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How can publisher associations tackle diversity and inclusion?

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On 25 March 2022, the Publishers Association in the UK published its latest Diversity survey of the publishing workforce. Michiel Kolman, Chair of the IPA's Inclusive Publishing and Literacy Committee spoke to Dan Conway, the incoming CEO of the Publishers Association in the UK about their longstanding work in this area.

Michiel Kolman (MK): The PA started out 5 years ago with a comprehensive D&I strategy. What triggered this and what were the top 3 objectives?

Dan Conway (DC): It was mainly triggered by member interest and need. We were also conscious of developments in other sectors that were seeking to support diversity and inclusion at an industry level. There was growing public and government interest. It was becoming more important in a number of respects to contribute and was the right thing to do.

Our main consideration when starting the work was how we could add value as an association. What could we do that complemented the excellent work that was already happening within many of the publishing organisations that make up our membership? And, crucially, how could we ensure that we developed a plan that encompassed organisations at completely different stages of their D&I journey?

We were clear from the start that a crucial role we could play was the development and aggregation of data. If you care about something, you measure it. And, at the time, there wasn’t much data at an industry level and we felt that was where we could probably make the biggest difference.

So, a key objective was building the evidence base and the quality of the information collected at an industry level. The annual workforce survey became a cornerstone of the plan and what started as a small survey with 23 organisations and 2,648 employees contributing has grown significantly. A total of 14,089 employees from 60 businesses took part in 2021. 

 

MK : Now 5 years later can you reflect on the D&I program itself: what went smoothly and what took more effort than anticipated? What advice would you have for IPA members who want to embark on a similar D&I program?

DC : A lot has moved on in this area in five years. It took longer to reach the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic target set than we had all hoped and there is still a huge amount to do in this area.

One of the things we’ve been pleased with mentioned in the plan is the establishment of the Publishing Assistant Apprenticeship. This was the first apprenticeship of its kind and has been embraced by many of our members and is providing a valuable additional access route.

One thing that I think everyone concentrated on when we first launched the plan was entry level. But there is rightly a growing focus on retention, progression and seeing more diverse talent in more senior roles.

The fundamentals of the plan are sound but best practice and some of the terminology has moved on.

In terms of advice, I think start small, keep focus and really ask yourselves the question about where you can add value. