The influencer community is one of the rare businesses where women dominate the field. Across all industries – travel, fashion, technology, food and entertainment – women make up 77% of the total number of influencers. You would think with such a stronghold on an industry, women’s pay would, at least, be equal to men – but no. On average, women are earning $351 per social media post while men earn $459, according to a report from Klear influencer marketing platform.
Pay gap highest on YouTube
“When segmenting the data by channel, we noticed that YouTube had the highest gender pay gap,” said Guy Avigdor, COO and co-founder of Klear, “Overall, we found a 33% gap across all other platforms, yet YouTube was 5% higher with a 38% pay gap between men and women.”
Klear analyzed more than 2,500 influencers across Instagram, Facebook and YouTube during all of 2018 and discovered the only industry where women influencers earn more than men was the travel industry, with women taking in $615 per post on average compared to the $570 per post rate earned by male travel influencers. (Ironically, across the industries measured, at 39% the travel industry contains the highest percentage of male influencers.)
In the lifestyle industry, where women make up 88% of the total number of influencers posting branded content, they are earning as much as $200 less per post than men. According to Klear’s data, women lifestyle influencers earn $466 per post versus $672 earned by men.
So, by industry, the largest pay gap between male and female influencers equates to men earning $200 more per post than women. But, when women do earn more – as in the travel industry – it’s by less than $50 per post.
Influencer rates are hard to navigate
“When I was in the thick of it, I was unaware of the pay gap as I was just thankful to be able to be making an income via social platforms,” said Ciara Kleva, a visual artist who has worked as a lifestyle influencer, “Occasionally, during correspondence with potential collaborations and partnerships, I would feel the pressure to lower my rate or needing to do the majority of ‘bending’ to meet a company’s marketing budget.”
Kleva said, for the most part, she would leave the conversation if she felt she was getting the short end of the stick.
According to Avigdor, setting influencer rates can be hard to navigate, especially in light of the limited consensus around measuring success and impact.
“When negotiating, brands might look at an influencer’s follower count as a way to determine rates. We’ve observed that there is no real correlation between follower count and exposure,” said Avigdor. (His company uses a “Klear Score” metric that analyzes a variety of parameters to measure an influencer’s engagement and impact.)
Adam Williams, CEO of the influencer marketing firm Takumi, said his company’s influencer rates are not categorized by gender, and that his team always aims to recruit a fair mix of both genders to ensure quality.
“These practices are designed to give advertisers and creators peace of mind that payment for their campaigns will be treated fairly and without gender bias,” said Williams, “With the inequalities laid bare, now is the time for action. Ultimately, the responsibility falls on the businesses, agencies and platforms involved to address the balance.”
Sexism extends beyond pay
Kleva said her issues with inequalities within the influencer community had less to do with the pay gap and more to do with how women are expected to perform as influencers.
“I absolutely see a flaw when the women who can rake in the most amount of money on social media need to be as close to nude as possible, and, at least, have a heavy dose of sex appeal in every post,” said Kleva.
Once upon a time, this is how Kleva made money as an influencer. She said the decision to do so resulted in her falling “deep” into a hole that affected her.
“I made myself feel better by saying it was a lucrative business move to wear a bikini and dance around in every promotional post, but when I see that men can stand next to a BMW with the hashtag #motivation, and I, on the other hand, was asked to bend over next to a tub of protein and hashtag #inspiration – this is what we’re dealing with now,” said Kleva.
She wants women to blow the whistle on the latent sexism across the influencer industry, “We need to take back our platform and use our voice.”
Change is needed
In terms of pay inequality, Williams notes that in some industries like the beauty market, where women reportedly earn 8% to 10% less than men, there may simply be a higher demand for males.
“Some have pointed to market saturation with female influencers as an explanation for the inflated salaries of in-demand male influencers,” said Williams.
But this explanation is a hard pill for most women to swallow when pay inequality between men and women has been a systematic problem across all corporate cultures for decades now, long before social media influencers were even a thing. The 2019 State of Gender Pay Gap report from the compensation platform PayScale found – across the board – women are still earning only $0.79 for every $1.00 earned by a man.
“This figure is representative of the uncontrolled – or ‘raw’ gender pay gap, which looks at the median salary for all men and women regardless of job type or worker seniority,” writes PayScale in its report, “In other words, the median salary for men is roughly 21% higher than the media salary for women.”
Klear’s report that women influencers are earning $0.77 to every dollar men earn mirrors PayScale’s report looking at pay across a broad sweep of industries and job titles. However, when PayScale did a “controlled gender pay gap” survey – meaning it took into account factors like job title, years of experience and industry – the pay gap shrank to $0.02.
“When men and women with the same employment characteristics do similar jobs, women earn $0.98 for every dollar earned by an equivalent man,” said PayScale, “In other words, a woman who is doing the same job as a man, with the exact same qualifications as a man, is still paid two percent less.”
Unless, you’re a female influencer. Then you’re making 23% less than your male counterparts. And there’s a good chance you’re being asked to objectify yourself to please a client.
The sad conclusion of all this is that even in an industry where women have taken the lead, they are still plagued by the age-old inequality of less pay for the same work. This must change.