Cat Mitchell unveils disability survey for the trade

Cat Mitchell unveils disability survey for the trade

Academic and former Penguin Random House publicist Cat Mitchell is calling on the publishing trade to share evidence around inclusivity and accessibility to disabled people. 

Mitchell, a researcher at the University of Derby, is calling on employees and job seekers in the UK publishing industry to share information to investigate how inclusive and accessible the industry is to disabled and chronically ill people.   

The online questionnaire aims to explore any barriers to getting a job in the industry that disabled and chronically ill people face, as well as any issues in the workplace for current employees. It also explores what more can be done to improve job application processes and working practices going forward.   

Job seekers can share their experiences here while employees already within the publishing industry should complete this survey, before 5 p.m. on Wednesday 31st March. The results of the study will be published and disseminated to the industry in autumn 2021.   

There have been many calls in recent years to address the lack of diversity in the publishing industry, including last year's Rethinking Diversity report and The Bookseller’s working-class survey in 2019. However Mitchell said that "there is yet to be a thorough investigation of disabled and chronically ill workers and job seekers".   

Mitchell told The Bookseller: “According to the most recent Publishers Association’s Workforce Survey, 8% of people working in the industry are disabled, which is significantly lower than the overall UK working age population [19% according to the Department of Work & Pensions]. This figure drops to 3% at executive management level, and very few disabled employees are open about their impairments at work: only half of respondents were open about their disability with their line manager (52%), and only a third (35%) were open with their HR department.   

“These figures suggest that further investigation is necessary, and this study is particularly timely as the pandemic has forced all industries to adapt to more frequent bouts of illness, and to create flexibility for staff members suffering with long Covid.”   

As the last year has also seen a rise in virtual events and increased home-working, Mitchell believes it is a particularly important time to assess what elements of this flexibility should be retained post-pandemic, and how they might lead to a more diverse workforce.  

She told The Bookseller why she is so passionate about the research. “Having worked in the publishing industry myself while managing multiple health conditions, this is a study that’s incredibly close to my heart. I did many roles in the industry over the years and witnessed some really positive practice around disability, but also some problematic processes and behaviour.   

“Often when diversity in publishing is discussed, disability is left out, so I was keen to make sure the concerns of disabled people were being heard in this ongoing conversation.”   

Mitchell hopes the flexible working offered in the pandemic has paved the way for a more permanent change. “It feels like a particularly important time to have this conversation as the pandemic has forced the industry to adapt to more frequent bouts of illness, and to create flexibility for staff members suffering with long Covid. The rise in home-working and virtual events has also shone a light on how it’s possible to provide more flexibility for employees, authors and job seekers – and I hope this study may provide insight into which elements of this flexibility should be retained post-pandemic.”   

Previously Mitchell worked in campaigns and publicity across PRH, including at Penguin General and Viking, between 2014 and 2018. Since leaving London she worked as a freelance publicist at independent publisher And Other Stories and an events co-ordinator at the Derby Book Festival before joining the University of Derby as lecturer in publishing and writing. 

For more information, email Mitchell at c.mitchell2@derby.ac.uk or via Twitter at @CatMitchell17