By now it’s no secret that publishing suffers from a major lack of diversity problem. Thanks to years of research by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, we have ample data to confirm what many readers have always suspected: the number of diverse books published each year over the past twenty years has been stuck in neutral, never exceeding, on average, 10 percent.
Countless panels, articles, and even conferences have been dedicated to exploring the causes and effects of this lack of diversity. Yet one key piece of the puzzle remained a question mark: diversity among publishing staff. While the lack of diversity among publishing staff was often spoken about, there was very little hard data about who exactly works in publishing.
At the beginning of 2015 we decided to conduct a survey to establish a baseline that would measure the amount of diversity among publishing staff. We believed in the power of hard numbers to illuminate a problem that can otherwise be dismissed or swept under the rug. We felt that having hard numbers released publicly would help publishers take ownership of the problem and increase accountability. We also felt that a baseline was needed to measure whether or not initiatives to increase diversity among publishing staff were actually working.
Our Diversity Baseline Survey took a year to complete. The results include responses from 8 review journals and 34 publishers of all sizes from across North America. Here are the results:
View a slideshow of the DBS survey results
Methodology and Response Rate
The Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) was sent to 1,524 reviewer employees and 11,713 publishing employees for a total of 13,237 surveys deployed. The response rate was 25.8 percent. This is on par with the average for online surveys and actually a bit higher than the norm, given the sensitive nature of the questions.
In 2015, Publishers Weekly included some staff diversity questions in their annual Salary and Compensation Survey. They deployed their survey to 5,800 subscribers and had a response rate of 7.3 percent. Therefore, the DBS should yield a much more comprehensive picture of diversity in the publishing community.
The DBS was deployed directly from each publisher or review journal. A link was sent to all staff from a member of each publisher’s or reviewer journal’s human resources or executive team, often with an introduction explaining why the company was participating. Some companies even wanted to add additional questions to their surveys. The results provided here are only for questions that appeared in every survey.
The surveys were completely anonymous, and companies did not have direct access to the results. All data was analyzed and aggregated by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen and Nicole Catlin of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, to ensure anonymity for individual employees.
Although our response rate was good, we still wonder: who didn’t take the survey, and how might that influence the results? With a survey of this kind, there is most likely some degree of selection bias. In other words, people who self-identify as diverse may have been more likely to take the survey. If that was the case, it would mean that our results portray publishing as more diverse than it actually is.
No voluntary survey can ever be 100 percent accurate, and no survey that asks questions about personal identity can ever be anything but voluntary. Even so, the results of the DBS offer a strong snapshot of the makeup of the publishing industry.
Notes and Analysis: What the Numbers Tell Us
According to the survey, just under 80 percent of publishing staff and review journal staff are white. The rest are comprised of Asians/Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (7.2 percent), Hispanics/Latinos/Mexicans (5.5 percent), Black/African Americans (3.5 percent), and biracial/multiracial people (2.7 percent). Native Americans (0.5 percent), and Middle Easterners (0.8 percent) of publishing staff.
While all racial/ethnic minorities are underrepresented when compared to the general US population, the numbers show that some groups, such as Black/African Americans, are more severely underrepresented. This mirrors trends among children’s book authors. In 2014, just 2 percent of the books tracked by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center were by black authors. Latinos were similarly underrepresented in both places.
Creating the list of ethnicities for a survey such as this was a real challenge. The racial breakdown we offered was based on the US census, with a few adjustments. For our first survey, we felt that this was the best way to break things down because it presented familiar categories that respondents had seen before.
But no list can accurately depict the complexity of this question. Within each category, there are so many different groups, and people self-identify in a wide variety of ways. The census groups White Americans, European Americans, and Middle Eastern Americans together. The census is not quite sure what to do with Latino and Hispanic people, who may or may not identify as white. And it certainly does not know how to handle the differences among Asians, Pacific Islanders, and South Asians.
We received more than 50 write-in comments for this question from people who did not feel that any of the options offered adequately represented them. Some identified as Jewish or European. Many specified that they were South Asian and didn’t feel that the overall Asian category was specific enough. And several simply called themselves “Human” and wondered why we cared so much about this. One block of data was compromised when the survey link was shared with outside spammers, which made a portion of the surveys ineligible for inclusion. These incidents and answers are all telling because they allude to the wide scope of attitudes toward this issue and how deeply the question of race resonates with people, in both positive and negative ways.
The survey reveals that publishing is about 78.2 percent women or cis-women and 20.6 percent men or cis-men. These numbers may help explain why some feel that children’s book publishing skews toward female readers. Among executive and board member positions this disparity evened out a bit, with approximately 40 percent of executives and board members identifying as men or cis-men. This reflects the reality that males still ascend to positions of power more often, even in female-dominated industries.
