Help increase diversity in books by asking publishers to be transparent about staff diversity.
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Publishing suffers from a major diversity problem. Statistics show that the vast majority of books published are by white authors and about white characters. Part of the problem is that the majority of the staff behind the scenes, including publishers’ employees and reviewers, is also white. When almost all of the gatekeepers and decision-makers are white, it is no wonder that on average only 10% of children’s books published each year are by or about people of color.
For decades there has been overwhelming agreement in the industry that there should be more diversity at all levels in the book world, but the problem never seems to go away. Where do we even start?
Our goal with the Diversity Baseline Survey is to start by establishing a baseline that shows where we are now so we can take concrete steps to address the problem.
Our survey asks publishers to gather statistics on their staff in four major categories:
3) Sexual Orientation
The goal is to have all major review journals and publishers—from small, to mid-size, to large—participate in this project. If we are serious about trying to address the lack of diversity in the publishing world, this is the very first step we need to take. Sharing our numbers as an industry will not only clue us in to important patterns that we may be missing, it will also show that we are committed to change.
There is precedence for a survey like this from the tech industry as well as from the publishing industry in the United Kingdom. Both industries ran surveys as recently as 2014. Even large publishing houses, such as Hachette UK, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House UK, were among the publishers who participated in the British survey. Hopefully, this is a good sign that these companies might extend their participation to the US version of the survey.
In the past, publishers have usually put the responsibility on readers for the lack of diverse representation in books. The extremely dated adage that “diverse books do not sell” has become a belief that has reached mythical proportions. While it’s important for readers to support diverse books with their dollars and voices, it’s equally important for publishers to self-reflect on how they can do better on their end. We must acknowledge that one factor contributing to the lack of diverse books is the lack of diversity among the people who edit, market, review, and sell the books.
The goal of getting publishers to participate in the Diversity Baseline survey is not to point fingers or assign blame (especially since most media industries face similar problems) but to bring clarity to the problem so we can understand it better, attempt to correct it, and measure whether or not we are improving. Ultimately, an increase in diverse books is directly tied to an increase in diverse publishing staff.
Many publishers have said that they support We Need Diverse Books and the movement for more diversity in children’s books, but words are not the same as action.
So far, 14 publishers and 5 review journals have committed to participating in the Diversity Baseline survey. But many more are still on the fence. Join us in asking our fellow publishers to participate so that we can work together to put in place sustainable programs that will increase diversity among publishing staffs in the long-term. Together, we can create a more inclusive book publishing industry.
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