The oh so fabulous Tiffany Haddish took a brave stance when she said ‘No’ to hosting the Grammys pre telecast for free

One of my many hopes for 2021 is that we, the collective ‘we’ start paying womxn AND especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) womxn for their labor. The notion of, give me your labor in exchange for exposure, is harmful. Why? Because it sets a pattern and sends a very loud message that a womxn’s labor isn’t worth paying for. 

If we say we support womxn and want to elevate them and watch them soar, why aren’t we PAYING them their worth WHILE AT THE SAME TIME giving them amazing exposure? 


Now let me be clear when I say that exposure can be valuable and when someone is starting out in their field, it can often be a necessary way to gain experience. And even if someone has the experience they still might choose to do their job for free because they love the organization, mission, OR they believe the exposure is an equitable trade. 

But the truth is that labor in exchange for exposure almost always results in getting asked to do more free labor in exchange for more ‘amazing’ exposure. Can you see the cycle we create and continue to perpetuate? As womxn who say we support and elevate each other, we must take charge, lead by example, and start paying womxn their worth! 

Imagine if we created a wave of paying womxn and especially BIPOC womxn for their expertise! An unstoppable wave of change that puts more money in the pockets of the people who pour the most money back into the economy, WOMXN! 


AND if you are thinking, but Debbie we don’t have the money to pay so that is why we ask people to do their job for free (call it what it is, FREE labor), I hear you and I understand because that is a real issue. 


So here is a question you can ask yourself before you engage in a conversation where you are going to ask someone to do their job for free. Are we hosting an event, conference, workshop, any type of event where we are charging people to attend? Are we paying other vendors for their labor, such as the caterer, AV company, venue space, entertainment?


IF yes, then I hope you are paying your speakers, and if not why not? IF you are hosting an event that is free or you want every single penny to go to a mission-driven organization THEN perhaps, instead of leading the conversation with, we have an opportunity for you to get amazing exposure; you could lead with, we are hosting a free event and we would love for you to be a part of the experience BUT we do not have a budget to pay you your full fee so would like to know if you are open to talking about


 A) paying a portion of the fee, and the speaker agrees to an in-kind donation for the remaining portion. *speakers, emcees, auctioneers, ask your tax advisor if a portion of your pro bono work is tax-deductible*

 B) An equitable trade. 

C) Brainstorm other ideas on how to get the speaker paid for their time and expertise. Perhaps you find an organization willing to underwrite the speaker’s fee.

I have done and still do trade agreements with groups and it has benefited both me and the organization/individual. I will never stop engaging in these types of agreements because it’s one way that I am able to give back to communities and organizations I love and support. 


If you are wanting to work with someone but don’t have the ability to pay them their full fee then please do still engage in the conversation with the speaker. Below are a few things you might consider as you plan out the conversation. 

  • Labor in exchange for ongoing marketing. Real and proven marketing that has serious potential to lead to paid gigs.
  • Labor for a powerful testimonial, either written or video.*A well thought out testimonial goes a long way especially for people who receive business via word of mouth. 
  • Labor in exchange for genuine connections that are facilitated via email or a zoom intro or any other way to connect two people with you stating why you think the two parties need to connect. *thoughtful connections are HUGE and one of the best connectors out there is Meghann Conter of Meghann is extremely intentional in how she handles connections and it shows in the quality of the connections she facilitates.

Choosing to give free labor or fair trade is up to the person performing the job and that person is the only one to decide if the ‘amazing exposure’ or anything else is worth their time and expertise.


As we put 2020 behind us and slide into 2021, let’s commit to the goal of breaking this harmful cycle of asking womxn to do their jobs for free. When we all commit to doing this we send a powerful message that womxn are truly and without question worthy of being paid for their labor. 




Debbie Scheer is a humorist speaker in Denver and she is also an event emcee in Denver as well as across the country. As a professional speaker, humorist, emcee, and auctioneer, her mix of heart and humor brings inviting energy to every event she hosts. Her magnetic presence draws in audiences and makes a room come alive with purpose, connection, and laughter. If you are interested in hiring Debbie, please contact her today!