Diversity has been a hot topic for almost a decade. Canadian publishing has talked a fair amount about it, but I’m not sure we’re close to seeing representation yet, or even a balance. My initial thoughts on this came from the TechForum conference in March 2018 where there was a panel on women in publishing, a round table on the power balance, and a dive into diversity data in contemporary fiction. The keynote itself was about “[voices] that have traditionally had a very difficult time reaching mainstream audiences” and “how leaders in [the publishing industry] can reimagine their work and its impact” on “the connected and vigilant social realities of our times.”
The tips here arose from that conference and are enhanced with resources that have emerged since. It has always struck me that a female-dominated industry has diversity issues that include gender, but in the staff and in the stories, data continues to show an overwhelmingly narrow point of view. And, oddly for a female-dominated industry, most of those viewpoints are male, even when the writer isn’t.
It was the women of colour at that 2018 conference who told me that increasing diversity can’t be a responsibility carried by those whose voices are underrepresented. It’s up to we who are already there to make diversity happen. That is why I, a person visibly less representative of diversity of all kinds, am presenting these ideas.
Incorporating these practices into our habits will foster diversity in publishing:
- create space for diversity—ask for it, listen to it, and encourage it
- give diversity support in budgets
- request diverse voices—in meetings, in titles, in characters/content, in staff, and in the marketing of titles
- boost the contributions of a diversity of voices—“I agree with…” or “… brings up an interesting point,” and even “let’s consider what … has said”, then invite them to elaborate for themselves
- mentor a minority voice and help them engage in publishing
- hire and buy rights from people from a variety of backgrounds and ways of being
- create awards and recognition for contributions outside of the WEIRD and able-bodied
Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, points out that in a meeting of five people, only two will do all the talking. While there are emotional and cultural reasons people may not feel comfortable speaking in a meeting, we can invite input from the quieter people and approach them outside of meetings in an atmosphere that makes them more comfortable speaking.
We can encourage diverse contributions by:
- asking people from underrepresented sectors to contribute
- listening without criticism
- asking for elaboration and being willing to accept criticisms
- giving marginalized people credit for their ideas, boldly and repeatedly
- supporting non-WEIRD initiatives, especially when we don’t fully understand them
When we make publishing as diverse as society itself, we will achieve balance.
Photos of WOCinTech Chat
Panel: Women in Publishing / Kristin Cochrane (Penguin Random House Canada), Saffron Beckwith (Ampersand Inc.), Bhavna Chauhan (Penguin Random House Canada), Scaachi Koul (Buzzfeed), Christen Thomas (Literary Press Group)
What Do You Know About the Characters in Your Lists? Using Data to Reveal Gender Bias in Contemporary Fiction / Eve Kraicer (.txtLAB @ McGill University), Andrew Piper (.txtLAB @ McGill University)
Discussion Circles: On power and publishing
Building In-House Momentum for Diverse Books / Léonicka Valcius (DiverseCanLit), Anyka Davis (Penguin Random House Canada), Hazel Millar (Book*hug), Synora Van Drine (Dundurn Press)