Coffee isn’t free, neither are sandwiches nor cupcakes…

But it seems as though some companies think a speaker’s time should be.

18 months ago I arranged a speaking opportunity for a disability awareness advocate at a global FTSE-100 company. Their revenue in 2018 was more than £10bn and they balked at the speaker’s fee – £1,500.

More recently a large tech firm which is planning an event for International Women’s Day this March asked me if I could suggest anyone to speak at their event. I asked their budget. Zero, came the reply. This company’s revenue in 2018 was £3bn.

So what’s going wrong? A couple of things, I fear.

Firstly many companies are going to great efforts to show that they take diversity seriously. Therein lies the problem, when you don’t pay equally (or at all) then you’re not being inclusive, you’re just trying to get someone who looks different, who looks ‘diverse’. If they want people to speak for free, only those who can afford to do so will be able to. But are these the voices which need to be heard? 

These same companies will host gala events inviting ex-politicians and pay them hundreds of thousands. But when it comes to paying a speaker for a diversity event their pockets are mysteriously empty.

Unfortunately many of the speakers companies want for diversity events aren’t usually very high-profile. If they were there would be more at risk, their corporate reputation for one. But most speakers won’t name and shame these companies because they need the work and the money. The Tony Blairs and David Camerons of this world don’t. Notice even I’m not naming the companies I refer to above. 

What else is going wrong? The people who work in diversity and inclusion teams in these companies have a nearly impossible task. They know their stuff, they understand why it’s important to create inclusive and diverse work cultures. And here they are, being put in a position where they have to ask someone to speak for free.

The work of a diversity professional is closely linked to culture and employee engagement. How could they possibly be engaged with their work if they know it isn’t being taken seriously by the leaders holding the purse strings.? I wouldn’t be particularly engaged having to ask my peers to work for free. How must they feel about these companies which employ them?

How do you fix this and build a diversity strategy you can be proud of? Call me and let’s have a chat about working together, because as much as I love cupcakes, I can’t get them for free.

And to all the companies out there who love to tweet about their latest awareness day event: have some humility and give your diversity teams a speaker budget. Don’t put them in the awkward position of having to ask for freebies.