Diversity in Publishing: Report from the SYP AGM 2015

LOGO-SYPTwo days after the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) AGM on Diversity in Publishing, I am still mulling.  As the thoughts coalesce, I can’t help but conclude that there are some fundamental problems in our industry barring diversity.

When we talk about diversity, it has so many definitions.  Seonaid Mcleod has been working with EQUIP (Equality in Publishing) at the PA, which defines it as diversity of sexuality, gender, economic circumstance, ethnicity, geography, education, pregnancy, maternity – the list goes on for a long time!  Indeed, it’s such a broad topic, I hardly know where to begin.

The ‘Diversity in Publishing’ debate panel for the SYP AGM 2015 was composed of Abigail Barclay, Managing Consultant at Inspired Selection; Seonaid Mcleod, PR Executive at the Publisher’s Association (PA); Kyle Cathie, from Kyle Books, and Suzanne Collier, owner of Book Careers.  Despite the irony of a panel composed of four caucasian women, the variety of their viewpoints on the industry gave an insightful overall perspective on the issues at stake.  The points raised cut the industry to its quick.

The truth of the matter is that diversity in Publishing is becoming less varied: in the 2008 bookcareers.com Salary Survey, 90% of respondents across the industry were classed as ‘White’.  In 2013, this figure rose to 93.7%.  This is not for lack of ethnically diverse applicants, as Collier pointed out, so why is it happening?

For a start, not recognising cultural expressions which are different to one’s own appears to be a serious block to diversification.  Collier has published a superb post on this over on bookcareers.com, so I won’t reiterate here.  Suffice to say it’s about time that, as an industry, we stopped hiring in our own likeness and thought more broadly about how the qualities we’re looking for might present themselves in unfamiliar ways from a diverse list of candidates.

An issue which was returned to again and again, and was echoed by all four panelists unanimously, was the issue of unpaid internships, as they prevent those from economically diverse backgrounds entering the industry in the first place.  If you can’t work for free in this industry, it is almost impossible to get employed, and that, clearly, is an enormous obstacle.  Moreover, once candidates are employed, they are paid an average entry-level wage of £17,700 per year in London.  The official living wage for London is £18,840.  Those of us who are starting out in Publishing are often subsidised or take on extra freelance work which is another economic block to anyone wishing to enter the industry.

The increasing educational demands put upon applicants for even entry-level jobs are another problem.  Most Publishing applicants have at least a BA, and normally an MA, but even those with postgraduate degrees in Publishing itself can have a really difficult time getting employed.    Collier has won awards for her contribution to the industry, but she says based on economics and education, she wouldn’t be able to get employed in Publishing today.  This isn’t just a problem in Publishing, it’s a problem across the board, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be taking responsibility for our part in this.

It was pointed out during question-time that a huge block to diversity in Publishing might be that we do not produce diverse content: why will people from ethnically, economically, culturally different backgrounds want to get into an industry where they do not see any reflection of themselves?  Why become involved in a movement which doesn’t represent you?  It’s a chicken and egg scenario, but it is something we can work on from within the industry.

There are many reasons why Publishing is suffering a lack of diversity, and I can’t pretend I’m going to cover them all here, not even close, but the discussion needs to be opened.  We are an industry dangerously on the verge of elitism, snobbism and prejudice.  As far as we might have come, we have the same distance to go: if we don’t become diverse, we will become obsolete.  As Mcleod said, the time for talking is over, we have to act on this and act on it now.  Not just lip-service in legal jargon on some far-flung page of a website, we need to become actively, enthusiastically, vigorously diverse.  In order to do this, and despite the flood of applicants for every job going in Publishing, we need to start treating the people entering into the business with more kindness and open-mindedness.  So, if you want to help, here are some good places to start:

Pay your interns.  
Pay your entry-level employees fairly.  
Appreciate that differences in expression don’t mean differences in skill, enthusiasm or character.
Get creative and diversify your content.

I haven’t even begun to get into the nitty gritty of gender diversity in Publishing, or the places where we’re doing well in terms of diversity – and there are bits of this, I think.  But I hope this has got you thinking, and with any luck talking, about diversity, because talking is the first step to changing.

To close, I just want to say that I’m really proud to be on this year’s SYP committee as one of the Editors for InPrint magazine.  I think last night’s panel really showed that we can help bring about positive change in publishing and that we’re not afraid to open the doors to those opportunities.  Thanks to Helen J Youngs for her lovely handover speech as 2014’s chair and welcome Anna Cunnane as this year’s Chair.  If you’re interested in joining the SYP, do check out their website.  They’re a really great bunch of people.

For more blog posts on this topic, check out Suzanne Collier’s comments over on bookcareers.com and Helen J Youngs’ post for Inspired Selection.