Publishing diversity: my experience

I decided that I wanted to work in publishing a few months after graduating. Having realised that I’d have to do work experience to be in with a chance of getting a job in the industry, I undertook a series of work placements at small publishing houses. All of the placements were unpaid, with only expenses provided. Coming from a single parent working class background, I can honestly say that I was only able to gain that experience because I was lucky enough to live in London.

At that point, I stopped doing unpaid internships as I could no longer afford to and I felt that I had gained the skills and experience I would need to move forward. However, this proved to be more difficult than I expected and I had to work in an unrelated field for a while, all the while looking out for opportunities in publishing. Eventually, I came across Creative Access’ paid internships. While going through their application process, I undertook a further two-week work experience stint at a big publishing house. Here, much more than in my previous placements in small teams, I noticed the uniformity of the publishing workforce.

Walking into the canteen, I immediately felt out of place. Only a handful of faces broke up the crowd of white young middle class women. As silly as it might seem, looking around I couldn’t help but think “do I really belong here?”. Luckily, before this doubt settled in, I got an interview with The Bookseller through Creative Access and I was offered the role of editorial assistant. Here, I have found my colleagues extremely welcoming and open but, as a window to the wider industry, it has allowed me to see just how far publishing has to go in terms of diversity.

Shortly after I started working at The Bookseller, we ran a piece about diversity alongside last year’s Bookseller 100 list, with the general gist being that there isn’t enough BAME representation in publishing. This is something that’s been reinforced while attending various events and conferences and even when I compile pictures for our Bookseller Social page. I have also been struck by the lack of socioeconomic diversity in publishing. For example, I remember eagerly tuning in to a books radio show and enjoying the content but simultaneously noticing that everyone on it sounded middle class. Once again, I felt like I could never fit in.

This week’s lead story in the magazine raises some very interesting points, most depressingly the fact that ten years on from our In Full Colour supplement, hardly anything has changed. It seems like there are plenty of good intentions among publishers to increase diversity, but very little action being taken to attract candidates from a variety of backgrounds. That’s why I am proud to be associated with Creative Access, which works so hard to open the door for young BAME people into an industry that might otherwise be closed off from them. 

I have to admit that I was a bit wary of applying for roles through the scheme at first because I didn’t want to get a job based on anything other than merit. However, as Creative Access has told all its interns so many times, the programme doesn’t just offer an opportunity to us, but also to the companies we intern for. Having a more diverse workforce means that companies can get a different perspective on how they run and hopefully appeal to a wider audience. If they want to, publishers can learn as much from Creative Access interns as we can learn from them. 

I think it’s important to note that, as Crystal Mahey-Morgan has pointed out, currently publishers aren’t just limiting the candidates they attract; they are also limiting the readers they attract by not reaching out to new audiences. To me, this makes no sense. Books should be accessible to everyone - if publishers are producing books that don’t reflect the society we live in, surely they will become increasingly redundant. Similarly, the chance to publish books should be available to the strongest candidates, not just those who can afford to intern for free or whose faces fit. The world we live in has changed so much since publishing as we know it began, when will the industry catch up and end the elitism?

I think small steps are being made to encourage diversity in publishing. It was great to hear from Inclusive Minds at The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference and to see Malorie Blackman speaking out about having more diversity in children’s books. Many of my fellow Creative Access interns have gone on to get jobs at major publishing houses and, despite some having to deal with ill-considered and offensive comments, they are enjoying being part of this industry. Personally, I want to work in publishing for a long time to come. I just hope that in another decade’s time the conversation has moved on from here.