To say that publishing has a diversity problem is a gross understatement. According to the 2019 Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Study, which surveyed over 3,500 publishing professionals from across North America, the average person working in the industry is a non-disabled (89%), straight (81%), white (76%), cis woman (74%).Similar numbers were reported by the ACP’s 2018 Book Publishing Diversity Baseline Survey, which had 372 respondents from across Canada. Furthermore, according to the 2020 report, “Getting in and Getting On,” produced by the UK’s Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre, as many as 86% of publishing professionals are from middle- or upper-class backgrounds. Recall the second chapter of this report, which explored the legacy of publishing as a gentleman’s profession. In many ways, these systems of exclusivity laid the groundwork for the industry as we know it today, which is why, while it may seem antithetical to the mandate of publishing—as a cultural, creative industry—to foster these sorts of homogenous environments, in truth the industry is rife with structural inequities that circumscribe the advancement of folks who belong to historically disenfranchised groups.
While it is impossible in a report of this length to properly and fully address publishing’s lack of diversity, it warrants discussion nonetheless. Many of the same systems that this report has examined, those that oppress women in the industry, are replicated and magnified in ways that also make publishing a hostile environment for people belonging to other marginalized groups. Furthermore, women whose identity exists at the intersection of two or more of these marginalized groups are likely subject to particular forms of discrimination that they would otherwise not be vulnerable to.
intersectionality: a primer
A theory for understanding the ways in which multiple kinds of discrimination form matrices of inequity was first proposed by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 as a way of understanding how Black women at an automotive factory were discriminated against. Crenshaw, a lawyer, civil rights advocate, and critical race theorist, argued that the factory hired white women and Black men to satisfy affirmative action policies directed at women and Black people, while continuing to discriminate against Black women specifically. The identity of these Black women existed at the intersection of multiple streams of disenfranchisement, namely sexism and racism, which created a new, unique form of discrimination against Black women.Appropriately, Crenshaw coined the term Intersectionality to theorize this effect, which has since become the standard theoretical framework for discussing oppression and discrimination in a nuanced and inclusive way. As such, this chapter will explore discrimination in the publishing industry with an intersectional lens, and will draw attention to the structural causes of systemic inequity present in the industry that are multiply oppressive.
a racist legacy
Any critical discussion of the publishing industry—especially as it relates to systems of oppression and disenfranchisement—must begin with an acknowledgement of the industry’s colonial and racist roots. Before we can talk about how the industry functions today, we must first acknowledge that publishing has been weaponized since its very inception to empower select groups by disempowering and enacting violence upon other groups.In this context, it becomes clear that the problems that we today conceive of as a lack of diversity are actually remnants of publishing’s deeply racist origins. In essence: this is not a temporary or passing imbalance in the industry, but actually a deeply endemic feature of publishing as a tool of the oppressor.
the legacies of colonialism in publishing.
In Canada, book publishing as an organized practice began in earnest in the mid-late 19th century, and was formally institutionalized in the early 20th century with the establishment of Ryerson Press.Ryerson supplied textbooks to the newly established school system in pre-Confederation Canada, with the explicit goal of creating a unified populace in the newly settled British North America. In effect, this meant promoting a “common set of values, dominated by British interests, among English, Scottish, and Irish immigrants,” pushing back against American influence from the south, and assimilating Indigenous children into settler culture. Indeed, book publishing was an important implement in the colonizer’s toolbelt. In fact it was Egerton Ryerson who, in his secondary career as Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada, laid the early groundwork for the residential school system in Canada, which has become notorious for its heinous abuse of Indigenous children.
The details vary, but a similar scenario has played out whenever a country has been colonized, which brings to light an essential aspect of book publishing throughout history: that it has often been a tool of the dominant culture, and a mouthpiece for the oppressor. As John Maxwell explains in his article “Thinking about the Legacies of Colonialism in Publishing,” in Canada, once the orienting logic behind the publishing industry moved on from nation-building, the industry centered itself around class distinction and social mobility. Because social mobility is inherently linked to cultural hierarchies and social norms, oppression is, in many ways, baked into the central logic of the publishing industry. In Maxwell’s words, “by its very nature, publishing is trading in distinction … it always risks participating in and trading on the forms of oppression that are shot through the social order of the day.”As was discussed earlier in this report, this dynamic forms the basis of, and indeed reinforces, the economies of scale and the logic of the bestseller that underlie the publishing trade. With this is mind, it is hardly surprising that modern publishing has a “diversity” problem—it was never intended to be inclusive or to meet the needs of the disenfranchised.
