On Monday 13th November, London Book Fair and the Publisher’s Association held their second annual Building Inclusivity in Publishing Conference in London. Hosted by BBC’s Razia Iqbal, the day’s purpose was to confront what more the publishing industry should be doing to ensure it is representative of the world we are speaking to.
The key point running through the day was the economic, as well as social, value of employing people from a broader range of backgrounds and experiences. The key solution? Recruitment practices.
RT. Hon. Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Creative Industries, crowned publishing as Britain’s shop window, but can we really say we are showing all we have to offer? New ideas come from different perspectives colliding and we need to be confident in celebrating our diversity. He told publishers that whilst role models are inspirational, it is the support network that is key to helping new talent up the ladder. In order to reach a greater pool of talent, we should be actively seeking potential not polish.
Publishing is a business. And yet, as author Abir Mukherjee demonstrated, we are overlooking a huge percentage of potential buyers. 61.8% of British Asian school children use libraries yet 50% of British Asians have never been in a bookshop, where are we losing them?
“Ethnic minorities are becoming more and more of the UK population. They have spending power. If you’re to survive and thrive as an industry you have to provide things the whole market wants to see.”
Surprisingly, Mukherjee’s advice came from his experience in the financial industry. What used to be an old boy’s club was forced to adapt under Thatcher in order to compete with the US and Europe. “Publishing is a cosy industry that’s never had to change,” he told the audience, “but if the financial services industry can change, then the guardian-reading, quinoa-eating publishing world can too.”
One way in which we should be doing this is by catching talent at an earlier stage. With panel members confessing they didn’t realise they could work in publishing until post-university, it became clear more could be done to attract talent from secondary schools where creativity it rife.
We should also be doing more to promote our amazing industry. Linus Alsenas, founder of Pride in Publishing, talked of the perpetuated narrative around oversubscribed vacancies, low wages and long hours – why would the next generation want to get on board?! Work could be done to improve the quality of life, but we also change the way we are communicating our industry and eradicate myths.
From Iqbal’s call for a publishing-wide pledge to end all unpaid internships, to the Managing Disability in the Workplace panel stressing the importance of using working interviews to allow candidates to prove what they can do, it seems time for publishing recruitment to adapt to today’s world.
Inspired by Looks Like Me founder Selma Nicholls’s affirmation: ‘you have the power to be the change you want to see’, the day ended with pledges from the Publisher’s Association, Bookbrunch, the Society of Young Publishers and more.
Alice Geary is the UK Chair for the Society of Young Publishers and has four years’ experience working in publishing. She is currently Account Manager at Midas PR, working across commercial fiction and nonfiction for a range of publishers, and audiobooks for Audible. Alice was shortlisted for the London Book Fair Trailblazer awards 2016.