In the US, publishing is still a hostile world for ethnic diversity

·2-min read
In the United States, more than 70% of publishing professionals have experienced microaggressions because of their ethnicity.

More and more publishing professionals are speaking out about the lack of diversity in the industry. A new survey highlights the discrimination and abuse faced by people of various ethnic backgrounds working in publishing companies. Something that seems to be all too common.

It's a world that remains "very, very, very white," Olivier Nora, CEO of French publishing company Editions Grasset, told the New York Times when describing the country's literary world. But the phenomenon is far from unique to France, as reveals a survey carried out by People of Color in Publishing and Latinx in Publishing. More than 200 US industry professionals contributed to the survey in July 2018, although the results were only recently published due to the pandemic.

Although the publishing industry has been doing some serious soul-searching in recent years, the day-to-day lives of people of color working in this environment can still prove challenging. For example, more than 90% of professionals surveyed by People of Color in Publishing and Latinx in Publishing have attended a meeting where they were surrounded only by Caucasian colleagues.

"In two different departments, I have seen Black women be excluded from after-work hang-outs, text message threads, etc., and all of my white colleagues claimed ‘race had nothing to do with it. It's just her ‘personality.' Except these were two different Black women and two different sets of white teams of employees," recalls one survey participant.


In addition to being isolated, ethnically diverse employees are often victims of microaggressions and other inappropriate comments in the workplace. This was the case for 72.9% of survey participants. One respondent gives examples such as: "people of the same race being confused for one another (very often, especially with Black employees), making fun of how hard some foreign names are to pronounce, making blanket statements/generalizations about a cultural/racial group, comments in acquisitions meetings that a book was ‘niche' or not ‘commercial' if it featured a character of color."

Despite this toxic environment, less than a quarter of the employees surveyed have ever told their company's human resources department about abuse. And even then, without much success. "HR was aware of the issue that had been long-standing. However, because this involved executives, nothing was ever addressed," recalls one survey respondent.

As a result, many choose to modify their behavior in an attempt to better integrate this very homogeneous environment. More than 60% of the professionals surveyed have already changed the way they speak, behave or dress to avoid awkward moments, and to make "white colleagues feel more comfortable."

While the report contains a wealth of advice to help publishing professionals address these issues, it also points out that such efforts must be implemented throughout the literary world.

Caroline Drzewinski

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