the reasonable standard and better bridge the gap between professional speakers, not just tech ones.  

Published 28 Feb 2018