Corporate publishers need to offer female employees a flexible working environment and take advantage of decentralised office arrangements in order to encourage more female executives to take the step to the next tier of management, key figures in the trade have told The Bookseller. However, these employees need to put themselves forward in order to ameliorate the current situation, in which none of the big corporate publishers is run by a female chief executive.
The situation has been exacerbated recently after Little, Brown chief executive Ursula Mackenzie announced her intention to retire from the business, with David Shelley taking on the role from 1st July; and the merger between Macmillan Science & Education (MSE) and Springer Science + Business, which will see MSE c.e.o. Annette Thomas taking on a new role, chief scientific officer. This followed a period when the top jobs at both HarperCollins and Penguin Random House went to men.
One editor, who declined to be named, said: “I am very disappointed by the lack of key senior female figures. When you look at the industry as a whole, it is filled with bright, intelligent, creative, passionate women, and yet this doesn’t seem to be translating into senior roles. Personally, I do think there are serious issues regarding men being promoted far more quickly than their female counterparts across the industry—there are numerous men who started out in publishing years after me and who are now in far more senior positions. I hope the industry and especially HR departments begin to investigate why this is the case, and puts measures in place to tackle it.”
Clare Smith, publishing director at Little, Brown and Abacus and publisher at Blackfriars, said: “It is hard to ignore the fact that publishing is very female-dominated to a certain level, and that beyond that level, the balance switches the other way.“
Agent Julia Kingsford, founder of Kingsford Campbell, said: “Because we were so far ahead of virtually everyone else in workforce equality and women at the top, it’s sadder now that there are fewer women running companies that they didn’t set up themselves. In an industry with a workforce so disproportionately filled with talented women, we all have to look for the reasons why that doesn’t filter up to the highest levels and look to find the solutions to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to take leadership roles in the future.”
Literary agent Karolina Sutton, of Curtis Brown, said that “there seems to be a greater representation of women in middle management, so perhaps this is just a blip before these women are promoted”. She added: “Any board without a fair gender representation in an industry such as publishing—where we don’t lack amazing women who know the business inside out—is a failure on some level.”
Diana Beaumont, agent at Rupert Heath Literary Agency, said: “There are many women in leadership positions, but what doesn’t seem to be happening as often as I would like, so as to be as representative as I would like, is women in the highest positions. It is important to look and figure out why that is—especially when the industry has so many women.”
Catherine Burke, fiction publisher at Sphere, agreed that as the trade was so female-dominated, she “would absolutely like to see more female leaders in the most senior roles”.
Baroness Gail Rebuck, chair of Penguin Random House, said the current situation did not “a crisis make”, but nevertheless argued that companies needed to “have the policies in place to ensure we encourage the women c.e.o.s of the future” (see her blog here).
Rebuck was backed by Justine Roberts, c.e.o. of Mumsnet, who highlighted how new technologies could help make the workplace more gender-intelligent: “Flexibility, and an understanding that women often have caring responsibilities that require them to put things other than their own career first for periods of their working life, is key. But as technology increasingly renders the idea of ‘office hours’ obsolete, it’s a fabulous chance for forward-thinking companies to embrace more flexible work practices.”
Women who want senior roles have to “go for it” and be more vocal about their successes, be more confident and set out clear career goals.
Laura Meyer, chief information officer at HarperCollins UK, said: “I am a big believer in your career being your own responsibility. It is looking at how you can get to your goals. Who do you need to get advice from? What courses do you need?
“I don’t think you can single out women. Everyone needs to try and have a plan. If you have a particular passion about something you should follow it and do it. Sometimes we let our careers languish because we are busy [but] if you want to do something, you need to form a plan. You can’t expect it to land in your lap—go for it.”
Burke agreed: “If you want to lead a business you have to be able to stand up for your career. I thoroughly encourage all colleagues to voice their ambitions—it’s certainly something all successful senior leaders in publishing have done.”
Putting yourself forward is a key part of achieving success, and Smith suggested that in her experience, “women often rely on knowing that they are doing a good job themselves, and therefore wait to be asked to take on a role or to step forward, whereas men perhaps find it easier or more natural to ask for the extra responsibility or that promotion”.
Sutton added: “We have to put ourselves forward for top positions more aggressively rather than finding excuses, and men ought to ask themselves what they have done to facilitate a better balance.”
Lisa Milton, m.d. of Orion General, said mentoring schemes were important, adding: “There is always more to do. As an industry we need to attract and keep the best talent, and this includes nurturing and developing those in junior roles.”
Speaking about the balance between work life and home life, Kimberley Young, publishing director of women’s fiction at HarperCollins said: “When I started out, there was a raft of senior women who had to make the choice between career or family. It’s a different choice now, one of balance and time pressures.”
Young continued: “There is definitely more that society, colleagues and the industry could do in supporting women during the brief period of their careers that they can’t be available in the same way. It’s not just an industry issue, it’s a flexibility one. It seems strange that as our industry changes to be more dynamic, flexible and fast, our working practices seem to have become more office-centric.”