Gini Dietrich

Gender and Pay Inequality is Alive and Well

By: Gini Dietrich | February 18, 2016 | 
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Gender and Pay Inequality is Alive and WellBy Gini Dietrich

A few months ago, I received an email from a conference organizer who was “super excited” that I am in Chicago because they were having their conference here and I was their first choice for keynote speaker.

As I do, I responded with a note about how flattering that was and thanked her for thinking of me. And then I told her Dawn Buford, my right- and left-hand, would get back to her on the specifics.

Fast forward a few days later and I received another email from the woman who said my fees were too high and asked me to please reduce them.

She told me Dawn wouldn’t budge so she’d try me. She begged and pleaded. She told me they’d buy me wine and pay for a cab to pick me up and drop me off. Anything if I’d reduce my fee.

But we had already reduced my fee because it wasn’t necessary for me to get on a plane and I wouldn’t be away from the office for a full day.

So I stood my ground.

And she told me they had to go a different direction. They just couldn’t afford me.

And a Different Direction They Went

A few months went by and I received an email from a friend who was in town to speak at a conference. He wanted to know if I could get together for drinks or dinner.

After setting our date for dinner, I asked him where he was speaking.

He told me.

It was the same conference where I’d been invited as their “first choice,” but had ended up being too expensive.

I asked him what they were paying him.

IT WAS THREE TIMES WHAT I HAD QUOTED THEM.

Not only was it three times what I had quoted them, they also were paying his expenses. And he was staying at the Peninsula, not Motel 6.

Even if he embellished his fee to me, I knew it had to be significantly more than what I quoted them, if only because they were also paying to get him to Chicago.

Slapped in the Face with Gender and Pay Inequality

This was the first time—in my entire career—I’d been slapped in the face with gender and pay inequality.

Sure, there are lots of times I’ve not been paid as much as my male counterparts.

I’ve shared the stage with Mitch Joel and Chris Brogan and Jay Baer and David Meerman Scott, all of whom are paid at least double (if not more) what I am.

But they’re all more experienced than I am and they all make speaking a career. I do not.

So I’m okay with them making more.

But to be told I’m too expensive, in my own home town, only to find out later that a male colleague was paid significantly more?

I can’t think of any other reason that would be except he’s a man and I am not.

And, trust me, I’ve tried to think of every other reason because I refuse to believe that so blatantly still happens.

There Are Plenty of Great Women Out There

As I look at conference line-ups and talk to friends who place speakers in keynote slots, it is all still dominated by men.

I hear things such as, “We need to get a woman as a headliner” or “Can you speak at this conference? We need some women.”

But that’s not because there aren’t plenty of really smart, really great women speakers to go around.

In our space, alone, you have Ann Handley and Kerry Gorgone and Shonali Burke and Deirdre Breakenridge and me (and countless others; I can give you a gigantic list, if you want).

None of us are paid close to what the aforementioned male colleagues are paid, but none of the five of us do this for a living.

We do it to educate the industry. To help colleagues and peers work through challenges. To provide solutions that help move the industry forward.

And yet, we’re not dominating the keynote slots or hearing complaints that the conferences are female-dominated (do you think we’ll live to hear that?).

Whatever the reason this happens, there is nothing worse than another woman not supporting women.

And that’s exactly what this conference organizer did when she told me I was too expensive and then hired a male colleague who ended up costing nearly four times my fee.

image credit: shutterstock

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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123 Comments on "Gender and Pay Inequality is Alive and Well"

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Danny Brown
7 months 8 days ago

If you haven’t already, you should send this post to the conference contact person, cc’ing the male friend, and ask for an explanation.

This sucks.

Kevin Vandever
Kevin Vandever
7 months 8 days ago

I second this suggestion.

Deb Dobson
Deb Dobson
7 months 8 days ago

I third.

Andy Donovan
Andy Donovan
7 months 8 days ago

That is incredibly shameful of this organizer to have tried to have you reduce what clearly was not even close to your male counterparts. Okay this isn’t your “living” Gini but your time is valuable and you have done it enough to know what you and your content are worth. Simply deplorable.

