D&I surveys in publishing: is the UK really doing well while too little changed in the US?

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Close scrutiny showed a more complex but also more positive answer for both the UK and US.

On the topic of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) in the publishing industry a central question is: 

  • how are we doing? 
  • Are things going well? 
  • Are they getting better or worse? 

Simple questions, not so simple to answer. But earlier this year the outcomes of two landmark studies were announced, surveys on exactly this topic: D&I in our industry. One in the US, an update of the 2015 survey by multicultural children’s book publisher Lee and Low, and one in the UK, the third annual study conducted by The Publishers Association. And the headlines could not have more different: 

  • little progress in the US during the last five years,
  • significant progress in the UK on gender with 55% of all top roles now female. 

Time to assess and compare these two surveys in more detail! We will see that there is more good news to report than the headlines might suggest. 

In the US, Lee and Low studied D&I in the publishing industry in 2015 with 3,700 responses and repeated their study in 2019, doubling responses to 7900 with all of The Big Five Houses participating. The study looked at several different lenses on D&I: gender, race, orientation, disability. It also zoomed in on the different roles of the overall industry such as sales, marketing, executive and editorial.

In the UK, the Publishers Association have just released the results from their third annual survey featuring 12 700 respondents. Elsevier, the company I work for, participated in this survey. They too studied many different aspects of D&I: gender, ethnicity, orientation, disability, regionality, education, age, religion.

The situation in the US

What these studies showed was in the US, in 2019, the publishing industry is predominantly 

  • white (76%), 
  • female (74%), 
  • straight (81%) and 
  • non-disabled (89%), 

while four years earlier the figures were 79% white, 78% female, 88% straight and 92% non-disabled – certainly no significant differences on race or gender (which inspired the ‘little progress’ headlines), but interesting change on orientation: significantly less straight with 7% difference. 

The overall percentage in the US identifying as white is 72% so the 76% for the publishing industry is similar – however the percentage of white is only 45% in New York City, a city where many of the large publishing houses are located. In that light 76% is not in line with the local population. 

On orientation a percentage of 19% non-straight is remarkably high. Of the 19% ten percent identified as bi- or pansexual. Only five percent of the overall US population identifies as LGBT, which might be higher in cities like New York City where most publishing houses are located, but not four times as high. Is the publishing industry therefore significantly more attractive to the LGBT community (and if so then particularly attractive to bi- and pansexuals? This almost warrants a PhD study!). 

The US data at the executive level are even more interesting comparing the two different studies in time: 

  • race went from 86% to 78% white, 
  • orientation went from 89% to 82% straight, and 
  • disability changed from 96% to 90% non-disabled.  

And also at the executive level we see the surprisingly high level of LGBT staff: 18%. And for race, orientation and disability there were no significant differences between the executive level and the total study. So the executive has become less white, less straight and reported more disability. And the leadership is a fair reflection of the overall composition in the industry. I think that is pretty good news for D&I in the US publishing industry. 

 

The situation in the UK

Over to the UK. The latest study shows that 53% of the executive roles and 55% of the leadership roles are held by women. In 2017 the UK publishing industry set 5-year targets to achieve (industry wide) gender parity at the leadership level. This is now achieved two years early. Hence the positive headlines on gender and leadership in the UK publishing industry. 

On orientation 10% of the UK publishing staff identifies as LGB+, which is again remarkably high with the UK’s average of 2% and the London figure at 3%. Of all respondents 86% identified as straight which is not that much different from the 81% in the US, while 4% did not disclose their orientation. Again, as in the US, in the UK the publishing industry is well represented by members of the LGBTI+ community.

On race, or BAME in the UK (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), the share was 12% for the UK (below the 15% target set by the PA) and low compared to 24% in the US. Overall in the UK the BAME share is 14%, but in London where most publishing houses are located it is 40%. While there are BAME programs in place it turns out that it is difficult to attract and retain non-white staff. 

On disability in the UK 6% reported a disability, low compared to the 11% in the US. This figure is difficult to gauge: overall in the UK 18% report to have a disability but organizations like the BBC or KPMG set much lower staff targets: 8% and 3%, respectively. 

In the UK the Publishers Association has been leading the way on D&I which started with the launch of a 10 point action plan in 2017. So far great progress on gender diversity but clearly more work to be done on race.

 

In Conclusion

In summary there is lots of positive news from both the UK and the US in the area of D&I in our industry. Obviously the excellent results on women in UK leadership roles, but also in the US the executive roles reflect the overall staff composition well on race, gender, orientation and disability. And the US executive has become less white, less straight and reported more disability. All in all good news which we should acknowledge and celebrate. 
The key lesson to be learned in the UK is that a strong focus on D&I with an ambitious action plan really moved the needle for the British publishing industry. It is important to explore how publishing organizations around the globe, as well as publishing houses, can learn from these lessons and apply them to their own organizations. It also illustrates how powerful good data and metrics are which makes the case for more of these survey in other countries around the world. And for best practice sharing and stimulating a global discussion around D&I there is obviously a role to play for the IPA!

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