As I was applying to study at Oxford University in 2008, I also applied to join a digital editorial board called Spinebreakers. Set up in partnership between youth marketing agency Livity and Penguin, Spinebreakers was an online book community run
by young people for young people. It was my first experience of the publishing world, a world that looked very much like my Oxford college—but it felt very different.
Some time after graduating, I was fortunate enough to secure a year-long internship at Random House, with Ebury Publishing, through Creative Access. After working at Ebury for almost four years, I am now the company’s senior marketing executive and have created award-winning campaigns.
One of the most formative experiences for me was attending masterclasses across the creative industry, organised by Creative Access. The masterclasses were given by highly accomplished and senior people, many of whom are/were from BAME back- grounds, and they provided an opportunity to hear what the speakers did as well as to meet other interns, enabling us to get a holistic understanding of the creative industry. In retrospect, I recall that the events Creative Access ran with people from the publishing industry were among the least diverse [compared with events focusing on other industries, such as TV and music] but they were just as inspiring, with the likes of [HarperCollins’] Natalie Jerome and [Ebury deputy m.d.] Jake Lingwood speaking. Since then, I think Creative Access has had a catalytic affect and inspired more young BAME people to go into publishing.
For me, the experiences that came out of the synergies created by external companies such as Livity and Creative Access partnering with publishers helped me to discover an interest in the publishing business—and, I think, to contribute something valuable to it. Since then, the guidance and inspiration from [Ebury marketing director] Di Riley (who has been a fantastic mentor) and the incredible marketing team she heads has enabled me to develop further.
I work in an incredible marketing team, filled with people from diverse backgrounds who constantly encourage each other to think differently. Additionally, I recognise that learning from and meeting with pioneers and peers of varying backgrounds and ages (across the creative industry) has granted me a different kind of perspective and network of information. The multiplicity of experiences that the people I have learned from have had, and the way in which they have connected me to sources of information—combined with my own eclectic curiosity—have enriched my contributions to the business. And that, at its heart, is what I think inclusion and diversity is about: celebrating the mixing of difference.
Progress is always a long road, and I honestly think it is wonderful that various people in the publishing industry are taking steps to make sure we inspire future generations and futureproof our business. And yet there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the challenges around particular issues facing the industry involving the strata of inclusion should not be conflated. Identity is complex. Penguin Random House is conducting groundbreaking and pioneering work on diversifying its recruitment pool and its publishing output. It is, for instance, the only publisher to have a corporate responsibility manager (the brilliant Siena Parker), who as well as working on other initiatives is work- ing on projects to address the issue of inclusion and diversity. The most recent is the launch of the WriteNow campaign, which is aimed at finding new publishing talent from underrepresented writers.
For publishing to become even more successful than it already is, it should introduce schemes both bold and small—such as the courses of action that many industries are already taking, successfully—in order to attract talent, publish authors and grow readership from communities and backgrounds that might otherwise have missed out on what publishers have to offer.
Clarissa Pabi is senior marketing executive at Ebury Press.