Building for the future: trade staff on diversity

Building for the future: trade staff on diversity

Ahead of the ‘Building Inclusivity in Publishing Conference’ on 13th November, The Bookseller spoke to seven panelists about their experiences of inclusivity in the sector, and what steps can be taken to accelerate change.

Nancy Adimora, events manager, corporate communications, at HarperCollins

What in your view is the single biggest impediment to improving levels of inclusivity across the sector?

I think it’s still widely believed that an English Literature degree and a profound love for storytelling is a prerequisite for a career in publishing. This continues to pose as an impediment to inclusivity on the basis that opportunities that arise within the sector are sought out by a more limited selection of individuals. Editorial is just one side of publishing; we’re essentially a commercial business, so the more we continue to highlight the range of roles and careers available within the industry, the more we can attract individuals who represent the wider consumer market.

Name one area or initiative where you have seen a material difference in the past year?

Earlier this year, I joined the HarperCollins BAME Traineeship, which was the first of its kind in the publishing industry when it launched. As well as gaining invaluable experience from across the business, I’ve had the opportunity to join the HarperCollins Diversity Forum, HC All In, and work collaboratively on a range of projects that we hope will continue to make a material difference in our business and shape our approach to publishing.

The positive implications of the HarperCollins BAME Traineeship, and initiatives like it, are varied and countless. Diversity not only enables publishers to feel the pulse of different communities of readers, but it allows for better understanding around the nuance of language, and encourages more active engagement in tailored sales strategies and marketing campaigns to reach new audiences.

What else could the sector do to improve levels of inclusivity?

From a recruitment perspective, there seems to be a lot of emphasis in improving representation through entry-level schemes and roles. While this is an effective strategy, which has proved to be invaluable in my case, we also need to account for the impact of role models within the industry. In light of this, I’d say that the sector could potentially improve by making a more concerted effort to ensure representation is visible at both entry and senior levels.

Heidi Mulvey, head of community engagement at Cambridge University Press

What in your view is the single biggest impediment to improving levels of inclusivity across the sector?

Our greatest challenge is breaking away from preconceptions of what is needed in academic publishing. We’ve struggled to appeal to candidates from diverse backgrounds, as it is often assumed that you need an English Literature degree. This really isn’t the case any longer. We have an incredibly diverse range of roles requiring different skill-sets, and we need to find ways to appeal to candidates from all backgrounds who haven’t considered publishing.

Name one area or initiative where you have seen a material difference in the past year?

The Apprenticeship Levy is already making a difference. We started hiring apprentices in 2012 to bring in more diverse candidates. There are more apprenticeships available now including areas like digital marketing, and the levy is encouraging us to make the most of funding to train new and existing colleagues. Ten publishers are working with the PA to develop a publishing apprenticeship, creating opportunities for more publishing- specific careers at entry level, and we are working with schools and careers services to promote this.

What else could the sector do to improve levels of inclusivity?

It’s great we’re seeing increased activity around inclusivity and we want to see more. Initiatives like Creative Access’ internships and the “Get Into Book Publishing” vocational summer course, organised by Bluebird Consulting, do much to open up publishing to people from ethnic minorities. As part of the University of Cambridge, our colleagues are also able to access support from groups such as the university’s LGBT+ network. We also want to do more to support parents (with flexible hours and job sharing at a senior level) and we have a variety of initiatives around improving the representation of women at senior levels. We need to build on these.

Mónica Parle, executive director at First Story

What in your view is the single biggest impediment to improving levels of inclusivity across the sector?

I work with young people in state secondary schools serving low- income communities, and I think the greatest barrier is that these students don’t see themselves reflected in the literature they’re consuming. This barrier is complex because it is both about publishing more diverse voices, but also ensuring those books get into young people’s hands, which is influenced by which books are on the National Curriculum.

The disappointing thing is that most initiatives I’ve seen in publishing focus on the late stages of the process, by looking to find talent among aspiring writers (i.e. post-secondary or university stage), but that’s still a fairly limited pool if most young people from underrepresented communities don’t even dream that [entering the industry] might be a possibility.

Name one area or initiative where you have seen a material difference in the past year?

I see this every day with First Story. We place writers in secondary schools serving low-income communities, and they work with the same group of young people across a full academic year. When they first arrive, students often tell them they thought all writers were old—or dead. And here’s a living, breathing professional writer, bringing a fresh perspective into their school.

Across the year, the students develop their unique voices and see that their voices and their stories matter. This has a critical impact on their confidence. The young people we work with become more confident, write more, read more and are more engaged in their school communities. Many of the young people did not have books on their shelves before the project, or had never been to a museum, but through the intervention they are more likely to engage in cultural activities. This will have a huge impact on their lives and, I hope, will lead to more young people considering both writing and publishing as a career.

What are the positive implications to come from diversity initiatives?

Inclusivity has its roots in the school system. Most of the initiatives I’ve seen are far too late. If we want more diversity of voices, we have to intervene at the secondary school stage, when young people are actively making choices about their futures.

Siena Parker, head of creative responsibility at Penguin Random House

What in your view is the single biggest impediment to improving levels of inclusivity across the sector?

