Sometimes my students save me. I can get mired in my own thoughts and it really helps to be drawn out, to stop ruminating and start reflecting. This past week we had some really interesting conversations about the death of Osama bin Laden, the memorialization of traumatic events, and reparations. Then I saw on Facebook that Sarah Park posted the reading list for her course on Social Justice in Children’s/YA Literature. I’ve got so much reading to do! So this morning I woke up wanting to revisit the issue of equity in publishing. What would it look like? How can it be achieved? How do I, as an author, publish in a way that reflects my commitment to social justice?
Remember my cousin Bethany J. Osborne‘s fabulous explanation of the difference between equity and diversity?
Diversity is when you invite many different kinds of people to sit at your table. You look for difference in terms of age, race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, ethnicity, etc. But equity means addressing the fact that some people come to the table without a fork, some have two plates or none at all, some expect to be waited on, and some are more accustomed to doing the serving. Equity attempts to ensure that everyone can sit down to eat together on terms of equality.
When I look at the publishing industry today, I see an approach that mirrors the diversity efforts on many college campuses. Debbie Reese posted this useful article (“The Invisible Campus Color Line“) on Facebook a few weeks back and I shared it with my colleagues at work. There was some resistance, but at least half a dozen educators agreed that we’re missing the mark when it comes to institutional equity:
Initially, schools are enthusiastic, pledging their full commitment to ensuring their campuses are free of racial, religious, and gender bias. They willingly participate in surveys that measure students’ perceptions of cross-cultural relations on campus. They throw international dinners, sponsor diversity days, and spend weeks writing and refining diversity statements.
But when [EdChange founder Paul Gorski] begins to suggest the work that he believes really counts—reevaluating policies, reallocating budgets, and ultimately challenging the status quo—they stop returning his phone calls. They hire someone new, and they start again. Since student bodies turn over so quickly, it always looks as if the school is making an effort, even if they’re actually just treading water.
I think it’s safe to say that the publishing industry in the US is “just treading water” when it comes to diversity and equity. And as with college campuses, “Token efforts to ‘celebrate diversity’…often amount to little more than marketing stunts.” If the dominant group holds a huge banquet every year and after much petitioning finally invites three marginalized people to attend the banquet, that’s not equity. If they say, “We love spicy food! Why don’t you bring some of your delicious ethnic food for us to sample?” That’s not equity. Getting invited might make you feel special, but whatever you bring to the table won’t actually alter the power dynamics that determine who holds the banquet, determines the guest list, sets the menu, etc.
But what’s actually achieved by NOT showing up at the banquet, or choosing to hold your own private party someplace else? If you show up at the banquet and try to tell the attendees about themselves, you’ll be shunned and marginalized even further. If you show up, smile, and “go along to get along,” then you’re perpetuating the problem. You’re upholding—and ultimately affirming—the status quo. Is that the price marginalized folks have to pay to get their books out into the world?
As far as I can tell, the only comprehensive plan to reform the publishing industry comes from the UK group, DIPNET.
The aim of the UK Publishing Equalities Charter is to help promote equality and diversity across UK publishing and bookselling, by driving forward change and increasing access to opportunities within the industry…
For many years the industry has spoken collectively of the need to make publishing more diverse yet has not embarked on an industry wide initiative to resolve this issue. “What is widely suspected about publishing has proven true: the industry remains an overwhelmingly white profession…”
That’s true of the big houses and many small presses—even feminist and multicultural publishers. Amazon’s expanding its publishing program, but will it transform or mirror the “all-white world” of traditional publishing? Self-publishing is one option, but there are obvious limitations to going it alone. DIPNET offers these steps to achieving equity in the publishing industry—can you see US publishers signing up for this?
- Wherever possible try to recruit a representative mix of people according to your local demographics. For example 46% of England’s ethnic minority population live in London (source: LDA: ‘The Competitive Advantage of Diversity’, Oct 2005), this should be reflected in organisations based in London.
- Provide equality training for all staff on a yearly basis
- Set up a staff equalities working group ensuring a good representation of people in the organisation
- Create an equality policy that is embedded throughout the organisation in policy, strategy and working practice
- Monitor the impact of policies through conducting equality impact assessments
- Make all policies transparent by updating them and making them available to all staff (e.g. via the intranet)
- Provide equality training for senior managers and board members
- Make all job applicants complete an equality monitoring form which are monitored on a regular basis
- Take on a trainee from an underrepresented group by hosting a Positive Action Traineeship
- Increase recruitment pool by advertising jobs externally instead of informal recruitment methods (e.g. word of mouth)
- Develop staff from underrepresented groups by providing training and career development opportunities
- Develop a mentoring programme that supports new staff from traditionally underrepresented groups
- Develop a mentoring programme that supports staff from traditionally underrepresented groups at transitional career stages
- Hold an equality themed brown bag lunch for staff encouraging debate and dialogue amongst colleagues in an informal setting
- Attract and recruit more disabled people to your organisation
- Score all job applications on the core competencies required for the position to limit the use of informal recruitment methods
- Make your sites accessible to all your clients and customers by conducting regular accessibility assessments
- Include an equality statement within job advertisements
- Ensure that all shortlisted candidates are asked whether they require any ‘reasonable adjustments’ prior to interview to ensure equal opportunities
- Work towards achieving ‘Two ticks positive about disabled people’ accreditation which guarantees an interview to a candidate with a disability (as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005) and who match the requirements of the person specification
- Take part in careers events in order to raise the profile of the industry to traditionally underrepresented groups
- Run an equality themed seminar at a book fair
- Form a relationship with a local school and run workshops/talks to educate students about the industry
- Conduct regular surveys to identify satisfaction levels amongst staff
- Make available a cultural calendar for staff to raise awareness of cultural/religious dates throughout the year
- Hold a ‘Celebrating Equality’ day to enable staff the opportunity to find out more about their colleagues in an interactive manner
- Wherever possible ensure authentic representation of people from underrepresented groups (e.g. book cover designs, illustrations, marketing material etc.)
- Be involved in industry wide collaborations to increase equality in publishing
- Take part in yearly industry wide reporting through organisations such as Skillset
- Take on flexible working/condensed working hours to support those with caring responsibilities
- Bridge the gender gap by encouraging and training more women into management and senior management positions
- Bridge the ethnicity gap by encouraging and training more people from diverse ethnic groups into management and senior management positions
- Host an open day so that the general public can find out more about your organisation
- Encourage members of staff to be involved in seminars/workshops/talks that raise the profile of the industry to traditionally underrepresented groups
- Identify an Equalities champion on your board of trustees who can be responsible for monitoring action on equality
Last week a friend sent me this article about living an intellectual life outside of the academy; it’s a little pie-in-the-sky, but at least someone’s out there looking for alternatives. That’s what’s needed for the publishing industry…