More transparency around career paths would help a wider range of people access roles in the industry, panelists at the Building Inclusivity in Publishing conference said yesterday (13th November).
Sharmaine Lovegrove, publisher at Little, Brown imprint Dialogue Books, said that career paths in the industry are "really opaque" and this affects the ability for people to gain roles in the industry. Emma Paterson, agent at Rogers Coleridge and White, agreed, emphasising that the industry needs to "build greater transparency" around the different roles in the industry to make people aware that there are other departments other than editorial.
“I had no idea what a literary agent was until I was 25", said Paterson. "There are so many parts of the life of a book, what we need to do is build greater transparency around those different roles. That requires genuine proactive energy on our part.”
Both Paterson and Lovegrove also spoke of the difficulty of accessing the industry with both saying they were not able to get to interview stages for jobs when they first started in their careers.
Lovegrove added that editors and publishers need to make sure they are actively engaging with readers and more diverse talent by getting out to bookshops and also looking at smaller creative writing courses.
"Since becoming a publisher it struck me now how far away I am from readers and how challenging that is for me on a day to day basis. As editors we need to carve out more time of visiting and seeing people in different places. There are over 3,000 creative writing courses - only getting people from UEA or Faber is just incredible. Imagine in post-Brexit Britain, if we were to have voices that told us what these parts of the country were like - would we have even had the same vote? We need to break down the barriers constructed by the metropolitan liberal elite. One thing is not to necessarily be in London."
She added that independent publishers are "incredible" and are already engaging with the voices corporate publishers are neglecting. "Bigger publishers in London cannot ever forget the work the small publishers are doing - it’s all there; what they need is routes to the bookshops. if you take away issues caused by distribution, they’re finding these voices."
Meanwhile, crime writer and accountant Abir Mukherjee highlighted that the finance world was “streets ahead” of the publishing industry in terms of diversity.
“Most of the publishing meetings have been so white reminded me of the time I got lost in Inverness", said Mukherjee. "I’ve spent last 20 years working in the city and I've met more than my fair share of sociopaths. It's not got the greatest ethical reputation and yet, if you walk into the city you’ll find, blacks, Asians, disabled people, women and almost every level. Does that mean [the publishing industry is] more racist than us? Can you learn from finance?"
He added: “As an industry we are streets ahead of you. why are we sitting here in 2017 having in this discussion when we should have had it 1997 or 1987. You're a very cosy industry, you’ve never had the need to change - up till now."
“If you were just catering to the white British market, that would be one thing but you’re not… you’re catering to white middle class. We're living in a country where there’s intense alienation not just of ethnic minorities but white working class. Your job as an industry to make sure that those voices are heard in the same way as middle class, middle engaged voices have had.”
Mukherjee also criticized the ever-present existence of unpaid internships in the industry: “In finance it has been acknowledged that if you want talent and need to pay for it. Paying for talent isn’t an expense, it’s an investment - you have to make that investment if industry is to thrive and flourish”.
Giving the keynote speech, Matt Hancock, culture and digital minister, argued that statutory targets for improving diversity and inclusion are "patronising" and "too easy".
Hancock said such statutory targets were: "in a way... too easy [and] the groups targeted for improvement often find them patronising." But instead of quotas, metrics which measure a company's employee make-up are necessary in comparing inequalities in industries, he said.
The conference, organised by the London Book Fair and the Publishers Association, took place at Coin Street Conference centre in London and also featured sessions with broadcaster and author June Sarpong and HarperCollins' general counsel and company secretary Simon Dowson-Collins, among others.
Sarpong said: “I don’t think the issue [of diversity] lies with the audience – the British public - the issue lies with gatekeepers, who are very isolated in their circles and put their thinking on the audience. There’s a huge amount of cash to be made when you look at economic power of underrepresented groups. [The industry needs] to hire diversely. Then there will be people in your company who represent these groups and know how to speak authentically… the sea of homogenous faces has to change."
Meanwhile, Dowson-Collins spoke of the importance of people seeing themselves represented in the publishing industry: “For the publishing industry - and any industry - it is for people to see if that person is up there and they are a person of colour then I too can have a successful career in this industry - mirroring is very important.”