Why it’s not okay to ask a woman to speak for free on International Women’s Day

international women's day

If you are paying for coffee, cupcakes, and canapes, you have money to pay for your speaker. Source: Unsplash/Antenna.

International Women’s Day is upon us.

The theme this year is #BreakTheBias. I am sure you already know this, but what you might not know is that your IWD event might be contributing to the problem instead of the other way around.

Let me explain. 

Creators of the International Women’s Day movement 2022 have invited us to imagine a gender-equal world: 

Imagine a gender-equal world.

A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

A world where difference is valued and celebrated.

That’s right. A world where women, their voices, their experiences and expertise are valued.

The clearest way to show someone they are valued is to pay them. And pay them well. 

To me, asking a woman to speak for free on IWD flies in the face of that. It’s not okay. 

Late last year, I contributed to The Women Changing the World, an anthology edited by sisters Peace Mitchell and Katy Garner. 

In it, I posed the following question: “What if we, as women, make sure we know our worth, charge appropriately for it, and relentlessly encourage others to do the same?” 

Today, I pose this question: if you’ve asked someone (or multiple people) to speak to your organisation on IWD, why aren’t you paying them?

Here are some of the reasons you might give me.

She didn’t ask to be paid

Of course, she didn’t. That’s the whole point of IWD — to help women to realise (among other things) their worth. She didn’t ask because she doesn’t realise her contribution is valuable. Help her see it by paying her, even if she didn’t ask. 

I don’t know how much to pay her

The best way to find this out is to ask her. Don’t make it uncomfortable for her to see if there’s a fee waiting at the end of the conversation. 

Start by saying: “I’d like to know your speaking fees, as we value your contribution and want to make sure you know that”. 

In Australia, it’s typical for a speaker to charge between $1500 and $20,000 for a single keynote. 

I don’t have the budget

Bollocks! If you are paying for coffee, cupcakes, and canapes, you have money to pay for your speaker. You just need to prioritise this as much as you would getting the rest of the event details right. Too late this year because all the money has been spent? Pledge to fix it in 2023. 

Some women might have a pro bono budget, whereby they choose to speak for free at events held by not-for-profit or community organisations. The keyword here is ‘choose’. Never assume she’ll speak for free no matter how ‘nice’ she is or how nicely you ask. 

I have arranged a gift for her instead

Gifts are great. Being paid is better. When you do so, it allows your speaker to invest in herself or her community in ways that match her values and her vision. 

For example, when I get paid to speak, I donate it to organisations like the Cancer Council NSW. I imagine many women will be thinking of the women in Ukraine this IWD and how far back the invasion will send them and their daughters. So skip the chocolates. Hand over a cheque instead. 

It’s too late

Is it? Is it really? If you have spent your budget elsewhere, you can still do the following: 

  • Make a tax-deductible donation in her name;
  • Give her a day off (time is money after all);
  • Make warm introductions to people who will boost her career; and
  • Provide her with a testimonial so the next time she speaks, she can get paid for it.

And if none of that is possible, the very least you can do is have a conversation with her about what’s happened. Tell her you read this article. Tell her you know she’s worth it.  

This article was first published on LinkedIn.


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