Spring Conference Blog: Inclusivity in Children’s Publishing

Posted on April 5, 2019 in News & Reviews, Scotland

Chaired by Kirstin Lamb, Senior PR and Rights Manager, Barrington Stoke

Panelists:

Lauren Ace, Brand Director, Little Tiger Group

Sister Outrider, Blogger

Aimee Felone, Co-Founder, Knights Of

Apologies:

Sarah Shaffi, Freelance Literary Journalist and Editor

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This panel kicked off highlighting that 1% of children’s books in Britain feature a BAME protagonist, with only 4% feature a BAME character at all (2018 CLPE research project). Throughout the panel our panelists shed light on obstacles getting in the way of diversity in the industry, and how these can be tackled.

Our panelists are all influential in encouraging change, aiming to ensure that books work on accurately reflect the society in which we live.

  • Aimee Felone is a co-founder of Knights Of, who publish commercial children’s fiction. Knights Of actively seek out illustrators and authors from diverse backgrounds to publish. After the CLPE report came out last year, Knights Of celebrated the existing authors and books including BAME protagonists, and created the hashtag #readtheonepercent on Twitter for others to shout out any BAME books/authors. They brought the online promotion of BAME books to the offline and in 2019 Knights Of hit their crowdfunding target of £30k, to fund a bookshop promoting books with BAME characters. The bookshop will open at the end of April 2019.
  • Sister Outrider collaborated with Nikesh Shukla on What is Race? Who are Racists? Why Does Skin Colour Matter? And Other Big Questions with an aim to break down barriers by creating a learning resource for children.
  • Lauren Ace works for the Little Tiger group and discussed the job role of editor-at-large, Sarah Shaffi. This role was created in order to ensure the books published are diverse and representative across all the imprints. This role also allows Sarah to acquire her own books, as was done in 2018 by acquiring My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma.

Throughout the session, nepotism still being active in the industry was discussed as being another reason for the lack of diversity in the industry. The hiring process has to change in order to see a change in the books that are being published.

Another issue discussed was unpaid work experience being offered. Applicants from underprivileged backgrounds are less likely to take on unpaid opportunities, as it is simply unaffordable, especially in London. This issue leads to less relevant experience on a CV compared to more privileged, rival applicants. In addition to this, once landing a publishing job the pay disparity decreases the attraction of publishing for new graduates/assistants. With internships being inaccessible in the industry, and the massive pay gap in junior roles, applicants from underprivileged backgrounds will continue to be underrepresented in the publishing workforce, and ultimately in books.

However, on a more positive note, the panel discussed how positive discrimination/tokenism is being tackled, by having an anonymised application process, in order to avoid the unconscious bias. This has been done in companies such as Orion and Egmont. The panelists discussed tackling regional diversity by opening up branches outside of London, and by introducing publishing as a career option to high school children by visiting schools nationwide.

This panel tied in nicely to our closing keynote, Perminder Mann, who noted that ‘diversity is a new norm, not a trend’.

Blog by Farzana Khan, SYP Scotland Conference Committee