How to avoid being underpaid for awareness day sessions...
Tired of feeling undervalued and underpaid when supporting organisations to celebrate diversity and inclusion initiatives?
Awareness initiatives for corporate organisations… there are a lot of thoughts about them. But the prevailing ones are often a) is there any point in selling awareness day/ week services or are corporate companies just using them as token initiatives that don’t contribute to ongoing change and b) how can I get paid more for these services?
Let’s take a look at the facts.
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75% of companies now have a dedicated EDI budget which means that companies are looking to make significant changes to how inclusive workplaces can be and awareness initiatives have historically been a huge part of how they can do that. After all, the whole purpose behind awareness initiatives was to change societal views and perspectives; celebrating key differences and reminding people of the challenges that different groups have faced and overcome.
They were also created to remind the collective of the work still left to do.
Yet, there’s this prevailing sense now that awareness initiatives have become ‘tick-box’ exercises for companies. Stretched budgets, bigger teams and more initiatives mean that companies are often seen as not engaging fully with the initiatives and are simply ‘putting something on’ to placate employees without really taking longer term, transformational action.
Which is a shame really, because companies don’t solely rely on awareness days/ weeks or months to support longer term initiatives. Take Netflix for example, who run a parental leave policy of 52 weeks for the birth or non-birth parent (including adoptive parents) but who don’t necessarily celebrate ‘World Parent Day’1
But - awareness initiatives are an easy way for companies to demonstrate responsibility and determination to change / make their organisations more equitable. Which leads us to thinking…
‘Should we sell awareness day initiatives?’
And honestly? This very much depends on how you feel about awareness initiatives as well as whether or not, they reasonably fit into your B2B sales plan.
Take Annaliese2 a client of mine. For years she sold lunch and learns for International Women’s Day, believing it to be a key initiative for the organisations she worked with. As someone focused on junior female talent development and progression, IWD was a great initiative to showcase and highlight what organisations were doing well and help junior employees to recognise other opportunities for their own development and progression if they wanted to stay.
But - after four years or so of selling those IWD lunch and learn sessions to organisations and seeing very little change in terms of pay equity and representation at board level… Annaliese decided that actually, IWD wasn’t fulfilling its key purpose any longer for the organisations that she was working with and decided to do things differently. She decided to focus on selling alternative services that delved deeper into organisations and the changes that they could make - that they could later leverage on IWD if they wanted to.
Honestly, I feel pretty similar when it comes to awareness initiatives. Except that I’m often more vocal about the fact that in the beginning, I think awareness days can really generate powerful and impactful discussions around a particular topic… but as time goes on?
Often an overstretched HR and Comms team have to fit these initiatives into the calendar alongside bigger EDI projects; meaning that little time is able to be allocated to choosing the right solution and so, awareness day sessions lose their key transformation.
But does that mean that you should believe the same thing?
Absolutely not! If awareness days are your jam (so to speak) or you want to change them from being ‘we just do’ to ‘must do’ initiatives, then you’re absolutely welcome to your own opinion - and to make big changes in the space.
But it does also raise the sales issues that we see experienced all too often - and how to navigate them.
For example, Vice reported a trend in women being asked to work more hours to produce IWD themed content without being paid for the extra labour involved and smaller service providers are reporting similar instances where companies want to run sessions with people who have lived experience… but hint at (or ask directly) having the session run free of charge. This is usually positioned as being a ‘good’ or ‘nice’ thing to do with some companies claiming that they ‘just don’t have budget to pay a speaker with lived experience to discuss TOPIC with employees’ - even though the company may also be outwardly discussing the importance of EDI and how they want to create equitable working environments internally.
So why don’t companies see the value in paying their service providers?
Or is it that they just don’t want to?
Look, I’ve worked with a lot of organisations over the years. Thousands in fact. And whilst I’ve had companies tell me that I’m too expensive/ too cheap (unusual but it happens!) or that they don’t have budget right now… what I’ve never heard is;
‘We don’t see the value in what you do and won’t be paying you’
Because actually stakeholders do see the value in a) hiring external providers and b) paying them. But sometimes they’re constrained by red tape/ lack of budget/ other considerations that make them ask (clumsily) for some kind of discount/ favour that isn’t actually commercially viable for a supplier.
Like whether or not a supplier can work for free.
The trouble is…
that most service based entrepreneurs often internalise that request for a discount as meaning that they’re ‘not good enough’ or ‘not worth paying’ instead of seeing it as an opportunity to open up clear communications to get paid (and educate prospects in the process.)
What should we be saying instead?
Well, if a prospect gets in touch and asks you to work for free for an awareness initiative, I’d suggest sticking to three clear points to help the situation turn out more positively;
Set clear boundaries for yourself around what you will / will not do - and base these boundaries on commercial needs. For example, if you’re being asked to speak for a company’s employees but none of them are decision makers that you could build relationships with later down the line to buy more services… that wouldn’t be a great commercial opportunity!
Have super clear communication around why you’re not able to do something free of charge - and use it as a polite and helpful way to explain to your prospect why encouraging zero pay might damage the internal and external reputation of their initiative.
Be clear about the reduced transformation involved in ‘free’ services. For example, clients who don’t invest in a service, often don’t maximise promotional opportunities so have a lower uptake and less transformational change as a result. And service providers who aren’t paid are highly unlikely to put together custom resources and training that will make the biggest difference either…
Remember that awareness day initiatives are not your only sales opportunity with organisations. Nor are they your sole entry point. I have tons of clients who never sell anything for awareness initiatives but make multi-5 and 6 figure sales elsewhere that contribute to major change.
And I also have clients who make multi-5 and 6 figures sales that do sell for awareness initiatives.
It’s YOUR choice. Just be sure to make an informed decision about what you want to do - and have the sales strategy behind you to make it happen!
PS. In London on March 7/8th and want to spend your time implementing clear sales strategies that’ll help you leverage awareness initiatives and avoid them entirely? Grab a ticket to Converting Corporates here.
Sidenote: I don’t know if ‘World Parent Day’ is a thing or if Netflix celebrates it. But when I googled to find out… there was no information available so let’s assume not. There is however, a Global Parent Day. And for childfree folks like myself, International Childfree Day. Just in case you were interested!
Not her real name..!