The commitments

This week, the Publishers Association launches a 10-point industry-wide action plan to tackle inclusivity within the workforce. The points show a sector now willing to put talk into action.

Publishers are not the only section of the trade tackling the issue. At the Booksellers Association’s annual conference, held earlier this week, author Kit de Waal spoke about the need to make sure outreach programmes were not just focused on the cities, but also rural communities, from where many bookshops trade. As de Waal reminded, this is an issue that impacts all of us, in lots of different ways, with booksellers often on the front-lines in supporting communities undergoing social change.

The PA’s commitments include unconscious bias training for staff making new hires; the nomination of an inclusivity champion at senior management level; and the development of a mentoring scheme for new staff from underrepresented groups. Most important is the undertaking to conduct an internal workforce audit and provide the PA with the data on an annual basis so that industry-wide statistics can be published: from this publishers are to seek to employ at least 50% of women in both senior leadership positions and executive-level roles and ensure that 15% of employees are black, Asian or minority ethnic within the next five years (current numbers are 49%, 41% and 13% respectively). Data is a key measure, and part of how we tell this story.

Some will feel that the PA’s commitments are too narrow: that they don’t take into account that much of publishing is centred in London, Oxford and Edinburgh, where the BAME population is much higher; the nature of the jobs being taken up; or the social class of applicant. Neither do they have anything to say about the publishing (though Penguin Random House is doing its own audit of its lists), or the audience. There is an emphasis too on publishing’s “image”, which risks feeling a little concocted.

But I don’t argue with the direction of travel, or underestimate the distance already covered. PA president Lis Tribe’s comment that “we want to bring all of our members with us”speaks to the problem of industry-wide initiatives that need buy-in from everyone, including those who don’t necessarily see the urgency. Important too is Tribe’s argument that this is not the end of the story, and that new goals can be set.

Publishing has long been at fault for acknowledging that a change was necessary without ever ensuring that a change was gonna come. These publicly made commitments make it accountable for the latter.