Honorarium etiquette

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During the online pivot I have been asked to give a few keynotes, talks, workshops, etc. I usually say yes if a) I can do it without much preparation (the day job is kinda busy), b) I don’t have too much else on that day c) it seems like a helpful event. I don’t need the money from these gigs as I have a full time job, so I often don’t ask. I’ve mentioned before that I need to get used to making the ask though, and this is not really for me, but rather for people who do need to get paid for these gigs. I shouldn’t be setting a precedent of free labour.

The thing is, I’m terribly British. Money or sex are taboo subjects for conversations (it’s why we have so many euphemisms for both). And I also appreciate that many organisations are struggling at the moment and trying to do events online is different for them, and they’ve taken a financial hit. So I do end up doing most talks for free.

What I want though is for there to be an ethics of invitation here. I don’t want to have to make the ask. So if you’re inviting people to speak at an event here are some guidelines I think it’s worth following to promote equity:

  • Pay people if you can and don’t “see if we can get away with it”
  • If you can pay, then pay everyone equally, not allocate more money to the big names
  • If you can’t pay everyone, then instead of reserving payment for the big names, allocate it to the early career people or those who make a living this way.
  • Tell other keynotes this is what you’re doing.
  • In the invite, be clear up front about what you are offering. Don’t wait for people to bargain, because the people who will bargain best will most likely be North American Men, and you’re just reinforcing their role here.
  • If you can’t offer money, then see if you can offer something else – free places at the event for students, a donation to a charity, etc. And make this clear in the initial invitation.

There may be legitimate reasons when you want to diverge from these principles (and they apply to smaller events rather than the big money bonanzas I guess), but I think they’re a good starting point. The principle should be that it is on the organisers to determine their offer, not the speaker to haggle a deal.

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