To my speaking brothers,
I adore you. You matter. And I know you care about your speaking sisters.
I wanted to reach out to you and share something that happened recently that, sadly, is not an isolated case.
As I debated whether or not to say something, I got nervous. I still am because I am taking a risk. Yet, I also know that sometimes the most important conversations require us to risk something. That’s what it means to act according to your values. Hey, I am a speaker, writer, improviser, comic and getting real is what I do. I live in a risk-taking world. Comedy is risk; so is life!
So here it goes…
This week the organizer for a marketing conference reached out to me to invite me to speak at a new offshoot conference at his main conference in 2018.
I spoke at his conference in 2016. I will come back to this. File this for now; I promise a callback is coming.
He said he needed women to speak. He said this in 2016, too. “We need strong, smart, funny women…and I loved your book and your sessions last time. And a male speaker reminded me I need women speakers.” Note: he was reminded to get more women.
So he asked me on a phone call on Monday, “what will it take to get you here to this conference? I’m thinking if you are here for 3-4 days, let’s make it worth your time. We could have you do this 20-min keynote and a session. Tell me what would make you feel good about coming? I need to know soon.”
Monday night I sent him my proposal and costs.
He responded Tuesday morning, with this (abbreviated): “Honestly, thanks for even considering this but the best I can give you is $1,000 and maybe 50 books and you get the footage but we keep the rights.”
Imagine my surprise. I am thinking, “Why did you ask me for a quote if you knew you only had $1K to offer me? I really don’t get it.” That’s a waste of time and doesn’t make me feel very good. You see why.
I countered and I asked him if he was offering that same base fee (you can add other things based on negotiation and he said he was cash constrained) to men? Remember, he had told me he really needed women. He told me this in 2016 as well.
So he came back with a “this is all I can do – take it or leave it.”
So I told him I choose to leave it. For many reasons as you can imagine.
Here is the thing I really want my speaking brothers to understand, hear and glean…
Women speakers are not afterthoughts.
Why didn’t he identify women speakers in advance so that the conference could apportion the funds evenly – especially when this same thing happened in 2016?
I don’t think this organizer is bad at all. Quite the opposite. He is “nice.” And, yes, he didn’t handle this situation well.
Yet, this situation happens a lot. It’s called unconscious bias. He didn’t realize he needed more women until a male speaker mentioned it. Why is that? Think of the issue with CES this week – no female keynotes and it got called out. It happens on panels. With keynotes. It happens in Silicon Valley and in Every Valley. It happens everywhere. All the time. Women are speaking up. And we all must.
So now, by the time I was called and invited to speak, the budget was almost gone. So women who are identified and invited get whatever small budget is left – they get scraps.
This happened in 2016 to me by the same organizer.
I spoke up then. In 2016, I spoke at the main conference. I did a workshop and a session and barely got paid for ½ a session. It was the same reason – he called me in a panic in 2016. “We need women speakers and women-led workshops. We don’t have women and we need them,” he said two years ago. He was desperate because he had not planned and it came down to a scramble last minute. But he wasn’t offering to pay women – they were an afterthought in 2016. A friend – a male speaker – confirmed to me because I asked – that he was paid his asked for workshop rate in 2016 and has been offered his asked for rate for the upcoming 2018 session – when the conference had budget. Without paying them, he wanted the benefit of women for cosmetic appearances – to check that diversity box.
So to help, I said I would do the 2016 workshop and he agreed to give me footage because he couldn’t pay me my rate. Three days before the conference, the conference logistics company called me to say the organizer couldn’t do it. They were over-budget and so “sorry, no can do.” I was annoyed and felt yanked around. However, I committed to a money-making workshop for the organizer and I honored the commitment I made. He got paid. I did not. I got great reviews on the workshop. “Next time,” the organizer said, “we won’t use our partner again for logistics, so I promise we’ll treat you differently.”
And that brings me back to now…
Why didn’t the conference organizer learn from not thinking about having women in the right places? This happened two years ago. So why is it happening again? What is he not getting so that he is, once again, scrambling to “get women speakers?”
Why is a male speaker reminding this organizer to recruit women? Thank you to this person, by the way.
When you are scrambling to get women after the budget is almost nothing, they get offered scraps. They get told “take it or leave it.” They get told, “Well so and so did for next to nothing” as if what someone else does or doesn’t do should drive my choice. It’s an awful tactic and unfun place to be. And it shouldn’t happen.
The message the conference organizer is sending is, “women aren’t high-value.” Plain and simple.
And it’s hard because you can be “nice” and have unconscious bias. Both can be true.
Then, this conference organizer asks me if I can recommend other women speakers to fill his quota.
Why would I do that when you cannot even treat me with respect?
I declined and I cannot recommend other female speakers. I value myself and I value other women. We are not quotas.
I believe we can never achieve anything better than our self-image. And I believe I deserved better. I gave more than 100% in 2016. I am qualified and deserve to be there. It’s not a consolation prize and I am not “lucky to be invited.
He didn’t apologize. He called it a “misunderstanding.” It’s not. He said “he remains a big fan.” He isn’t. A fan would treat someone with respect.
It’s not just about money; it’s about respect. It’s about consideration. And it’s about time.
Women are not afterthoughts. Make us part of the budget.
So why tell you?
So you, my speaking brothers, understand what happens to many women. It happens often. We are not window dressing.
We deseve to be there alongside our talented speaking brothers and friends who we adore.
I deserved to be at the conference because I am smart, funny, have a great book out on the topic of improv and marketing and I am just as knowledgeable and capable as my many wonderful male counterparts who I admire and am friends with. They deserve to be there. So do wonderfully talented women. They deserve to be everywhere there are stages.
And it’s not about this one event for me and for others. It’s about all the events we get passed over for, underpaid on, added as quotas and told how “lucky we are just to be invited.” Yes, that is a quote.
What you can do?
Speak up. Advocate for women. Let conference organizers know you know that this stuff happens. Let them know that we matter. That we are not afterthoughts. We are valuable. We are your sisters.
It won’t change unless all of us speak up.
Organizers aren’t bad people. That unconscious bias need to be surfaced so we can deal with it.
Thank you for listening and caring. It means a lot to me and to so many of our talented speaking sisters.
Here’s another handy resource I wrote on Closing the Female Speaker Gap. Share it if you feel inclined.
Your speaking sister from another mister