Publishers, do you think your industry doesn't have a problem with gender inequality? Here's why you're wrong!

When I started Business Inclusivity, I got in touch with a few publishers to float the idea past them. In general, the response was always more or less along the same lines: “We don’t have an issue with gender equality, we’ve got women on the board so that’s all done and dusted.”

However, since The Bookseller published an interview with me last week, I have been overwhelmed by messages from women in publishing, some old colleagues, some total strangers, telling me how glad they were to hear about the launch of Business Inclusivity and how badly the industry needs such initiatives. I’ve had women tell me of discovering male colleagues were paid up to 25% more than them and their subsequent fight for fair treatment; women telling me of times they’ve been told to dress differently at work so they don’t distract men; women who’ve been asked to pour coffee and take minutes at Board meetings with peers; women whose performance reviews have focussed on personalities not competencies; the list goes on, and on, and on.

So, here is why I think publishers are wrong to say they have tackled gender inequality:

  • The gender pay gap stood at 16% in 2013; the next industry survey is due in September and initial indications are that we have made little progress towards salary equity in the past 4 years
  • Women may have made it into boardrooms, but they remain significantly under-represented in the “C-Suite” roles – where are the female CEOs, CFOs, and COOs? In fact, things have gone backwards in this respect – the days of Victoria Barnsley and Gail Rebuck are long gone, and in a hasty count of the biggest publishers today I identified 8 male CEOs, but not one woman
  • In a Guardian article earlier this year about women in publishing, Danuta Kean identified many similar stories to those I’ve been sent in the past week, about women experiencing discrimination regularly but feeling unable to speak up – who can blame them when senior figures in the industry insist there is “no problem” to solve here?

And here is why I think publishers should start taking this seriously:

  • As Danuta Kean points out, publishing is an industry founded on entrepreneurs and creativity; homogeneity in the boardroom stifles that creativity and shuts down the different voices that are vital to success
  • Women make up 70 to 80% of publishing roles, yet even in the most proactive companies they generally never make up more than about 30% of board roles
  • The barriers to entry into the industry are getting higher: students leaving university now have debts that a publishing salary will simply never allow them to pay back, and most roles remain in London where house prices continue to rise. In this scenario what tempts a graduate to enter the industry? Who are the publishers of the future?
  • Simultaneously, the barriers to publishing content are getting lower; authors who don’t see themselves represented in the industry now have more options than ever enabling them to operate outside it, whether self-publishing, blogging and posting online, or other routes to market

This is no time for complacency. Publishing needs to change, and fast, but clearly there is some education to do first. With that in mind, today I’m launching my #itsreal social media campaign and I call on all my publishing colleagues to share their stories either using the #itsreal hashtag or by contacting me directly if you prefer to remain anonymous. Only by shining a light on the issue can we start to tackle it.

I am also calling on publishers to face up to these issues and to start working towards truly inclusive workplaces, where everyone feels that this is an industry they could enter and succeed in. It’s not enough just to have some women on the board; these women need to be in the positions of real power, and all women in publishing need to be supported from entry right through to senior management, benefitting both the company and the individual. I don’t want to see the industry I love, and have worked in for 20 years, wither and fade into insignificance, but there is a real danger of this happening if these issues are not tackled, and quickly.