Corina Manea
7 months 8 days ago
It has nothing to do with doing this for a living or not. It has to do with your expertise, with what you have to share with the audience, and the value you bring to them. The fact that you don’t go from one city to another to talk to every possible conference, doesn’t mean you have less experience or expertise. They should pay for the value you bring, not gender, not being in the same town, not anything, period. As for the organizer, I would have asked her: “How would you like to be paid less than you are?”… Read more »
patmrhoads
patmrhoads
7 months 7 days ago

Yes! This. It doesn’t matter if speaking is her primary profession or not. Hiring a speaker should be about the value they bring to the audience, and what you’re willing to pay that speaker for that value. Their primary job (and especially their gender) shouldn’t play a role in that calculation.

RobBiesenbach
7 months 8 days ago

Buy you wine and pick you up in a cab! Wow, what perks! My favorite with the in-town speech is that it’s “just an hour of your time.” Right, an hour on stage, 20-30 hours of prep time, administrative work, contracts, research, tailoring. Not to mention that the speech itself is the product of countless hours of work and years of accumulated experience.
Anyway, good for you for holding firm. That’s pretty insane about the disparity.

Paula Kiger
7 months 8 days ago

While I think the substance of this post is critically important, can I just say how much I love the fact that you included “tailoring”? Oh wait — does this go to that “women get charged more for dry cleaning than men” thing? Maybe that was the best subtle tie-in of all! 🙂

RobBiesenbach
7 months 8 days ago

Yes, I do make clients pay for a new Saville Row suit for me. I mean, they don’t want me to show up wearing off-the-rack, do they????

Paula Kiger
7 months 8 days ago

Do you make them take out the red M&Ms too?

Christopher Barger
7 months 8 days ago
Agree with what Danny said; directly asking the conference coordinator what gives is a fair and justified response to this situation. A naive question from me: does your male colleague have a reputation as a professional speaker, in the vein that you mentioned Brogan, Scott, Joel, et al? Could it be the allure of getting a national”professional” speaker to draw a crowd vs. “just” a local professional? Not that I want to defend this by any stretch, I just wonder if there is any rational explanation that would be used to justify what would in any case be unfair behavior… Read more »
SavvyCopywriter
7 months 8 days ago
Good for you to post about this! The story needs to be heard. I have a similar story, although I don’t know what my male counterpart received for his speaking gig. I only had my travel expenses covered to speak at a conference across the country, but I know he got paid something for his time. He spoke for a living and I primarily write so that might have been some of it. But as Andy Donovan said, time is valuable and the content you provide is worth something, even if it’s not exclusively what you offer in your business.… Read more »
Chel
Chel
7 months 8 days ago

I read this with my mouth open. I don’t think I’m supposed to be able to do that anymore.

Sherrilynne Starkie
7 months 8 days ago
I agree with you on all points Gini. But this trend goes much deeper than fees commanded on the conference speaking circuit. Agencies are an extremely competitive environment and the package you negotiate upon joining will often dictate your earning power for your whole tenure in an agency. I have been making hiring decisions in agencies for 15 years now and I can tell you without a moment’s hesitation men negotiate harder and tend to get better deals than women. I’m not sure how we fix this. The issues behind the trend are complex, but at the very least we… Read more »
Deirdre Breakenridge
7 months 8 days ago
Gini, this is just unacceptable! And, you’re right it happens all of the time. Thankfully, we are not making a living on the speaking. But, regardless, we should stand our ground. I had a conversation on my podcast show about women not helping women and in the end, it is damaging for us all. I really hope you go back to that conference organizer to share your thoughts. I don’t want to get into all of my war stories, maybe over a glass of wine someday. However, I used to give a lot of breaks in the past. But, I… Read more »
Margo
7 months 8 days ago

The only thing that mitigates the gall of such blatantly sexist behavior is that today, the conference organizer would be embarrassed if their name got out. Sunlight is a powerful disinfectant. Even in a free market, most professionals agree gender-based pricing is wrong, rude, and discriminatory. As people who benefit from Machiavellian pricing praise “whatever the market will bear,” one thing seems to aid the rest of the market: exposure and open discussion. Thanks for speaking so openly about your experience.

Krista Carnes
Krista Carnes
7 months 8 days ago

Having worked to book authors as speakers for years I know how prevelant this is – Some friends of mine started http://www.genderavenger.com which is dedicated to keeping women in the public dialogue and calling out events where there is an inordinate lack of women speakers/experts represented. It’ll feul your fire for sure!
Glad you brought this example to the fore – every example helps shift perceptions and future actions!

bobledrew
7 months 8 days ago

Honestly? I think you should out the conference. That’s shameful.

