The last decade has seen a number of industries brought to task on issues of sexual discrimination and systemic inequity, and publishing is no exception. Following the 2016 tidal wave of sexual harassment allegations levelled against a number of Hollywood heavyweights, the publishing industry was also forced to reckon with a deeply engrained culture of sexual harassment and discrimination. Then, following the murder of George Floyd in the spring of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement encouraged calls for equity, diversity, and inclusion across many industries, including publishing. While much of this activism has originated on social media, using hashtags like #MeToo, #ImWithHer, and #PublishingPaidMe among others, these calls for equity in publishing have reverberated throughout the industry, drawing attention to the gender and racial inequity rife within the trade.
women in publishing.
These are not new conversations in publishing. In fact, a London-based advocacy group formed in 1989 called Women in Publishing had the express purpose of lobbying for gender parity in the industry. Their first report, titled “Twice as Many, Half as Powerful” outlined their grievances—it drew attention to the glass ceiling that women in the industry faced, as well as a considerable pay gap, while also highlighting the fact that women significantly outnumbered men in the industry. As one member, Claire Baker put it, “there were so many women in publishing, why weren’t we running the industry?”
While historic initiatives such as Women in Publishing have done important work advocating for gender parity, many of these movements have largely been comprised of, and therefore focused on improving the status of, white, straight, able-bodied, cis women in the industry. Questioning the underrepresentation of women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, and women from other traditionally marginalized communities was not part of their mission statement, nor was finding ways to ensure that marginalized women in the industry were able to succeed. It would be unfair to say that this was the case for all of the feminist activism that took place in the mid–late 20th century, however dominant feminist ideologies of the era were notoriously exclusive. As a result, mainstream feminist organizing lacked an intersectional perspective. In publishing specifically, it would be some time before the industry at large began to reckon with its profound lack of equity and diversity. The Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Surveys, launched in 2015, are the first to quantify this problem at scale, though the data gathered by these surveys speak only to North American publishing.
equity in canadian publishing
The book publishing industry has been grappling with the issue of gender discrimination for decades, however, Canadian publishing has yet to evaluate our domestic industry comprehensively, or to formulate a collective action plan for righting these wrongs. Furthermore, publishing at large as well as here in Canada has failed to acknowledge that gender and racial discrimination, as well as ableism and other forms of discrimination in the industry are all essentially forms of systemic inequity in our workplaces. As such, the first and foremost goal of this report was to explore gender inequity in the industry from a Canadian perspective, situated in a global context. To accomplish this, the report took an in-depth look at gender-based inequity in the industry, before moving on to a discussion of broader issues of inclusvity in publishing. To the extent that it was possible, I approached this work with an intersectional orientation, though I was hindered in essential ways by both the data available, and my position as a white, cis, heterosexual,
This report examined three principal domains of gender inequity that are features of the Anglophone book publishing industry in Canada as well as globally: sexual harassment, circumscribed advancement, and the wage gap.
Sexual harassment is a significant problem in Canadian publishing. In fact, the data that we have suggests that rates of sexual harassment in Canadian publishing are more than 10 times higher than workplace sexual harassment elsewhere in Canadian society. These figures are in line with both the American and British book publishing industries. There are a number of theories to explain why sexual harassment is so prevalent in the publishing world, including the social nature of the industry, the competitive and exploitative nature of creative work, and the patriarchal structure of the industry. Together, these factors create a working environment where women are not only vulnerable to sexual harassment, but also where sexual harassment is likely to go unchecked.
In addition to dealing with the daily noise of sexual harassment, women also to tend to over-index in the industry but are underrepresented at the executive level, in Canada and elsewhere globally. This can be understood as a consequence of both the industry’s old boys’ networks and the social nature of the industry, which according to recent studies may disproportionately benefit men. Women also may be underrepresented at the executive level because they tend to have shorter careers in publishing than their male counterparts, which points to the urgency of the work that this report has undertaken—if women are being driven from the industry prematurely, then we must take steps to understand why that is the case. Exploring factors that may contribute to a hostile or unrewarding work environment for women is, by all accounts, a reasonable place to start.
the wage gap.