Inclusivity needs to be seen as a commercial opportunity as well as a moral imperative. Until it sits at the heart of publishers’ growth strategies, we’re not going to see the level of change required.

Why do you think publishing, along with other creative/media sectors, has struggled thus far to improve representation?

Ninety-two per cent of jobs in the creative economy are done by people from more advantaged socioeconomic groups, compared to 66% in the wider economy. It’s hard to pin this down to one issue: it’s a culmination of a number of factors, including [the trade] being London-centric.

Partly it becomes chicken and egg: how many times do careers advisers in schools, for example, tell you that the media is “really hard to get into”? I grew up in Newcastle and this was the message I heard loud and clear. This underlines the need for us to work collectively across the creative sector. We can’t solve this problem alone.

Name one area or initiative where you have seen a material difference in the past year?

Our flagship programme WriteNow is starting to make a real difference. To date, 300 writers from underrepresented communities have taken part in publishing insight events in five different cities, from Birmingham to Bristol, and by the end of the year we will have over 20 writers on our year-long mentoring programme. We can’t wait to announce the first publishing deals from these writers. I also hugely admire the work Nikesh Shukla and Julia Kingsford have done through The Good Immigrant (Unbound).

Emma Paterson, agent at Rogers, Coleridge & White

Why do you think publishing, along with other creative/media sectors, has struggled so far to improve representation?

It’s hard to identify a single impediment when there are several intersecting problems, but the homogeneity of the industry’s workforce is certainly one, particularly when thinking about those in gatekeeper positions. I would like to see a proactive commitment to hiring inclusively at the top of the tree, or to fast-tracking people there, partly because that’s where the real influence and autonomy lies, but also because it’s vital we signal to younger, more junior staff that the journey from bottom to top is actually possible.

Name one area or initiative where you have seen a material difference in the past year?

Sharmaine Lovegrove’s new Little, Brown imprint, Dialogue Books, represents, to me, a huge leap forward. In a matter of months, Sharmaine’s acquisitions have demonstrated what it means to have an inclusive publisher championing underrepresented voices in a truly passionate way.

What else could the sector do to improve levels of inclusivity?

I think the sector could spend less time talking and more time putting concrete initiatives into practice. There is sometimes a troubling circularity to the conversations we have about improving diversity in publishing when, in fact, the problems are clear and the solutions even clearer. As Chris Jackson (vice-president, publisher and editor-in-chief of PRH US’ One World imprint) wrote recently: “We keep talking about this abstraction [diversity in publishing] as if it could be conjured through the power of lectures and panel discussions.”

Simon Dowson-Collins, general counsel and company secretary at HarperCollins

What in your view is the single biggest impediment to improving levels of inclusivity across the sector?

It’s no secret that publishing has traditionally been seen as a white and middle-class occupation – but things are changing. The industry has recognised the problem and steps have been taken to change things – not least at HarperCollins – and we are seeing BAME employee numbers rise. But we also need to see more BAME people actively considering publishing as a career, and the lack of senior role models in the industry is an impediment to obtaining applications from a diverse group. If candidates don’t recognise people like themselves in an organisation, that must discourage some from applying.

What else could the sector do to improve levels of inclusivity?

Reach out to experts and others in the diversity space to learn how to get better. For example, we work closely with the Business in the Community (BITC) race equality campaign, among others. We benefit from learning from the expertise of BITC and contribute towards its mission of increasing race equality in the wider business community. As a whole, companies in the sector should talk openly and fearlessly and put into place a strategy that is embraced by the senior team and that will be supported by the heart and soul of the company – its people.

What ultimately are the positive implications to come from such initiatives?

All credible analysis, including from McKinsey and others, indicate that more diverse teams lead to better problem solving, greater innovation and ultimately, competitive advantage. There is a striking connection between strong commercial performance and cognitive diversity. It’s the right thing to do ethically, but also it's the right thing commercially as well.

Kiren Shoman, editorial director at SAGE

What in your view is the single biggest impediment to improving levels of inclusivity across the sector?

I would say the biggest impediment has been a lack of meaningful engagement across the sector, though I’m pleased to see this changing, with more organisations becoming more involved with this concern in recent years. It’s vital that inclusivity is an issue that is tackled at senior levels within the workplace, as well as collectively across the sector, if we want to see effective change.

Name one area or initiative where you have seen a material difference in the past year?

I think Creative Access has been a great example of an organisation that has done much to further awareness of recruitment bias and of the existence of a strong diverse talent pool. Their work with BAME candidates keen to enter the creative industries has been impressive, from their support and training of candidates through to work with the many organisations in to which they place them. They have placed under 800 interns across 300 organisations, with 82% of interns going on to achieve a full-time employment offer – an impressive amount of good work.
 
What else could the sector do to improve levels of inclusivity?

The Publishers Association recently introduced a diversity target and 10-point plan for its members; if every publisher responds to this, we should see more practices that foster inclusivity (e.g. anonymisation of applications, senior two-way mentoring), and feel we can hold each other accountable. I also think it’s important not to limit ourselves to solutions coming from within the sector, but to look elsewhere and be part of the wider societal conversation.