Twenty-first century Britain is a place of great diversity. Yet all too often, evidence suggests that our work forces do not fully reflect that diversity in the people we employ, or the customers  to whom they market.

The publishing industry is, to my eyes, one of the world’s most vibrant and creative industries. And while its outputs can be remarkably diverse, we recognise that the industry does not always reflect the sheer diversity of modern Britain, or tap into every market in the UK. Inclusivity is absolutely key for any industry – but particularly publishing, in order for books to compete in a crowded, rapidly changing media landscape .  

Books are vital windows into other people’s worlds. It surely follows that our industry must ensure it is engaging with readers of all backgrounds, cultures and creeds. And from a staffing perspective, HR experts across the book industry are in accord that recruiting from diverse backgrounds is the only way to ensure that we have the tools and the ideas that we need to reach all potential audiences.

The first Building Inclusivity in Publishing conference in November, hosted by The London Book Fair and the Publishers Association, was an opportunity for the industry to come together and discuss ways of ensuring the publishing industry reflects the diversity of modern Britain, and what we can do to attract a workforce, and publish and sell books, that better reflect British society. As journalist Arifa Akbar, who was Co-Chair of the event, said: “It is not about box ticking or quotas. It’s about creating an industry that truly represents the world we live in – or want to live in – today”.

Fresh commitment to diversity

The overwhelming sentiment of the conference was that actions will, as ever, speak louder than words. And that the industry must act now – and fast. As such, it was exciting to witness several organisations launch new initiatives to encourage and promote inclusivity. These included Hachette’s ‘Changing the Story’ initiative, which will include 12 month paid internship positions for BAME applicants and the opportunity for those who do not currently feel represented by the board to be mentored by a board member.

Meanwhile the Blake Friedman Agency launched the Carol Blake Open Doors Project, offering expenses-paid shadowing placements for young people. Additionally, The London Book Fair and the Publishers Association launched a new ‘Inclusivity in Publishing Award’, recognising UK publishers that have demonstrated commitment to improving inclusivity across the publishing ecosystem.

For the publishing industry to become more inclusive, HR is one of the key areas where this change is going to happen, whether it’s as part of the recruitment process and avoiding unconscious bias, or even something as fundamental as initiating outreach to make young people of all backgrounds aware of the opportunities in publishing and that it could be a career for them. It’s likewise essential that we ensure members of the industry from all backgrounds have role models to look up to. And we need to be recruiting the role models of the future now.

As author, Frances Mesah Williams, pointed out at the conference, we need to make diversity in publishing normal. In order to ensure publishing continues to be the vibrant place it is today, making diversity normal needs to be firmly at the top of the agenda.

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