Change is not happening fast enough when it comes to addressing the lack of diversity in children’s publishing, publishers have said, while welcoming the recent Arts Council England (ACE) report exploring how to promote black and minority ethnic representation.
The report, commissioned by ACE and produced by Sheffield Hallam University, was published last week, with the arts body acknowledging the pervasiveness of unconscious bias within the children’s sector and stressing the importance of collaboration across the sector to help tackle it.
Aimée Felone of inclusive children's publisher Knights Of said she agreed with ACE that widespread commitment was needed to combat racism and support BME colleagues but that the time for evidence gathering is over.
“ACE has provided further evidence to what we as an industry know, that publishing has and continues to be a space where institutional racism prevails,” said Felone. “Change is coming, albeit far too slowly for the community we are serving, but the landscape of publishing has to change in order to even begin to address its deep rooted issues. We hope this is the last report we need. We don’t need more evidence, we need widespread commitment to support colleagues at all levels.”
Penguin Random House UK over the summer reported “good progress” in reducing its barriers to entry while working towards its pledge that new joiners and the books it acquires “will reflect UK society” by 2025. Responding to ACE’s report, the company said there is “much further to go yet” with change needing to come “from the inside out”.
“As a company we’re already exploring many ways in which we can make our authors and our industry more representative, and we’re pleased to see in the report that some interviewees mentioned the work we’ve been doing in this area. But we know that there is much further to go, particularly in children’s publishing,” said a PRH UK spokesperson. “This report shines a spotlight on some of the most important areas for change. In order to publish the best, most inspiring books for all children – giving each child the opportunity to find stories and characters which truly speak to them and their experiences – we need to drive change from the inside out. We want to do this in a meaningful, long-lasting way, and this report has given our Children’s inclusivity group even more food for thought as we look to achieve this goal.”
Hachette UK, whose Changing the Story diversity and inclusion group has rapidly expanded over the past few years, is one of a handful of publishers to publish an Ethnicity Pay Gap report, the results of which earlier this year renewed its focus on “upping the numbers” of BAME staff it employs.
Speaking on behalf of its children’s segment – which on Wednesday (13th November) announced it is establishing a base in Manchester to broaden the regional diversity of the creators on its list – Hilary Murray Hill, c.e.o. Hachette Children’s Group, welcomed the publication of ACE’s report and its emphasis on collaboration across the sector to effect change.
“We welcome all useful research into diversity and inclusivity, and I think we should define both those terms as broadly as possible,” said Murray Hill. “Most of the large children’s publishers, including HCG, have initiatives to recruit, retain and develop a diverse and inclusive workforce and to acquire and work with contributors from increasingly diverse sources, but to realise those ambitions, the support of every stakeholder in children’s literacy is critical. It’s only by working together on all fronts we will see a significant shift in the breadth of representation in children’s books and publishing.”
Perminder Mann, c.e.o. for Bonnier Books UK, agreed more inclusive recruitment was key and agreed with ACE that the sector should work together more to help accelerate the pace of change. She also said, although progress can "often feel frustrating slow", the industry should be encouraged by the authentic role models coming through.
"At Bonnier Books UK, we believe that to publish inclusively we must recruit inclusively," said Mann. "In 2018 we launched an anonymous recruitment policy and we recruit our interns through Creative Access. As the child of first-generation immigrant parents, from the Punjab in India, I understand what it feels like to be stereotyped and so I’m personally committed to building a culture that normalises diversity and values the individual and their potential above all else. To sustain this culture, we introduced flexible working hours for everyone in 2017 and next year will launch a new mentoring scheme to ensure that opportunity to progress and succeed is open to everyone.
"As a child I never saw myself in the books that I loved – and while progress can often feel frustrating slow – today, children’s eyes are opening up to a growing number of wonderfully talented, authentic role models, including Ade Adepitan, Konnie Huq, Elizabeth Acevedo and Yasmin Rahman to name but a few, and as an industry we should take encouragement in that ...
"I think we’d also all agree with ACE’s recommendation that we collaborate more as an industry – there’s no panacea for the challenges we face and sharing our learnings will help us to accelerate the pace of change."
In addition to the findings of the ACE report, Mann said she believed the closure of public and school libraries posed "a very real threat to the diversity of our industry", making publisher outreach even more vital.
"I didn’t own a book of my own until I was 21 and, if it wasn’t for my local community library, I don’t know if I would be where I am today," explained Mann. "As a result of these closures, publisher outreach is becoming more important.
"We are proud to be working with the National Literacy Trust on their brilliant ‘Words for Work’ programme and it’s fantastic to see publishers strengthen their commitment in this area, including HarperCollins’ brilliant Free Books for Schools initiative."
Rachel Denwood, managing director at S&S Children’s UK, said there was good work being done in this area but it is up to the industry to “pick up the pace”. For its part, Denwood said S&S UK has “a number of initiatives” in the pipeline.
‘We welcome the ACE Time for Change report and heed its findings – at Simon & Schuster we will be announcing a number of initiatives to increase the diversity of our workforce and our publishing in 2020 and beyond,” said Denwood. “We have done good work in this area, and are actively involved in initiatives such as the hugely important Pathways scheme, but we need to pick up the pace along with the rest of the industry.”
Karen Lotz, Walker Books’ group managing director, president and publisher, applauded the work of the researchers and contributors who created the report, adding it too would be taking its findings on board.
“We will certainly consider its findings in our own efforts to provide nothing less than a safe, inclusive, and supportive environment for all staff, in our ongoing commitment to the values of diversity and representation in recruitment and staff development, and by including these values as markers of high quality in the books that we publish,” she said.
Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said: "We welcome this new research from Sheffield Hallam University and Arts Council England, which alongside other research from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), BookTrust and others is helpful in better understanding the factors that lead to underrepresentation and actions that can be taken.
"It is positive to see interviews from agents, librarians, booksellers and others in the wider books sector included in this report, as all have a key part to play in driving change."