publishing today: structures of inequity
While a historical view may explain the deeply engrained monoculture at the heart of publishing, there are features of the modern industry that exacerbate the situation and perpetuate inequity, including low pay and unpaid internships, a lack of physical accessibility, and a scarcity of mentors and community. In addition to the ethical failing of these features of the industry, which continue to marginalize those who aren’t white, wealthy, able-bodied, cis, and straight, fostering such a homogenous workforce is also a vital structural weakness in the industry. Indeed, aside from the ethical imperative for equity, publishing’s lack of diversity is also a functional deficiency. If publishing were able to reimagine itself as an inclusive industry—to shift from viewing diversity as a liability to viewing it as an asset— it would benefit not only the people working in the industry, but also readers and even society at large.
Perhaps one of the most significant systemic features of the publishing industry which contributes to institutionalized inequity is the culture of unpaid internships and low wages. Unpaid internships were, for a long time, the unchecked standard avenue by which a person would enter the industry.Over the course of the last decade or so, however, the practice of employing unpaid interns has come under heavy criticism because, in addition to being unethical, it also presents an extremely high barrier to entry into the profession—effectively limiting a career in publishing to those who are able to survive without an income. While the public outcry against unpaid internships has been productive and many publishers, including Penguin Random House and HarperCollins now offer paid internships, the editorial internship at Canada’s own Quill & Quire is still unpaid as of 2020, proof that the publishing industry is slow to change.
In addition to unpaid internships making a career in publishing inaccessible to many, the industry’s low wages also threaten the viability of a publishing career for those without accumulated or generational wealth. In 2019 Wendy Lu, writing for Bustle, spoke with ten women of colour working in book publishing about the effect that their race has had on their publishing career. All of the women cited the industry’s low wages as a significant barrier to entry. As one woman explained, the industry tends to be staffed “by people who can actually afford the low salaries.”Another respondent explained how communities of colour are significantly less likely to have accumulated the type of generational wealth that could subsidize a career in publishing. Yet another respondent took a $20,000 pay cut to change careers from teaching to working as an editorial assistant. Even while acknowledging that this was an entry-level wage, she expressed concern for the long-term sustainability of such a significantly lower income.
Low wage was also cited as a significant issue in a 2020 New York Times article titled, “‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing.” Ebony LaDelle, Associate Director of Marketing for HarperCollins explained how she had to work two jobs until she became a manager to make ends meet, while many of her white colleagues were living in apartments purchased for them by their parents.To make matters worse, the English-language book publishing industry tends to cluster in urban cultural centers—New York in the U.S., London in the UK, and Toronto in Canada. Each of these cities are among the most expensive cities in their respective countries, which further compounds the financial inaccessibility of a career in publishing.
As this report explored in the previous chapter, there is a significant wage gap in favour of men in the publishing industry—roughly 25%, according to Publisher’s Weekly.Furthermore, women of colour, disabled women, and LGBTQ+ folks are likely earning even less than their white, non-disabled, straight, cis counterparts. While we don’t have data to quantify these wage gaps in the publishing industry specifically, it is a well-established fact of the working world in general that each of these groups experience magnified pay inequity. According to Statistics Canada, the wage gap for Indigenous women is 35%, and 33% for all racialized women (compared to white men), and the wage gap for disabled women is 46% (compared to non-disabled men). It is also well-established that LGBTQ+ and gender nonconforming people experience significant socioeconomic hardship. Altogether, these factors make a career in publishing not only financially inaccessible, but also likely unsustainable for women who belong to one or more of these economically disadvantaged communities.
In addition to financial inaccessibility, the publishing industry is also physically inaccessible for many people as a result of both the cities where the industry is based, and the structure of work within the industry. As Alaina Leary argues in Publishers Weekly, New York City, the hub of American publishing, is notoriously inaccessible—in fact, only one in five subway stations are wheelchair accessible.Toronto (the center of Canadian publishing) appears to be slightly better for people using wheelchairs and other mobility aids, but as journalist Aaron Broverman reported in 2019, only about half of Toronto’s subway stations are accessible by wheelchair or scooter. In addition to inaccessible public transit, New York and Toronto also have brutal winters in common, which make travelling with a mobility aid cumbersome and dangerous for many months of the year.
The inaccessibility of publishing’s hallowed cities, both financially and physically, would be less of a barrier if the industry was more willing to accommodate remote workers. In “Publishing Needs to Face Its Ableism Problem,” Alaina Leary argues that even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw many industries rapidly evolving to accommodate remote work, only two of 166 recent job postings for positions in Big Five publishing houses were open to remote candidates.
