Making publishing more diverse: Interview with Josie Dobrin

creative access

josie dobrinJosie Dobrin is Chief Executive and co-founder of Creative Access. Creative Access works to tackle the absence of diversity in creative industries by providing young BAME people, paid training opportunities in creative companies and supporting them into full time employment. Norah Myers interviews Josie here. 

1) How has Creative Access promoted diversity in book publishing?

Creative Access was born out of the 2011 British Census, which showed that over 40% of Londoners are non-white. Simultaneously Skillset’s 2012 Workforce surveys showed that ethnic minority representation across the creative industries had fallen to just 5.4% of the total workforce.

The absence of diversity in the creative sector is not only bad for our society but is also bad for business, which thrives on having a diversity of ideas and opinions. As a result of this, Creative Access was founded in 2012. It provides opportunities in the creative industries for young people from under-represented black, Asian and other non-white minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME). In just four years we have placed over 680 interns with over 270 different partners across ten creative areas, with book publishing being one of our leading sectors.

In the last four years, Creative Access has placed over 115 interns in publishing companies, trade press and associations and literary agencies (see summary at bottom of this document). Of the Creative Access alumni, those in the publishing sector have by far the highest rate of conversion to full time roles at the end of their internships (87% compared to average of about 74%).

2) How do you see Creative Access progressing in the next three or four years?

Creative Access is constantly evolving and responding to feedback from both interns and media partners. We introduced a buddy system for new interns, an intern clinic for anyone dealing with issues throughout their internship and training for those who have completed their internship, but want support with the next phase of their career. We are also trying to encourage as many of our partners as possible to promote permanent roles with Creative Access so we can encourage our alumni to apply. We are also working with the Publishers Association to develop Apprenticeships within the sector in order to deliver on the job and offsite training to a different and even broader pool of applicants.

There is no question that there has been an improvement in the publishing industry in recent years, but the sector now needs to make better use of diverse leaders in senior roles within the sector to fly the flag for those coming after them. I think the major challenge for Creative Access over the next three to four years (and the industry itself) is to support those at entry level to reach management positions.

3) What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your work with Creative Access?

We have faced lots of arguments against Creative Access such as the positive discrimination/reverse racism claims posited by people such as Katie Hopkins. I understand that it’s frustrating for people to see roles advertised with top companies that they are not eligible to apply for. However, we believe that by opening the door to industries which our young people might otherwise not have access too, this is the best way of enriching the industries themselves and also of breaking the cycle of “who you know” rather than “what you know”.

Creative Access only funds training opportunities and not jobs, which means all our interns need to prove themselves and ensure they are the strongest candidate for a job if and when they apply for one.

4)What advice would you give your interns who are now part of the publishing industry?

Our advice to anyone looking to work in the industry would be to research your sector inside out. The creative industries are extremely competitive, so if you want to succeed, you need to make sure you are equipped with as much knowledge as possible. You don’t need to have paid work experience to enhance your CV; you could write a blog about your favourite books, authors or genres. You could organise a book club, author readings and charity events or create your own films, which you upload to YouTube. We would also suggest that you get a mentor. There is nothing more valuable than getting regular advice and guidance from an industry professional who has experience in your chosen field.

5) What advice would you give publishers who look to make their work environments more inclusive?

There is ample scope to place many more Creative Access interns in companies who have already taken interns and there are dozens of publishing companies and literary organisations with whom we have not yet worked. We have a fantastic alumni network which publishing companies should feel free to approach when they are recruiting for permanent roles within their organisations.

Publishing (unlike other creative sectors) is fortunate to have extremely committed and effective trade bodies and sectoral press in the Publishers Association, the Society of Authors and the Bookseller who have lots of resources available for publishers wanting to make work environments more inclusive.

Publishing can also learn from other industries. The television and film industries in particular have had success in improving the diversity of their workforces because funding bodies have introduced quotas which ensure that in order to receive a grant, a company needs to satisfy certain diversity criterion, eg the BFI’s three ticks diversity scheme and Channel 4’s Two tick’s scheme for disability. They have also invested in an industry-wide monitoring programme, Project Diamond which will ultimately lead to much more transparent practices.

Unpaid internships are not a good thing and we never work with companies who will not pay their staff. Very few of the young people we work with can afford to work for free and yet if they don’t demonstrate on their CVs that they have experience it can be much harder for them to get that first important role.

Other initiatives by some publishers, such as abolishing the requirement for degrees and the introduction of apprenticeships are also having an impact. There are also schemes by the major publishers, Penguin Random House, Hachette and HarperCollins who they can follow:


  • Total amount of interns: 691
  • Total amount of publishing interns placed to date: 114 (17 current interns)
  • How many in full time positions now: Approximately 87%
  • Amount of publishers and literary agents that are media partners: 36 (see list below):
    • Aitken Alexander Associates
    • The Artists Partnership
    • The Bookseller
    • Bloomsbury
    • Canongate Books
    • Cassava Republic Press
    • Critical Publishing
    • Curtis Brown
    • Faber & Faber
    • Furniss Lawton
    • Hachette
    • Harlequin
    • HarperCollins
    • Headline Publishing Group
    • Hodder & Stoughton
    • Hot Key Books
    • Hurst Publishers
    • B.Tauris Publishers
    • Inpress
    • Jo Unwin Literary Agency
    • Kogan Page
    • Little, Brown
    • Octopus Publishing
    • Oneworld Publications
    • Orion Publishing Group
    • Pan Macmillan
    • Pluto Books
    • Publishers Association
    • Random House
    • Rowman & Littlefield
    • SAGE Publications
    • Society of Authors
    • Sweet Cherry Publishing
    • The Roald Dahl Literary Estate
    • Unbound
    • United Agents
    • Walker Books

In addition to co-founding Creative Access, Josie is a former Director of Lexington Communications and press advisor to the Mayor of London and has many years experience working with Government, charities, voluntary and community groups. A school Governor, mum of three and self-confessed book worm, Josie is passionate about ensuring equal access to the Arts. 

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  1. Notice the assumptions:
    1. People who look different from us are different in other ways too.
    2. People who look different from us can’t succeed without our help.
    The first is the essence of racism and the second of paternalism.

    There is also the muddling diversity of with inclusiveness. Groups that are different stay different by remaining apart. Think of the Amish with their horse-drawn carriages. And inclusiveness—meaning you must become one of us—destroys that necessary separation. Think of a big fish swallowing the little fishes. That’s inclusiveness.

    To state the obvious, if that list of 36 publishers, some of them gigantic, aggressively moves into diverse literature, that will make it all the more difficult for those in those in those diverse groups to found their own publishers and make them succeed. They’ll remain forever dependent on the lagress of their benefactors, which may be the real point of all this chatter.

    In his 1904 novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G. K. Chesterton leveled a brilliant broadside at a London that wanted to swallow up a man’s little neighborhood. Their passions are not his passions, his hero tells them, their fight is not his fight:

    “Do you think I have no right to fight for Notting Hill, you whose English Government has so often fought for tomfooleries? If, as your rich friends say, there are no gods, and the skies are dark above us, what should a man fight for, but the place where he had the Eden of childhood and the short heaven of first love? If no temples and no scriptures are sacred, what is sacred if a man’s own youth is not sacred?”

    Chesterton perfectly captures what’s wrong here. Inclusiveness destroys the intense passions that makes us truly different. If these publishers really care about diversity, they will leave such literature to those who actually believe in it. Inclusion is the kiss of death.

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