Penguin Random House has published an “accelerated inclusion plan”, including a commitment on "radical and urgent action" to make its senior leadership teams representative of UK society.
A series of targets and policies includes making hires and acquisitions representative of society by 2023, publishing ethnicity pay gap reports, rolling out mandatory inclusivity training for all employees and reviewing author advances and marketing spend.
The plan builds on a 2016 strategy and fresh commitment c.e.o. Tom Weldon made in June—after an open letter by the Black Writers' Guild called for changes in the industry—where he admitted change was “not happening fast enough” and the company had to address the issue “with urgency and intent”.
Over the past few weeks, the publisher has held a series of meetings where staff could share their feedback and ideas. Alongside meetings of its inclusivity working group and feedback via its intranet, PRH came up with 100 different recommendations. External specialist help has also been sought, the publisher said.
In an introduction to the new plan, Weldon wrote: “In 2016 we committed to an ambition for both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025. Our commitment was that through our inclusivity strategy we would aim for a positive shift towards that goal every year through to 2025. While we have made some progress, the events of the past weeks have thrown into sharp relief that we have not addressed the core issues that exist within our company and, more broadly, across the publishing industry, and that the pace of change has not been fast enough.
“As a publisher, we believe in the power of words but now is the time for commitment and urgent action and to reassess the goals we set ourselves.”
He said representation had to cover everything from appointments and authors to “who we partner with, how we behave and how we use our brand and influence to drive meaningful and long-lasting change”.
The publisher said the changes would still take time to get right and it would look to partner with groups such ase the Black Writers' Guild, whose open letter last month made a series of demands. Each division will also be tasked with drawing up its own action plan to complement the overall company strategy, with measurable goals to be reviewed annually. Every employee will also have an annual personal objective related to inclusivity, starting from 2021.
One major stated goal is for the company's senior leadership teams to be representative of UK society, based on the 2021 census, although no specific action has yet been revealed to achieve this. It is understood the aim applies to a swathe of senior people across the company who have influence and decision-making authority rather than simply a Macmillan US-style overhaul at the very top.
“We recognise this will require radical and urgent action and that we need external expertise to put interventions in place that are right for our business,” Weldon said. “We will begin this work immediately and share more later this year.”
Another key aim is for new hires and acquisitions to be, at a minimum, reflective of the UK's different ethnicities by 2023. At least 5% of acquisitions should come from black writers.
According to the statistics in the report, 21.6% of new hires in 2018 were of BAME backgrounds, compared to 14% of the population. However, just 10% of those in its publishing divisions identified as BAME compared to 16% in group functions. There was also a stark drop-off at senior levels. At entry level, 16% of employees were BAME, but just 8% were managers, 5% senior managers and there were none at all at the leadership team level.
As for the books themselves, based on data from 40% of authors completing an inclusivity questionnaire, acquisitions from BAME authors increased from 16% in 2018 to 23.8% in 2019.
In November this year, PRH will publish an ethnicity pay gap report and action plan – something Hachette became the first UK publisher to do last year and again this week. There will also be an annual review of author advances and an audit of marketing and publicity spend to identify and racial inequalities.
External experts will design training for marketing, publicity and design teams, with the goal of building expertise in reaching and engaging diverse audiences, beginning with black audiences.
As part of the PRH plan, mandatory inclusivity training will be rolled out by the end of 2020. The company will pilot a pilot a new senior editorial positive action traineeship in 2021, open to black people and people of colour at commissioning editor level.
PRH has also said it will make a financial contribution to the Black Writers' Guild, share expertise with the group and work with it “to determine how to build stronger platforms for black writers and to reach more black readers”.
More immediate commitments include having at least one under-represented candidate on all interview shortlists where possible, inclusive hiring training for recruiting managers and an extension of its entry-level positive action traineeship into departments such as marketing, publicity and design.
Salary bands will be included in all job adverts from January 2021 and, this month, the company will ask for colleagues to disclose their demographic data as part of an analysis of progress, retention and pay equity.
Weldon said: “This isn’t just about doing the right thing. We are a commercial and creative business. A business that is built on connecting stories and ideas with audiences all over the world. For us, more diverse publishing is not just a moral imperative but makes good business sense too, enabling us to reach the widest and most diverse readership."
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