Wage inequity is another significant problem in the publishing world. In Canada, we don’t currently have very robust data to quantify the wage gap between men and women in publishing, but the data that we do have—coupled with what we know from the American and British book publishing industries—is cause for concern. Beyond that, however, the lack of consistent, comparable, and transparent data both between countries, and also within countries between the publishing industry and the workforce in general makes it almost impossible to discern the magnitude of the wage gap or how it may be changing over time. Nevertheless, an entrenched culture of overwork may be a major contributing factor to the gender wage gap in publishing, as research has shown that men tend to consistently out-earn women in industries where overworking is the norm.
homogeneity in the workforce.
The issue of inequity in the book publishing industry extends far beyond a lack of parity between men and women. In order to capture the scope of inequity as it applies to all women, it’s important to consider various intersections of discrimination that are at play in publishing. There are numerous, multiply oppressive structural aspects of the industry such as financial and physical inaccessibility, a lack of community, and a scarcity of suitable mentors and advocates. In Canada specifically, the industry was built to respond to and support the dominant culture, which has played out historically in aggressive assimilation campaigns. In the present day, this legacy manifests in the economies of scale at the heart of the industry, which marginalize those outside of the dominant culture. The resultant inequities are not only unethical, but they also fundamentally weaken the industry. In order for our industry to be as strong, as productive, and as resilient as possible, we must radically reimagine how our industry functions—it’s imperative that we reframe diversity as an asset and find ways to make our industry more inclusive.
recent changes in the publishing industry.
While the publishing industry is notoriously slow to change, there have been some recent systemic shifts in the industry that have implications for the status of women and other marginalized communities in publishing. The industry’s penchant for consolidation is a perennial force against pro-equity efforts in the industry—fewer executive positions often mean that women and people from other marginalized groups are less likely to be promoted. That being said, the effects of recently-instituted compulsory wage gap reporting in the UK suggest that corporate consolidation doesn’t necessarily have to spell disaster in terms of equity and diversity. Outside of corporate publishing, a burgeoning movement of independent publishers are finding innovative ways to pursue mission-driven publishing mandates that are less encumbered by the economies of scale that typically circumscribe equity
In Canada, funding bodies have taken an official stance against sexual harassment and have developed resources to promote safe and respectful workplaces. It remains to be seen what the material effects of these efforts will be, but it is a step in the right direction nonetheless.
While the institution of the publishing industry may be slow to change, there have been extensive grassroots movements calling for increased equity and diversity in publishing that have gained significant momentum in online spaces over the last few years. The proliferation of awareness and resulting calls to action point toward a hopeful future for the publishing industry.
a call for better data
This report was limited in fundamental ways by the data available on the publishing industry globally and in Canada. In many cases, the data that I analyzed and discussed was gathered via surveys administered by trade publications such as Publishers Weekly and Quill & Quire. While these surveys provide an extremely valuable look into the industry, they do not form a complete picture. These surveys often had very small sample sizes and, concerning issues such as sexual harassment, there is a significant likelihood of a self-selected respondent base, which may have distorted the data. In order to properly address the systemic inequity within Canadian publishing, we need to have an accurate idea of what we are facing, which is only possible with robust data.
In addition to a general lack of data, there is also a grievous lack of intersectional data available in the publishing industry. We know that there is an entrenched culture of discrimination against women, and we know that women of colour, LGBTQ+ folks, and people living with disabilities are underrepresented in the industry, but we don’t really know how these intersecting forms of inequity manifest in the publishing industry. Until we understand how multiple forms of oppression converge in the trade, it will be difficult to determine the best way forward. There is a lot of learning that still needs to be done, a lot of conversations that need to happen, and a lot of voices that need to be heard. I hope that my report will spur this work on.
In the background of this report coming together, the world has faced a calamity of previously unimaginable consequences. covid-19 has forced many industries to quickly adapt and evolve, and the sheltering in place directives that people have had to adopt will likely change the way our society functions for years into the future. Given that our trade already typically functions in a state of relative economic precarity, it’s likely that an economic downturn resulting from the pandemic will hit the publishing industry particularly hard. While there will be temptation for publishing houses to batten the hatches, so to speak, and revert to inequitable, conservative business practices, perhaps this crisis will also provide an opportunity for renewal and reinvigoration in the industry. If there is a silver lining, perhaps it is that this period of change may rid us of our rigid conceptions of how our industry functions. Given that we have already changed so many aspects of how we live our lives, perhaps we can also reimagine ways for our industry to be safer, more equitable, more inclusive, more diverse, and stronger.
- “Clare Baker discusses the glass ceiling and ‘Twice and Many, Half as Powerful’” Women in Publishing: An Oral History. Accessed October 21, 2020.