Reading the responses that came in to The Bookseller’s anonymous survey of sexual harassment in the industry was a sobering experience. Numbers were fairly evenly split, but for every one of you who said you had had no bad experiences at all, there was someone else who reported being harassed, sometimes very seriously, in the course of their ordinary working life.
The percentages (54% of women respondents reporting harassment, and 34% of men) may be inflated by the self-selecting nature of those who filled in the survey but, even taking that into account, there is quite clearly an issue here for the industry - and one that has been waiting to be addressed for some time. The Weinstein scandal provides the prompt.
If we’re honest, some of the stories emerging from the survey aren’t such a surprise. Although publicists are professionally discreet, we’ve all heard rumours of unnamed authors lunging on book tours late at night. And we’ve all been at industry parties where alcohol has flowed freely and the usual friendly contact has got a bit over-friendly. It’s a tactile, social industry, filled with creative people and, with its own quirky and interesting ways, that’s how the usual narrative goes.
But that narrative needs revisiting. When a more senior staffer is able to assault a junior employee at an office party, and they are too ashamed and fearful to speak up and report the problem; or when a young publicist is expected to politely dodge the advances of an author in a hotel room on tour because that writer is too important to the company to offend; or equally when a female author describes being inappropriately touched and propositioned, then something has gone amiss. It’s time for us to re-examine the guidelines, training and penalties that should be preventing this from happening, and look at the general workplace culture we are fostering too. Even low-level harassment is draining, so why should anyone tolerate it?
This subject has been discussed quietly among peers for a long time; but now, as many who filled in the survey say, we need a more open and public dialogue. Thanks to all who shared their experiences in our survey to help that happen.
This week, we have focused on the findings of the survey itself. Next week, The Bookseller will look at HR policies and best practice for dealing with harassment issues, as well as practical next steps that the industry can take to improve its record.
Benedicte Page is deputy editor of The Bookseller.