The gender question also reveals that about 98.7 percent of publishing staff identify as cis men or women. This means that they identify with the genders they were assigned at birth. How does this compare with the general population? We don’t really know. For many reasons, we don’t have a good count of the percentage of the general population that is transgender. That being said, the small number of transgender, gender-nonconforming, intersex, and other gender-fluid people in publishing points to the need for publishers to make sure that books on these topics are being examined for cultural and scientific accuracy by experts before they are published.
According to the survey, about 88.2 percent of publishing staff identify as straight or heterosexual. This may be the category in which publishing is most on par with the general population, though we can’t know for sure.
Beyond the labels we offered, many respondents added their own labels that they felt better represented them. Quite a few identified as “queer.” Others wanted to know why we were asking for such personal information at all. Overall, this question got one of the lowest response rates of the survey, an indication, perhaps, that many people did not feel comfortable sharing this information. We decided to include this question because we wanted to acknowledge this aspect of diversity, and if we didn’t include it, this segment of the workforce would remain uncounted and invisible.
The survey reveals that about 7.6 percent of publishing staff identify as having a disability. We defined disability broadly in the survey, so this does not give us an indication of the types of disabilities that are represented.
One interesting result: when broken down by department, design had a significantly higher average rate of disability (18 percent), followed by book reviewers (12 percent). Perhaps this is because there are more freelance design and reviewer jobs that can be done from home even when mobility is limited. Providing opportunities to people with disabilities may be an underappreciated benefit of creating more freelance positions in publishing.
The DBS results offer the opportunity to filter responses by department, giving a better picture of how diversity breaks out throughout an organization. More than one hundred thirty people wrote in comments for this question, listing departments or sub-departments beyond those listed in the survey. Because the survey was administered to companies ranging from just a few employees to several hundred or more, some departments or roles were left out. The next version of the survey will have an expanded list that is more inclusive to account for some of the staff who had to write in departments this time around.
An interesting result was the high response rate from editorial staff, who made up nearly 20 percent of survey respondents. This compares to less than 10 percent of respondents from marketing/publicity and 13.5 percent from sales. Since these ratios do not seem to match the overall breakdown by departments in publishing, we wonder if staff in some departments, such as editorial, were more likely than others to respond. If so, why? Are editorial staffs more on board with diversity initiatives than staff in other departments?
Here are the numbers:
Board Members and Executive Positions
Without a doubt, board members and those in executive positions make up the highest level of decision makers on the corporate ladder. Board members and executive positions are: 86 percent white, 59 percent cis-women, 89 percent heterosexual, and 96 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Editorial is the next most important department when it comes to the in-house staff closest to generating actual books. Editorial staff is: 82 percent white, 84 percent cis-women, 86 percent heterosexual, and 92 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Marketing and Publicity
These are the departments that promote the books. Staff members in marketing and publicity are: 77 percent white, 84 percent cis-women, 87 percent heterosexual, and 94 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Members of the sales team are the ones out there pounding the pavement and knocking on doors to sell front list and back list titles. Sales people are: 83 percent white, 77 percent cis-women, 90 percent heterosexual, and 94 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Reviewers often have a direct influence on what readers buy. Reviewers are: 89 percent white, 87 percent cis-women, 91 percent heterosexual, and 88 percent able bodied/without a disability.
Does the lack of diverse books closely correlate to the lack of diverse staff? The percentages, while not exact, are proportional to how the majority of books look nowadays—predominately white. Cultural fit would seem to be relevant here. Or at least in publishing’s case, what is at work is the tendency—conscious or unconscious—for executives, editors, marketers, sales people, and reviewers to work with, develop, and recommend books by and about people who are like them.
So, we have our baseline numbers. What are the next moves? In future posts we will discuss initiatives already in place that will hopefully move the needle toward more diversity. We will also look at a similar publishing diversity survey that was conducted in 2014 in the United Kingdom. And we will be working on designing DBS version 2.0, which we hope will include the publishers who either didn’t hear about the survey or opted out the first time.
We also hope that the DBS will lead to more “Diversity 102” conversations about what publishers can do, including improving retention and staff training. How can company cultures be more welcoming for diverse staff? Do diverse staff members feel comfortable voicing their opinions? Are systems in place to make sure all staff are trained and well versed in diversity issues?
Publishing is not alone when it comes to having a lack of diversity problem. All media, including film, television, and theater, are having similar conversations about diversity. It is plain to see that our society as a whole has a problem. We believe we are at a crucial time right now. We all have to decide if the country in which we live is better off if we conduct our lives separately or together. The diversity problem is not the responsibility of diverse people to solve. It is a problem for everyone to solve. Now that the Diversity Baseline Survey is completed, the real work toward changing the status quo begins. It is not going to be easy. Knowing where we stand and establishing a baseline was the first step. Knowing the baseline numbers gives us a way to measure progress going forward, but only our actions can change things for the better.
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