If you look at publishing today it is an incredibly female dominated industry, yet if you look into the board rooms the picture is very different: no big publisher is currently run by a woman and most still have male-heavy boards. This is far from a problem publishing is facing alone and the government is determined to do what it can to change it. In April this year it became a legal requirement of all companies with more than 250 staff members to publish statistics on their gender pay gap by April 2018 and every year thereafter. There are still seven months to go but to date only 65 companies have published their data (you can see it here). No publishers have published data yet.
In July the BBC published what it paid all talent earning over £150K a year and the data shocked even those resigned to the fact that gender pay gaps exist. It has led to demands by female staff that it's rectified and a commitment from the BBC to address it. It’ll be interesting to see what the picture looks like when the BBC's full gender pay data is released.
Of course not paying equally for the same job is illegal, so our workforce in warehouses and on the shop floor can’t be paid differently by gender, though it gets more complicated when you think about whether everyone called ‘editor’ should be paid the same and whether this quietly allows for quite varied pay without it being hugely noticeable. But the debate around the gender pay gap isn’t really about that - it’s about opportunity, advancement and unconscious bias; it’s about whether women and men have the same opportunities to earn more or whether women for a range of reasons end up earning less, because they aren’t given either pay rises or promotions in equal line with men. These problems aren’t unique to publishing, many are endemic and societal, but in an industry so dominated by women they should come much more sharply into focus for us.
There are no accurate statistics in the UK for how much publishing is staffed by women but it’s estimated at somewhere between 70-80% (and it is even more white with everything around eliminating unconscious bias and enhanced career development that could benefit women applying even more so to people of colour). But no major company is run by a woman. Of course this is partly to do with the conglomeratisation of publishing; there are many divisions of the largest publishers which in themselves are sizeable businesses, run by great inspirational women. And no one is suggesting that the individual men in senior positions don’t deserve those roles, far from it, they are great and inspirational too. But this isn’t about individuals and it does mean that when publishers do release their gender pay gap data we shouldn’t be surprised to see an upper percentile over-indexed with men. This should worry everyone.
But what can we do about it? It’s all too easy to think that it’s due to bigger societal factors that are far beyond our control and just wait for society to change rather than taking an active role. But there are things our industry can do, now, that could start to make a difference immediately to both the pull and push factors that cause the gap to widen.
In pretty much every study ever undertaken women and men are equal until the point at which we start having children and it’s the cause of the most pernicious problems for equality: maternity leave and the burden of childcare. The issue of women not being encouraged from the earliest age into paths that will land them in the C-suite comes a close second. And unconscious bias and discrimination are linked inexorably to both.
Some suggested solutions
Shared parental leave being far from the norm affects women long after the biological imperative of motherhood is over. Only 5% of new fathers have taken up shared parental leave. From an individual company perspective you can easily see where the issues in pushing it lie - most of us don’t work in the same companies as our partners so why would a company push the men who work for them to take leave so that another company can benefit from a woman returning to work? The fact that it’s better for society and indeed all your staff in the long term has never been a good argument when a board is looking at profits.
After maternity leave the challenges don’t go away. Many women never return or take long career breaks because childcare is incredibly expensive and this is exacerbated for us by an industry where pay is low. Were I running a major publisher I would make exploring an office creche my absolute priority. Sure, many parents may not want to commute with their children but significant subsidisation could make it a lifesaver for some, particularly single parents, and see productivity soar - for male employees as well as female. If it’s good enough for Goldman Sachs and plans are in place at Second Home, then why not for publishing?
Flexible working is thankfully being embraced but there are still too many stories of people who are denied it, derided for taking it or simply fear it will halt their advancement so never get to the point of asking. We need to adjust our attitudes to presenteeism. Could an entire day a week (or more!) where everyone works from home help cure us of our obsession with being in the office and lighten the stresses of the burden of care?
So what about women not being on the C-suite path? Publishing has far less of a problem than many industries with this, but talk to any woman and you’ll still find too much imposter syndrome, too much self-doubt, too much a feeling that we shouldn’t put ourselves forward, too many cases when we know that when we do put ourselves forward we’re treated differently - worse - than a man would be, and it can be tiring and bruising. Being conscious of encouraging and developing brilliant women from an early point is something we can all do. As a sidehustle I and some brilliant women in this industry are currently exploring what a cross industry mentoring programme for women and minorities could look like and how we could get it up and running. Anyone interested in helping us get this off the ground please get in touch!
Finally we need to do more to examine our own biases and what they’re doing to the people we work with. When I got engaged at 29 my boss said: "You’re not going to have children now are you?" And then promptly apologised, because the question is illegal. But regardless, it was in an instant clear to me quite how much my womb counted against me in the workplace. Just last year an extremely senior man in media asked me if I didn’t have children because my husband didn’t earn enough to afford for me to take the time off. We all know countless stories of how the fear of women leaving their jobs for months and potentially never coming back makes them scarier hires and indeed stops them being hired. And we all know stories of men mocked for taking on the burden of care or cajoled into not doing so; I myself have done this in the past and I feel ashamed for perpetuating toxic gender norms. Every little pernicious bit of gender reinforcement can do harm and every day we can and should do what we can to stop it.
None of this is going to be easy, but we’ve done it before. When I entered publishing in the early noughties I was so inspired by how many women were running companies. These women overcame so much discrimination and brought in huge changes to working culture that enabled future generations to thrive but we still face challenges. Gail Rebuck famously signed contracts from her birthing bed. My mum took me to a meeting The Bookseller sent her to report on when I was three days old. These women fought so that younger generations could have maternity leave and we now need to fight for more equality so that it doesn’t perpetually keep women back. Theirs isn’t the world we live in anymore and nor one we want to for any of our sakes. I recently had an m.d. tell me that there wasn’t a gender problem in publishing because "it’s been run by brilliant women before and look at all these great women who work for me". But that is precisely why there is a problem. We need to get more women back into that top quartile and break down the barriers that exist now that are stopping getting them there, not rest on the laurels of generations past.
We can all do this, and we all have to.
Julia Kingsford is co-founder of Kingsford Campbell.