Meg
Meg
7 months 8 days ago

Wine as a benefit! Imagine. Do they think you’re a Real Housewife of Chicago or something? Oy.

I’m sorry you had to look sexism that hard in the eye, but I appreciate you sharing the experience so people realize that these things are still happening to people they know and respect. Absurd.

Rebecca Lieb
7 months 8 days ago

The flip side of this conversation is getting invited to keynote “because we need a woman speaker.” Because ability to menstruate is clearly my only qualification, not years of works experience, a list of publications longer than your arm, and actual speaking ability.

Tracy Corral
Tracy Corral
7 months 8 days ago
Regarding the gender pay inequality post, would you have believed it was gender inequality if a friend or acquaintance had same experience and told you about it? Or, would you have tried to come up with excuses/reasons for why it might not be a gender bias. It sounded like you wanted to go there when you wrote “…And, trust me, I’ve tried to think of every other reason because I refuse to believe that so blatantly still happens…” Essentially, I’m wondering if you would feel the same way if it had happened to someone other than you. Or would you… Read more »
Kate
7 months 7 days ago

I think almost anyone’s initial reaction, if it happens to you or someone else, would be to try and rationalize it because it’s 2016 and how could this possibly still be a thing?

Tracy Corral
Tracy Corral
7 months 7 days ago

Why rationalize it? I don’t understand what that would necessary.

Kate
7 months 7 days ago

Because it’s important to think through all the potential scenarios instead of immediately assuming it’s sexism. I think, in this case, it clearly was, but there are certainly other times where it isn’t as clear cut.

Paula Kiger
7 months 8 days ago
I have read this and the comments, and really can’t move on to the day without commenting further. But all the “things” have been said. EXCEPT THIS. I don’t think the “decision point” is whether or not you “do this (speaking) for a living.” You do it well enough that you were their first choice in this situation. YOU DESERVE WHATEVER THEY PAID THE INDIVIDUAL THEY EVENTUALLY CHOSE. Now, it is a slight diversion but this is the first thing that came to mind as I really tried to think of what I could contribute that no one has said… Read more »
Chel
Chel
7 months 8 days ago

Love this talk. And it IS perfect. I just wish it weren’t so damn necessary.

Paula Kiger
7 months 8 days ago

Agree ….. (and there are SO many great takeaways in this talk!)

Karen Wilson
7 months 8 days ago

Just imagine me sitting at my desk rah rah cheering for you, Paula. This is such a good point. And, having seen Gini speak a number of times (lucky me!!), she’s worth every penny.

Paula Kiger
7 months 7 days ago

I did imagine that, and it brightened my day! 🙂 Thanks.

Tonia Johnson
Tonia Johnson
7 months 8 days ago

Hi Gini!
I was already trying to think of “other reasons” before I got to this sentence: “And, trust me, I’ve tried to think of every other reason because I refuse to believe that so blatantly still happens”.
I try not to believe this too, but sadly, I know it is alive and well. A free cab ride? No thanks.

Michelle Sullivan
7 months 8 days ago

Thanks for sharing this – it’s an important issue and one we need to speak more openly about.

Would be great to see a Blab on this topic with women who speak at a variety of conferences.

Jen Phillips
Jen Phillips
7 months 8 days ago

Well, the good news is that when they contact you again for a different speaking engagement in the future, you can gush and tell them how great it is that they upped their budget for keynote speakers.

Genene Murphy
Genene Murphy
7 months 8 days ago
Holy. Reading this, I’m not so much surprised but amused. And perhaps my dulled reaction is cynicism at play. I work with professionals who are often asked to reduce fees because a group of people rightly assumes my clients are altruistic … but wanting good things for good people does not translate to reducing the value of one’s good work. I imagine the reaction of the askers — also professionals and billable at law and communications firms — if my clients turned the tables and asked them to reduce fees for professionals services they need. You can see their faces… Read more »
wbsmith200
7 months 8 days ago

Oh where to begin, first off this is plain wrong, you’re worth at least twice what they paid the male speaker for the keynote Gini. Two, I know you don’t want to out the conference in question but by sharing this post far and wide, sooner or later, the organizers will stumble on it. I have a rule of thumb for booking speakers do they know their stuff, do they connect with my audience and three does their speaking fee and expenses fit the budget, gender doesn’t enter into the equation. -Bill Smith

Paula Kiger
7 months 8 days ago

Well said, Bill.

