Black Writers' Guild reports progress as publishers start to confront diversity deficit

Black Writers' Guild reports progress as publishers start to confront diversity deficit

The Black Writers' Guild has said it is "pleased" with the progress made since the publication of its open letter in June, which called on major publishing houses to address the racial inequalities in their organisations. 

The Guild is roughly halfway through a series of virtual meetings with publishers and on track to complete them by mid-September. "Robust discussions" have been had, the Guild said, including honest feedback where it believes well-intentioned schemes already underway "may prove futile". It is understood major houses including Penguin Random House, Hachette UK and HarperCollins are among those the Guild has held discussions with, in addition to some independent presses. 

Speaking with The Bookseller, a spokesperson for the Guild praised publishers' engagement and willingness to expedite change. To date, all publishers the Guild has spoken to have agreed to form a stakeholder group with the Black Writers’ Guild, to be co-chaired by an organiser or the Guild and the c.e.o.s of the various publishers.  

Meanwhile, a framework to address publishers' data gap in this area is now in the process of being created by the Guild, recognising that publishers are at different stages in gathering relevant data, the spokesperson revealed.

On the heels of the Guild's open letter in mid-June, signed by more than 100 writers, leading houses—including Hachette UK, Penguin Random House UK, Bonnier Books UK, Pan Macmillan and S&S UK—all conceded the pace of change was too slow and the industry had work to do. The Guild's letter was specific in its requests, asking publishers for transparency through audits to provide data on the submission-to-acquisition ratio of black authors and the median and mode averages of the advances of black authors, as well as to "immediately" address where core leadership boards lack black members and the "worrying absence" of black publishing staff in key positions in sales, marketing and publicity departments.

Reporting on progress since the publishing leaders' statements of intent, a spokesperson from the Guild, which was founded by Nels Abbey (pictured), Afua Hirsch and Sharmaine Lovegrove, said: "Thus far, the publishers have been open, honest, co-operative and demonstrably eager to make progress. We welcome the fact that many houses have made their desire to work with us to achieve change very clear.

"Each publisher we have met with has admitted that they have a serious diversity deficit, both in terms of black writers and staff. And in some situations, they don’t have the data and/or a data collection mechanism to determine the scale of the issue.

"The Black Writers’ Guild is currently creating a framework to rectify the lack of data and information. This framework will create a fair and transparent playing field, and will help enshrine racial equality in the industry on a permanent basis."

The Guild has been involved in critiquing publishers' diversity initiatives currently underway, too. "Individual publishing houses have their own plans, that are as unique as their companies, to address the issues. We’ve had robust discussions around these plans and given advice and feedback where we feel they may prove futile given the history of such actions," said the spokesperson. "It is still very early days, but we are pleased with the progress we are making thus far."