The departure of Victoria Barnsley from HarperCollins, and the appointment of Dame Gail Rebuck to a non-executive role as chair of the newly formed Penguin Random House, has sparked a discussion in the trade and wider media about the role of women in publishing.
One commentator, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “Helen Fraser [former Penguin m.d.], Gail Rebuck, Victoria Barnsley—people who changed the face of UK publishing—are being moved aside or out . . . I feel it is the same phenomenon we are seeing in broadcasting and the media in general. What’s happening with the disappearance of experienced, mature women at the top level?”
Gary Pulsifer, Arcadia Books publisher, said: “Considering how male-dominated traditional publishing has been [at the top levels], it has been wonderful to have two women at the top for the past 15 years. To remove those women now certainly seems retrograde . . . it doesn’t send out a positive signal.”
However, others thought the two moves were coincidental. Curtis Brown agent Gordon Wise said: “I never thought this is a female-to-male thing. They were two extremely talented women in two senior management jobs. It seems like it just so happens that the two people coming up after them do not happen to be women. If you look at the publishing industry as a whole, the majority of people seem to be women. You might say it is about women in management, but there are many female sales directors, which is traditionally a male role. I do not think the industry discriminates against women.”
Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon said: “Both Gail and Vicky are a huge loss because they were powerful, independent and cared deeply about books and publishing. In an industry which is dominated by women, it would be wrong not to have women at the top, too. But what is most important is having people who care about books in some form as opposed to purely corporate concerns.”
Liz Sich, managing director at Four Colman Getty, said: “Surely the question is, why aren’t there more women waiting in the wings to take those top jobs? Brilliant women like Gail are bound to move on at some point.”
Sich’s comment was echoed by another female book trade insider, who said: “At that level, you have to hire based on who is absolutely best for the job, and I look around the next rung down and I don’t see women who’ve been brought up and mentored as future c.e.o.s. I could just be blind but I don’t think I am. So I start to wonder, why is this?”