Following the Racial Revolution of 2020, requests for speakers who can facilitate conversations about racial equity have skyrocketed. Aside from the fact that being asked to constantly rehash past traumas can cause re-traumatization, speakers from racialized backgrounds are often underpaid or unpaid for their labor. Years ago, New York Times bestselling author Luvvie Ajayi experienced this when she was asked to speak at a conference in Amsterdam, but was told they had no budget to pay her as a speaker. After conferring with her network, Ajayi found out that some of the male speakers who were part of the conference did in fact receive an honorarium. There isn’t a lot of concrete information about the pay gaps that exist between white and non-white speakers but Ajayi’s experience is just the tip of the iceberg. Many have lamented over the fact that white anti-racism author Robin DiAngelo is paid more for speaking engagements than her Black counterparts. For many non-white speakers with both the knowledge and lived experiences to share, there is often little to no compensation for their labor. What many million and billion-dollar corporations need to understand is that exposure and attention don’t pay the bills; Sallie Mae doesn’t consider these acceptable forms of payment. Every speaker should be paid equitably for the knowledge, skills, and expertise that they are bringing to the table.
Seeing an obvious and apparent need in the market, speaker, HR and culture advisor and DEI consultant Madison Butler decided to curate a platform to make it easier to source Black speakers. “I started [Black Speakers Collection] on accident! I was tired of hearing about how companies, conferences and events couldn’t find Black speakers and then only chose us to speak about topics like race,” Butler shared in an email. “I posted a LinkedIn post highlighting the fact that Black speakers speak on all topics and invited Black Speakers to share their info. I realized that this was beautiful data and knew it would be a loss if we wasted it. We originally had 28 speakers and have grown to 1,100 in under four weeks.” The Black Speakers Collection is a place for companies to browse Black speakers and gain a better understanding of their expertise and rates. Butler shares, “I wanted to create a living, breathing database that event organizers could reference when booking speakers. We have over 60 categories and speakers from all over the world. As I began to think about how else I could use this data, I decided to launch a community to support the speakers (Slack, Patreon) that offers networking, free events, resources, and support. We are stronger together and we deserve safe spaces to talk about rates, red flags, opportunities, trauma, etc.”
One of the reasons why the pay gap persists between white speakers and non-white speakers is the lack of transparency around rates. For speakers just starting out, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, imposter syndrome can influence perceptions of how much they should be charging. That coupled with the fact that there is so much fluctuation as far as speaker pay rates creates additional barriers. Quantifying your value as a speaker can be difficult. “We all deserve to be recognized for our talents,” Butler shares. “Too often speakers are only booked if they have a large online presence…there are so many amazing speakers who deserve to be recognized and paid. I am committed to helping more Black speakers get on stage, get paid and get recognized so that they do not have to accept exposure as a form of payment. I want our community to feel supported and know that they are not alone in the struggles of being a Black speaker.” Having a community to turn to is imperative, as Black speakers experience a number of challenges in the industry. Some of these challenges, Butler reveals, include “being booked last minute, wanting to be paid in exposure, asking for emotional labor for minimum in return, putting barriers on what I can [and] can’t say in order to ensure the audience is comfortable, being on panels as the token Black person, [and] being talked over on those panels.” Any organization that is dedicated to racial justice must prioritize pay equity. “Pay equity is not just about our internal organizations, it is also about how we pay our vendors, contractors, speakers, etc. You cannot say you are committed to DEI while simultaneously asking Black speakers for free emotional labor. Exposure does not pay the bills.”
Organizations and institutions looking to hire Black speakers for events, conferences, panels and workshops should lean on the Black Speakers Collection to source talent. “We are still growing and will be launching/hosting some events,” Butler says. “We hope to launch a BSC speaker event series to highlight Black speakers to our audience. If you are looking to book Black speakers, find Black speakers—please utilize our tool, pay them (on time) and understand that we are brilliant, magical, and are capable of speaking to any topic that you dream up. There is no excuse for all white panels in 2022 and we will hold organizations/conferences accountable.”
Authors note: The author is part of the Black Speakers Collection database.