To illustrate the impact that remote-friendly work has on disability representation, Leary highlights areas of the industry that are traditionally supported by freelance (i.e. remote) work. In book reviewing, for instance, the 2019 Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Survey 2.0 found that 19% of workers identified as having a disability, vs. other areas of the industry where roughly 10% of the workforce identified as disabled.As Leary contends, more than 400,000 people with disabilities in the United States work from home—if publishing allowed for more remote work, the industry would have a much bigger talent pool to draw from.
According to Quill & Quire’s 2020 Workplace Survey (172 respondents), almost 78% of respondents were able to work from home,however, according to the ACP’s 2018 Diversity Baseline Report, only 34% of workplaces reported having accessibility policies in place (reported by 66 heads of firm).32 It’s likely that the Quill & Quire survey captured freelance/contract workers as well as salaried employees, which may explain the discrepancy in the data. Regardless, given the inconsistency of the data and the relatively small sample sizes, it’s difficult to quantify the extent to which Canadian publishers are willing to accommodate remote working arrangements. Nonetheless, physical accessibility remains a very real barrier for people with disabilities, and accommodating remote work is essential to fostering workplaces that are inclusive.
scarcity of mentors.
A third aspect of today’s publishing industry that makes it difficult for people in marginalized communities to succeed is a scarcity of suitable mentors. In many ways, this can be understood as a consequence of financial and physical inaccessibility in addition to the ingrained institutional biases of the industry. In “The Major Built-In Bias of the Publishing World,” Jennifer Baker illustrates how the incredibly scarce representation of minorities in the publishing world is a problem that comes full-circle: “The numbers reflected for Black people also substantiate the feeling of ‘not being wanted’ and illuminate the issues of retention for those who’ve left, and the potential limitations of mentorship for those who remain.”
When Publishers Weekly profiled the “Next Black Publishing Generation” in 2018, the importance of mentors was a central theme. A number of people interviewed spoke about how important mentors have been to their careers—helping them to find and secure employment, stay motivated, and imagine their futures in the industry.A similar article in Bustle also highlighted the importance of mentors, and more specifically, the importance of a mentor in whom the mentee can see themself. As Wendy Lu writes, “being able to find a mentor with a similar background in the industry is essential to one’s success, but especially for women of colour in entry level positions.” Denise Conejo, a publishing professional and woman of colour shared her experience in a mentorship program where nine out of ten mentors she spoke to were white women: “None of them said anything to me that was something I could relate to … their stories were just, ‘Oh, I happened to fall into publishing.’ That wasn’t helpful to me because I felt like I was fighting to get into publishing.” In this example especially, it is evident that a mentor’s value to their mentee (especially when that mentee comes from a community that faces extra barriers to advancement) is directly tied to similarity of experiences.
In addition to mentors who can advise and encourage, advocates who champion women in the early years of their careers are extremely beneficial, especially for women from marginalized communities. According to Cherise Fisher, a literary agent interviewed for the New York Times, much of the early success in her career was thanks to proactive sponsors who recognized something in her and propelled her forward.Similarly, Kerri K. Greenidge says, “whatever breakthrough successes I have had have been due to Black women who have steered me in the right direction … But until I plugged into that, it was very, very frustrating.” Indeed, when young professionals from minority communities are unable to find suitable mentors or advocates who can help them navigate and overcome the deep-rooted biases of the publishing world, they are more likely to burn out. Black women who spoke to both Baker and Lu reported feelings of dejection and exhaustion after a relatively short amount of time, and chose to either leave publishing or take a break from the industry as a result. This serves to illustrate how a lack of mentors and advocates is, in many ways, a self-perpetuating problem.
toxic work environments.
In a previous chapter this report talked about the cumulative effects of daily sexual harassment that many women face, and these effects were cited as being extremely detrimental to a person’s job satisfaction, work performance, and general well-being. Women who live at the intersections of multiple forms of oppression may also be subjected to deeply engrained biases, racial or otherwise. As Lu explains, workplaces that aren’t inclusive can be extremely hostile for women of colour, for instance.A number of women that Lu spoke to talked about experiencing from both colleagues and superiors, resulting in a toxic work environment. As Lu explained, “the mental and emotional energy it requires women of colour to tackle sexism, racial stereotypes, and tokenism in workplaces can [take] a physical toll.” In these instances, it’s especially evident how valuable a mentor can be for a marginalized person. The problem, of course, is that for women of colour, like disabled women, non-binary people, and other communities that are represented by relatively small constituents in the publishing industry, there are so few people to look to for that guidance, support, and advocacy.
