Global Publishing Must Adopt These 9 Steps to Make Progress on Diversity and Inclusion Now

Publishing has a chronic diversity and inclusion problem. Consider this: in the past 126 years since the International Publishers Association (IPA) was founded, there have only been two female presidents. With the election of IPA’s current Vice President, Karine Pansa, to the Presidency this will soon be three.

I mention this data point not as an institutional critique but as symbolic of the unacceptable, persistent diversity and inclusion problem global publishing has tolerated for far too long. This unbelievable fact motivated my bid for the IPA Vice Presidency in 2018, and it pushed me to take action on diversity and inclusion by founding PublisHer in 2019.

Led by an Advisory Board of senior publishing executives, including IPA’s first female president Ana Maria Cabanellas, PublisHer is a community of women publishing executives committed to addressing publishing’s long-standing diversity and inclusion challenges. The community emerged as a result of consultations held on the sidelines of major literary events in the United Kingdom and Kenya and gatherings in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. My conclusion from these discussions was that women need to take action — and now.

One of the consistent themes I heard in my interactions with women publishers and publishing firms globally was that they wanted to take action, but they didn’t know how to get started. I heard this so many times that I started to look for a definitive resource to support individual change-makers and publishing firms in their diversity and inclusion journeys. However, I came to find that there were no simple, comprehensive guides for implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives involving employees, suppliers, and customers for the publishing industry.

To address this gap, in 2020, I convened a team to develop global publishing’s first ever diversity and inclusion toolkit [Arabic | French | Spanish]. The PublisHer Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, compiled with the input of 50 senior women publishing executives, an extensive literature review, and my hands on experience at Kalimat Group, identifies steps for implementing proactive publishing diversity and inclusion initiatives.

With my presidency drawing to a close, I wanted reinforce the importance of global publishing continuing to make progress on diversity and inclusion. In this blog, I discuss the 9 steps publishing leaders can take today to get started.

Step 1 | Securing Senior Leadership Commitment and Accountability: Senior executive stewardship is critical to establishing diversity and inclusion as foundational organizational values in publishing houses. In firms which have nascent diversity and inclusion cultures, an easy way to gain senior level support is to conduct a diversity and inclusion audit to highlight issues and gaps for targeted action. While larger publishers often have existing policies, programs, and performance targets for which leaders are held accountable, smaller publishing firms often need to start with a data-led approach to gaining organizational buy-in.

Step 2 | Engaging Diverse Stakeholders: Multi-stakeholder involvement — encompassing all seniority levels and functions — is what mobilizes organization-wide action. The first step is to conduct a stakeholder mapping. These stakeholders can then nominate a diversity and inclusion working group to establish a defined set of people from multiple teams and disciplines to develop and implement a data-driven diversity and inclusion strategy.

Step 3 | Putting Policies and Processes in Place: Policies and processes articulate a publishing firm’s diversity and inclusion commitments and clarify the roles and responsibilities to move from saying to doing. Policies and processes establish targets and codify the day-to-day operational strategies to meet them.

Step 4 | Attracting Diverse Talent: To build a diverse workforce, attracting a diverse talent pool is a necessity. At Kalimat Group, for example, we use multichannel outreach via social media, job fairs, universities, and industry associations to attract a diverse range of candidates. Since job descriptions are a publishing firm’s first interaction with a potential employee, the language used is critical to shaping first impressions.

Step 5 | Hiring Diverse Talent: Preventing conscious and unconscious bias at all stages of the hiring process is important to reducing gaps between diversity objectives and actual decision-making on the ground. More deliberate hiring assessments based on objective criteria are less prone to bias, and easy to implement measures like anonymizing candidate screening and collaborative interviewing can reduce biased hiring decisions.

Step 6 | Cultivating an Inclusive Workplace: Inclusive workplaces value diverse ideas and experiences and embrace difference as an organizational superpower. Open communication ensures employees are supported, respected, and engaged. Important to maintaining open communication are pulse check surveys that provide an ongoing assessment of problems with practices and policies.

Step 7 | Offering Diverse and Inclusive Compensation and Benefits: Equity in compensation and benefits is one of the most frequent issues identified in PublisHer consultations with senior women executives in the publishing industry. Initiating a compensation and benefits gap analysis to investigate pay differences that cannot be justified and operational shortfalls can head off pay equity concerns and fast track remediation.

Step 8 | Embracing Workplace Flexibility for the New Normal: The global pandemic has accelerated the acceptance of workplace flexibility in the publishing industry. As publishers consider reopening offices, flexible work arrangements increase access to more diverse talent while improving retention and boosting employee wellbeing.

Step 9 | Ensuring Equitable Development: Female publishers want careers with value and purpose that support their learning and development. However, according to a 2019 survey, less than one third of PublisHer members feel that publishing houses offer women sufficient training and advancement opportunities. To understand shortfalls, publishers need to conduct talent assessments to identify gaps in career development and progression.

For decades now, diversity and inclusion in the publishing industry has been a subject of discussion, but progress has been extremely slow. It is more critical than ever that publishing takes action on diversity and inclusion. However, addressing global publishing’s diversity and inclusion challenge will not happen without a strategic, systematic approach — this realization prompted my work on the PublisHer Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit. I hope you find it useful. And, for further information, you can watch my talk about this topic on IPA Academy website here.

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Bodour Al Qasimi

President of International Publishers Association; Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group, Kalimat Foundation and PublisHer network to empower women in publishing.