There are conflicting views around the subject of ageism in the book industry, although there is a general consensus that it needs to be given more weight when considering diversity and inclusion as a whole. In 2017, The Bookseller reported that there were claims of a "thinning out" of older staffers in the industry, with a lack of programmes to upskill older workers, many of whom were thought to be vulnerable to cost-cutting redundancies. At the other end of the spectrum, younger staffers can feel that their progression through companies is hindered owing to their age.
While some do not feel the situation has changed since that report, various HR directors have pointed to societal changes such as the workforce as a whole getting older, and argued that companies need to better accommodate and support multiple generations.
Publishing career coach Jo Howard believes that ageism is "rife" in the industry, although most of it is subconscious. "Quite often, if I’m taking an assignment for a senior-level job, people say that they want somebody between 38 and 45—but you can’t say that. It’s not appropriate to recruit by age. You should be looking for energy and experience; you shouldn’t ask how old they are," Howard says. "It’s at the level at which people aren’t thinking about it very much. [That being said], there are lots of examples of very old and very young people doing great things, so in some ways it’s very good."
Fiona Swarbrick, senior books organiser at the National Union of Journalists, says: "In general I think the situation has moved on very little since 2017. I think there is a problem with a lack of age diversity and, while I think lots more could be done in general to improve diversity in the industry, age diversity is probably very low on the list of priorities for publishers."
On the subject of "thinning out" of older staffers, Howard says she has heard of situations where "more expensive", although not necessarily older, people are more vulnerable to redundancy, although John Athanasiou, director of people at HarperCollins, says it is an old-fashioned way of looking at redundancies. "Publishing
is a relationship business, and building them takes time... Why would you take [people with such relationships] out? It doesn’t make sense," he says. "Creativity, persuasion, adaptability, emotional intelligence... These are all qualities that get better with time and experience, and are hard to replace."
Industry newcomer and Hachette HR director Melanie Tansey says: "Having spent my career to date in other industries [Tansey was formerly group HR director at ITN], my initial impression is that publishing has the widest spread of age, with staff at all ages contributing so much, and at every level. It’s terrific to see how valued people at all life stages are, and how the range of perspectives adds so much to our publishing."
Tansey also said that the training courses that Hachette provides are equally available to all staff, regardless of age. This is also the case at HarperCollins, which has a development platform, idevelop, which is available for the whole company to access in various formats. "The participation we get on it is phenomenal—80% of the company use it, in a good month," says Athanasiou.
Hachette has a focus group dedicated to age as part of its Changing the Story diversity and inclusion programme. Lennie Goodings, chair of Virago and co-chair of Hachette’s Ageless Network, says the group is going "very well" and has around 100 members. It specifically invites and represents those aged 50-plus, but everyone is welcome. "We’re here to promote visibility, positivity and representation for those aged 50-plus, and to work as a lobbying group, a challenge to unconscious bias and, crucially, to be a resource for the company as we want to ‘give back’ to Hachette through mentoring, training, etc," Goodings says.
"One of the things we are stressing is the positives around having an intergenerational company," she adds. "It’s good for all, including the business. We think that’s key, rather than stressing ageism. In this new world, where there is no forced retirement age and young people are going to work until they are 75, our organisation is in everyone’s interest."
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