a practical case for diversity
According to Raphale Mokades, founder of Rare Recruitment, a UK-based recruitment agency specializing in diversity, “the most compelling argument for diversity within a workforce is that it means fishing in a bigger talent pool.”Indeed, if the publishing industry wants to attract the best editors, marketers, designers, and leaders, it is essential for the industry to reimagine itself as one that is inclusive. Furthermore, according to Chris Jackson, publisher at One World, hiring from a wide range of backgrounds is actually a mutually beneficial practice. As he explains, “every new hire is a chance for me to learn something new in teaching them—to question something I thought I knew.” This is why, for Jackson, a unique strength of the publishing industry, one that could potentially be leveraged to create a genuinely diverse workforce, is that the profession naturally lends itself to on-the-job learning. Jackson continues, “[the opportunities to grow through teaching] are far more valuable than a premastery of technical knowledge that can easily be learned on the job. And yet a lack of credentials, connections, and certain forms of experience can sometimes bar people at the entry level.”
In addition to the workplace benefits of inclusive hiring practices, more diverse workplaces also mean more diverse books, which is something that journalist Danuta Kean argues should be a priority for publishers in the coming years. In Writing the Future, Kean explains that the homogeneity of publishing houses puts them at a serious disadvantage to respond to the growing appetite for diverse books.As Kean explains, for publishing to meet this demand, it “will have to become less homogenised, with editors, publicists, and marketers at all levels who have an innate understanding of diverse communities.”
books for a better world.
Perhaps the best argument for publishing to reinvent itself as an inclusive industry, however, is that the publishing industry wields a massive amount of cultural power and influence, and while this has historically been used to reinforce the dominant culture, the industry has an immense capacity to make our society more empathic and ultimately stronger. While it will be no simple task to overcome the status quo that has reigned supreme for so long in publishing, it is undoubtedly possible. Furthermore, it is in recognizing these deeply-engrained, constitutionalproblems that we begin the important work of making a more equitable industry viable. As John Maxwell explains, “we need to understand these legacies and how they shape us, and we need to tell ourselves new stories about what writing and publishing mean in today’s world, about who it’s for, and why.” Only by doing this, Maxwell argues, can we “bust open these old assumptions and hide-bound ways of thinking about publishing, and markets, and culture.”
Only once we, as an industry, recognize the inherent value in a diverse publishing community, can we realize the true potential of publishing in our society. As Chris Jackson explains, “when we expand the range of the industry’s gatekeepers, we expand the range of our storytelling, which expands our ability to see each other, to talk and listen to each other, and to understand each other … the empathic bridges this creates between us is one of the essential functions of literature in a democracy.”It is the hope of this future that we must work towards.
what we don’t know
As mentioned at the outset of this chapter, I have barely scratched the surface of diversity in the publishing industry. There are many conversations yet to be had, but I wanted to highlight one in particular that I was unable to address, because it is relevant to the context of this report and the primary space where it will exist. In this chapter I discussed the inequity of internships from a compensation perspective; internships and entry-level jobs can also be problemmatic when they are closely connected to post-secondary institutions—either in the form of requiring applicants to have completed certain certificates or degrees, or in the sense that the internship is a part of the certificate or degree itself.
By requiring the applicant to have completed a degree or certificate, the internship (regardless of compensation) is made inaccessible by extension to anyone for whom a post-secondary education is financially inaccessible. Furthermore, including internships as part of a degree or certificate encourages closed word-of-mouth networks such as job boards or listservsthat, in theory, would magnify the advantage of those who can afford to pursue such degrees and certificates.
It would be valuable to have data quantifying to what extent the Canadian publishing industry is connected to post-secondary institutions. For instance: Of the public job postings in a given year, how many list completion of a publishing degree or certificate as a prerequisite? What is the ratio of privately-circulated employment opportunities vs. public postings? This second research question would of course be more difficult to answer, but rectifying the relationship between the publishing industry and higher education in Canada could be an important step towards making the Canadian publishing industry more inclusive.
The goal of this chapter was not to name every aspect of the modern publishing industry that is hostile towards people from marginalized communities. Indeed, as a result of its colonial and racist roots, book publishing is, at every level, built to respond to and reinforce the dominant culture. Instead, this chapter identified some of the structures within publishing that are multiply oppressive—such as a culture of low wages, limited physical accessibility, and a scarcity of mentors and advocates. Taken together, these features constitute a snapshot of the institutionalized inequity at the heart of the publishing industry, but are by no means exhaustive. Furthermore, publishing’s deeply-engrained inequity is not only an ethical problem, but a systemic weakness as well, as it circumscribes the talent pool, limits the industry’s ability to properly serve diverse communities, and ultimately forecloses on our capacity to bring people together through books.
