Building Inclusivity in Publishing Conference 2017

A few weeks ago, SYP member and Oxford Brookes Publishing student, Zoe Chatfield, won our free ticket to the Building Inclusivity in Publishing Conference. Here she shares her thoughts on the day and key takeaways on what the industry are doing, and should be doing more of.

I’m yet to start my publishing career but I’ve been aware for a while that the industry has a problem with regard to (a huge lack of) diversity. I was keen to see what was happening to change things for the better, so it was a brilliant opportunity to be able to attend the Building Inclusivity Conference 2017.

Chaired by the BBC’s Razia Iqbal, the day looked at ways to stop publishing being an exclusive club for the white/straight/middle-class/able-bodied, and instead reflect the society in which we live - both in terms of who works in the industry, and what gets published.

My main takeaways from the day were:

Employ people different from you!

See diversity as the opportunity to create a melting pot of ideas. Rt. Hon. Matt Hancock gave a call-to-action for publishing to embrace Britain’s multicultural society and achieve its potential as a world-leading industry by dismantling unconscious biases (which you do have) because diversity is not only our social responsibility, but also an economic one. This was later repeated by June Sarpong, who reported that increased diversity = increased bottom line.

Diversity during recruitment inevitably feeds into what gets published. Dialogue Books is a new imprint at Little, Brown devoted to stories by, about, and for BAME, working-class, LGBTQ+, and disability communities. Sharmaine Lovegrove, who started the imprint, spoke passionately about thinking first and foremost about your readers. Publishers are often out of touch with their readers, which is giving them a blinkered view of the world and is keeping the industry as insular as it is. The argument of ‘there’s just not the audience for this book’ doesn’t cut it anymore. We need to include people from diverse backgrounds throughout the publishing pipeline, whether that be writers, agents, publishers, or, as Abir Mukherjee pointed out, the readers.

Publishing needs to become more transparent

Emma Paterson of Rogers, Coleridge & White said that part of the problem is people don’t think of publishing as a career. This was echoed by Monica Parle, of First Story, who called for publishers to get into schools and raise awareness of jobs within publishing. In response to this problem, Penguin Random House are rolling out their JobHack scheme to secondary schools next year and Cambridge University Press (CUP) have started an apprenticeship scheme. CUP are also changing the language they use when advertising entry-level jobs so as not to include any jargon that may scare people off.

Another problem with publishing is that, upon trying to enter the industry, you’re often told that you’ll be underpaid (or not paid at all, in the case of some internships) and that to have any chance, you’ll have to move to London where you won’t be able to afford the rent or the cost of living. Linas Alsenas, a member of the LGBTQ+ network Pride in Publishing, spoke of the importance of improving the wellbeing of existing publishing staff and generally making the industry more appealing to open it up to more people. Again, PRH are ahead of the game in this, launching their Home Sweet Loan scheme on the day of the conference, making it possible for any PRH employee to apply for an interest-free loan for a rental deposit.

Members of the publishing industry, as June Sarpong put it, are gatekeepers that project a certain way of thinking on their audience. It is the industry’s responsibility, therefore, to ensure it accurately and effectively represents our society in all areas, from writers to readers and everyone involved in between. I came away from the conference overjoyed that so much was happening to help us move towards a more diverse industry, but also very much aware of the fact that there is still a long way to go. The last few years have seen a lot of change within the industry, and I can only assume - and hope - that the next few years will see even more.