Tackling Diversity: A PA Workshop


Seonaid MacLeod, 21st October 2015

At the end of September, The Publishers Association and EQUIP, in association with Creative Skillset and Creative Access held a slightly out-of-the-ordinary diversity event. We wanted to hear from the experts, discuss with a panel and highlight issues. So far, so diversity event. The event then moved on to workshop some of these ideas, and invite the delegates to stay around, have a drink, and shout out answers to some difficult questions.

Our speakers at the beginning of the day were intriguing and varied. We heard from Femi Otitoju (Challenge Consultancy) on unconscious bias, 12 Yards productions on ‘blind recruitment’, looked back at the findings of Spread the Word’s Writing the Future report and looked at case studies from HarperCollins, Stonewall and The Marketing Agencies Association’s various diversity initiatives. The presentations concluded with a panel of Creative Access interns, all superbly moderated by Nigel Warner of Creative Access.

In the follow-up to the day’s speakers, we gathered to workshop practical responses to barriers to diversity. This part of the day was fascinating, depressing and uplifting in equal measures. All who took part in the workshop had workable ideas on how to improve diversity in the industry. The question for all of us in the industry is – how best to implement them?

We asked delegates to consider three questions:

  • What is the biggest block in improving diversity in the publishing industry?
  • How do we engage with the decision-makers, those at the top of companies, on the diversity agenda?
  • What would be one suggestion for the industry to adopt to improve?

Naturally, the discussion went beyond each of these questions, and the last question in particular gathered far more than one answer per group. Acknowledging that it’s easy to target those who are already concerned about improving diversity (many of them already in attendance), and reiterating Femi’s earlier observation that this group was itself fairly unrepresentative (but at least representative of much of the publishing industry), we tackled the big issues.

Companies such as Creative Access and initiatives like HarperCollins graduate applications and Penguin Random House’s ‘The Scheme’ are invaluable – however, the group was unanimous in agreeing that support needs to be present throughout one’s career. Without a mentor, or someone to look up to and share experiences with, life can be difficult for a publisher from an under-represented demographic. This chimed with the panel of Creative Access interns from earlier in the day, where the issue of being ‘The Token Intern’ was raised.

However, we must do much more in attracting talent, regardless of background, throughout all levels of publishing. The Publishers Association’s workforce development work taps into this, going to schools and universities to talk about the range of jobs on offer and presenting case studies in order to welcome any bright, talented person into the industry. Companies themselves must consider their best practice in recruitment (again, not just at entry-level). Where do you advertise? How do you use existing data on applicants to speak to potential candidates?

Data came into the conversation endlessly. No publishing company (to our knowledge) captures sufficient data on their existing workforce. Should we take the route taken by the TV industry with Project Diamond and gather this data? It would be hugely interesting to note the differences in demographics in different departments of publishing. We’re now looking into providing publishers with an easy self-reporting system to gather this data, within data protection guidelines – we would then be able to highlight the best, and talk about the industry as a whole’s performance.

The industry needs to stand up and challenge itself. We want to encourage businesses and demonstrate the economic and social benefits of a diverse workforce. So we looked at what these required actions should be. Having a diversity policy is a start, but members should assess what’s in that policy and how, in practice, it affects the running of the business, and the strategy of the business.

Publishers should support minority writers, and enhance their efforts to get the best writing and illustrating talent involved. Along with talk of prizes for authors, and projects such as Megaphone getting Arts Council funding, we came back time and again to a major route to improvement: improve the image of publishing, ensure a clear career path, and look at ways to retain talent – through pan-industry mentoring initiatives, or networks to provide a ‘safe space’, much as Creative Access does. Additionally, EQUIP should be providing training opportunities for members in association with The PA and IPG, on topics such as unconscious bias.

There’s a lot to take in; we all know how many panels on diversity the publishing industry has held. They are incredibly valuable and demonstrate the need for conversation. Particularly at a time when an organization like Creative Access, a truly fantastic example of an initiative making a difference, is at risk of  losing its funding, our organisations have a responsibility to come together and use our common strengths to take on the challenges laid out above. Our challenge now, which we’ll be working on in the coming months with partners, is how to make a real, substantive difference.

There’s a huge amount of incredible work going on in the area of diversity in publishing, and it makes sense for us all to work together: to inform; to collaborate; to amplify and enhance each other’s work. The PA will be working with partners, publishers and dedicated diversity organisations to extend our reach and to map the diversity environment. By creating a conversation amongst currently unlinked groups, we can have a far greater impact, both in terms of audience and achievements. We aim to attract a wider readership, affecting content, submissions and acquisitions, and to look at improving recruitment and retainment. Additionally, we’ll look to map the various activity, provide a calendar of events and contacts, links to research and information, and then take this to the industry as a whole. There are simple and important ways to improve diversity: we want to show you how.

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