- Lee & Low Books, “Where Is The Diversity In Publishing? The 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey Results,” The Open Book Blog, January 28, 2020.
- Association of Canadian Publishers, “2018 Canadian Book Publishing Diversity Baseline Survey,” March 2019.
- Heather Carey et. al, “Getting in and Getting on: Class, Participation and Job Quality in the UK Creative Industries,” Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre, August 2020.
- Bridget Connor, Rosalind Gill, and Stephanie Taylor, “Gender and Creative Labour,” The Sociological Review, 63:S pp1–22, May 1, 2015.
- John Maxwell “Thinking about the Legacies of Colonialism in Publishing,” Publishing@SFU (blog), Simon Fraser University, July 9, 2020.
- Rowland Lorimer, Ultra Libris: Policy, Technology and the Creative Economy of Book Publishing in Canada, (Toronto: ECW Press, 2012), 60-61.
- Lorimer, Ultra Libris, 60.
- Ibid, 61.
- Ibid, 60.
- Canada Dept. of Indian Affairs, English: Indian schools in the Dominion. “Report of Dr. Ryerson on Industrial Schools, 1847” Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1898.
- Maxwell, “Legacies of Colonialism in Publishing”.
- Danuta Kean, “Introduction: Why Writing the Future?” Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place, Spread the Word, 2015.
- Suzanne Collier, “Throw the Book at Publishing Internships,” The Guardian, March 23, 2010.
- Collier, “Throw the Book”.
- Danuta Kean, “Introduction: Why Writing the Future?”
- “Internships,” Quill & Quire, accessed August 8, 2021.
- Wendy Lu, “How 10 Women Of Color Actually Feel About Working In Book Publishing,” Bustle, January 31, 2019. Accessed September 5, 2020.
- Lu, “How 10 Women Of Color Actually Feel”.
- Ebony LaDelle, interviewed by Concepción de León, “‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing,” New York Times, July 1, 2020.
- “2019 Cost of Living Survey,” Mercer Global, June 26, 2019.
- Jim Milliot, “The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey, 2018,” Publishers Weekly, November 9, 2018.
- “Fact Sheet: The Gender Wage Gap in Canada,” Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2, August 2018.
- “Fact Sheet: The Gender Wage Gap in Canada”.
- “Fact Sheet: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Socioeconomic Status,” American Psychological Association.
- Alaina Leary, “Publishing Needs to Face Its Ableism Problem,” Publishers Weekly, April 17, 2020.
- Aaron Broverman, “Accessibility in Toronto and the GTA is Everybody’s Issue,” Local Love, April 29, 2019.
- Broverman, “Accessibility in Toronto”.
- Alaina Leary, “Publishing Needs to Face Its Ableism Problem”.
- Lee & Low Books, “The 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey Results”.
- Leary, “Ableism Problem”.
- Sue Carter, “Workplace Survey: The Results,” Quill & Quire, May 11, 2020.
- Association of Canadian Publishers, “2018 Canadian Book Publishing Diversity Baseline Survey”.
- Jennifer Baker, “The Major Built-In Bias of the Publishing World,” The Zora Canon, January 8, 2020.
- Diane Patrick, “The Next Black Publishing Generation Speaks,” Publishers Weekly, November 23, 2018.
- Lu, “How 10 Women Of Color Actually Feel”.
- Cherise Fisher, interviewed by Joumana Khatib, “‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing,” New York Times, July 1, 2020.
- Kerri K. Greenidge, interviewed by Alexandra Alter, “‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing,” New York Times, July 1, 2020.
- Jennifer Baker, “The Major Built-In Bias of the Publishing World”; Lu, “How 10 Women Of Color Actually Feel”.
- Lu, “How 10 Women Of Color Actually Feel”.
- Raphael Mokades, “No Excuses” Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place, Spread the Word, 2015.
- Chris Jackson, “Widening the Gates: Why Publishing Needs Diversity,” in What Editors Do: The Art, Craft & Business of Book Editing, ed Peter Ginna (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017), 223-230.
- Jackson, “Widening the Gates: Why Publishing Needs Diversity”.
- Kean, “Introduction: Why Writing the Future?”
- Maxwell, “Thinking about the Legacies of Colonialism in Publishing”.
- Jackson, “Widening the Gates: Why Publishing Needs Diversity”.
- “Internships.” Publishing. The Chang School of Continuing Education. Ryerson University. Accessed August 8, 2021.