Eden Spodek
7 months 8 days ago

This is disgusting and this type of behaviour is completely unacceptable as per the previous comments. I’ve seen you speak several times and you hold your own with the best of them. It makes me so angry for you. I hope the conference organizer reads Spin Sucks and sees how much we think her behaviour sucks big time. Thanks for all you give to others each and every day. Karma will pay it forward.

Karen Wilson
7 months 8 days ago

I’m really glad you’re telling this story the way you are (I couldn’t name names either). You’re highlighting an ongoing and ridiculously frustrating problem that is never going away if people don’t know it exists and understand that it’s not okay. It would be amazing if male speakers would begin to speak out and act on this as well. When women are treated equally to men, the world will be a better place for all of us.

Doc Sheldon
Doc Sheldon
7 months 8 days ago

Sorry this happened to you, Gini. I’ve seen others point out similar issues with conferences, particularly in the tech sector. No excuse for it, IMO.
I’d love to see a few of the larger conferences that pay for speakers just publish their policies and fees… maybe it would make others follow suit.
I’m glad you stuck to your guns. If I were in your shoes, I think I’d be crossing that particular conference off my list in future, both for speaking and attending.

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone
7 months 8 days ago

Thanks for the shout-out, Gini! I posted my comments/rant on Facebook. Short version: This is B.S. Complete and total. I’ve seen you speak, and you’re absolutely as good as any of the other top-notch speakers you mention (whom I’ve also seen). They deserve their generous fees, and you deserve to be paid what you quote.

James Chartrand
7 months 7 days ago

You go, Gina – these types of situations make me grit my teeth. (It’s not on a whim that I use the name James, despite being more of a Jane!)

Danny Brown
7 months 7 days ago

You called her Gina. Now you gone and done it… 😉

Kate
7 months 7 days ago

I read this this morning and raged and then decided my energy was better spent snuggling with my sick kitty. 🙁
There are so many facets to pay and inequality that I’m not sure I want to delve into that right now. I just want to say that I’d rather spend more for someone who is consistently doing the work than for someone who is a “professional” speaker. You show up every day and question things and look for validation of concepts and theories which makes your time even more valuable because you practice what you preach.

Sarah Robinson
Sarah Robinson
7 months 7 days ago

Preach it sister. See it all the time, experience it all the time. You wonder who looks Iat the event speaker roster of 23 men and 2 women and says “yes, let’s go wit that.” And I’ve seen countless arguments along the lines of “but we can’t find good female speakers”. Really?? That’s the best you can come up with?? I HATE that this happened to you. Grrrrrrrrr……..

kwatt
7 months 7 days ago

I’m just curious – what were the reasons you came up with before you got to this one?

kwatt
7 months 7 days ago

Thanks. I was curious to see how it lined up with what I could think of, which it pretty much did. I also thought of a potential change in focus on their side that moved them toward people with a higher fee. So what made you dismiss those reasons and settle on the gender inequality one?

Cendrine Marrouat
7 months 7 days ago

And that is when they pay people at all. Most of the conferences I have been invited to speak “can’t afford” it.

yeah right! lol

Andy
Andy
7 months 7 days ago

Totally agree with all of the sentiment in this column, and the real life inequalities it speaks to, but man do I hate this expression: ‘Whatever the reason this happens, there is nothing worse than another woman not supporting women.’ It’s overused, and I don’t even really see what it accomplishes.

Brad Pitt
7 months 7 days ago

Since you live in Chicago, are you afraid that the conference organizer will now have you killed?

shonali
7 months 7 days ago

You & I have already talked about how sickening this is. The other thing that happens with me is, they want to check off their “diversity” box but not pay for the privilege. And at some of these conferences, I STILL get told I “don’t sound like an Indian.” Read between the lines…

stephen_ydw_i
stephen_ydw_i
7 months 4 days ago

This really sucks. Aside from the unfairness and suckiness, I also really fail to understand how this makes any business sense?

Hope it’s not too much of a plug to share some data we got together that suggests women are way more likely to be underpaid than men, which hopefully contributes to disproving the gender pay gap is just down to women taking lower paid jobs (http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/six-10-female-employees-britain-could-be-being-paid-below-their-market-value-1541966)

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