An alarming disparity has persisted in the influencer landscape: the pay gap between ethnic minority influencers and their white counterparts, writes Martin Rothwell, Client Relations Lead at GottaBe!

The power of the influencer in today’s culture is not to be sniffed at. They shape trends, impact consumer behaviour and generally sway popular culture more than many could have anticipated even a few years ago. However, despite the growing recognition of the need for diversity and inclusion, ethnic minority influencers continue to face significant challenges when it comes to equitable compensation.

The pay gap stems from larger societal issues, with people of ethnic minorities tending to be paid less across all jobs. This translates into influencer marketing in three ways:

  1. Structural barriers hinder ethnic minority influencers’ access to the same opportunities as their white counterparts. Historical privilege may allow white influencers the freedom to pursue a career that doesn’t have a secure income.
  2. The infancy of influencer marketing as a sector in general means that it is largely unregulated, and there’s no set framework which would set a precedent for fair and equitable treatment.
  3. There is a lack of transparency around who is being paid what, for what work. It’s down to each individual influencer to confirm how much they charge, and to brands and agencies to negotiate. This leads to pay disparity in the industry.

What can brands and agencies do?

There needs to be collective responsibility from both brands and influencers to level the playing field. Brands and agencies need to see that this isn’t just an issue of pay gaps, but of providing more opportunities to a diverse pool of influencers.

Brands need to plan accordingly. Decide within the plan who you are targeting, how you are going to reach them and how you are going to adapt your processes to include people from diverse backgrounds. Relevant influencers with backgrounds and experience that resonate with your audience will always be more authentic and relevant, as opposed to a more famous influencer who has no relevance to the topic or audience.

However, don’t fall into the trap Levi Strauss & Co did when it came to their recent use of virtual influencers from ethnic minority backgrounds. Though it is positive that Levi’s is looking to improve representation across its modelling portfolio, its use of AI-generated models ultimately increased the disparity across different ethnic and cultural backgrounds by restricting and removing opportunities for models from more diverse backgrounds.

Instead, look to recent successful campaigns in the FMCG industry by Heineken, Costa, and Coke, who all made a conscious effort to ensure they included a diverse range of influencers.

When it comes to challenging the pay gap, it’s encouraging to see that large brands such as Boots and Johnson & Johnson have made commitments to ensure influencers are paid fairly.  More can be done though. As an agency, we introduced an internal rate card based on engagement and follower count. By turning a previously subjective payment negotiation into an objective process based on specific figures, this allowed us to offer fair, reflective terms to all influencers, regardless of who they are.

What can influencers do?

It’s important for all influencers to understand their worth, and to hold brands accountable to ensure they are hiring them for the right reason. Don’t be afraid to question these brands on their EDI stance and what they stand for in a wider sense. The content creator ecosystem is a three-way relationship between consumer, influencer and brand, and all values need to match for a partnership to be successful.

Just as important is for influencers to create communities and share their experiences with one another. Through the formation of networks, influencers can establish transparent pricing guidelines and benchmark within the industry to help eradicate pay disparity. Combined with clear and accessible resources, the collective voice of influencers can create change and negotiate fair compensation.

Top tips for agencies and brands

  1. Inclusive thinking needs to start with the agency. Shockingly, a recent study found that 39% of agencies in the UK don’t employ anybody at all from a BAME background. Begin by taking a frank look at your own workforce and seeing whether it’s reflective of modern, diverse society.
  2. Set an internal rate card – turning a subjective decision into an objective process creates a culture that is fair to all.
  3. Be open and transparent about payment – by removing the barriers to information that disadvantages ethnic minority influencers, we can work to establish transparent pricing guidelines.
  4. Support regulation in the field – influencer marketing is in its infancy stage and lacks the rules and regulations regarding equal opportunities. Be the change you would like to see in the sector.

The pay gap between white and non-white influencers is a significant issue that requires urgent attention and action. As society continues to embrace diversity and inclusion, it’s imperative for the influencer industry to reflect these values. By dismantling systemic biases, promoting representation and fostering equitable compensation practices, we can bridge the divide and create a more inclusive influencer landscape that uplifts and values the contributions of all influencers.