While business and politics are ruled by straight white men, book publishing is run by straight white women

The ruling elite.
The ruling elite.
Image: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton
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The publishing industry has a big—albeit unique—diversity problem: It’s got too many women. Straight, white women, to be exact.

Minority writers and others who don’t fit that above profile have spoken out in the past about the homogeneity of the industry, with Man Booker-prize winner Marlon James going so far as to accuse publishers of seeking fiction that specifically “panders to that archetype of the white woman—that long-suffering, astringent prose set in suburbia.” This week, children’s book publisher Lee & Low, a minority-led company that advocates for diversity in the publishing industry, released the results of year-long research that finds a grain of truth in those claims.

Lee & Low sent more than 13,000 surveys to publishing employees in the US and Canada. The polls—which got a response rate of 25%, including from some of North America’s biggest publishers, like Penguin Random House and MacMillan—suggest that every sector within publishing is dominated by people who identify as white, female, and heterosexual. Overall, 78% of the industry self-reported as female, and 88% as straight. (The exception to this trend is at the executive level, where there’s a more-or-less even breakdown of gender.)

In the industry overall, 79% of people are Caucasian while just 4% are black, 7% are Asian, 6% are Hispanic, and less than 5% are Native American, Middle Eastern, or biracial. Figures on sexual orientation and disability status are no less lopsided.

An industry filled to the brim with women who have likely experienced discrimination in other areas at one point or another in life doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more open to diversity; as Lee & Low marketing director Hannah Ehrlich told Take Part, ”Do not assume that because women are successful or are in positions of power that that means that that success or power will automatically be offered out or shared with other marginalized groups.” The measly percentage of books with diverse protagonists published every year would support that.

So how do we get more diversity in book publishing—and, consequently, in books themselves? Pushing publishing companies to launch diversity initiatives may take things a step in the right direction. Readers and writers can also be more vocal about what they’d like to read; after all, publishers are businesses, and businesses need people to buy their product.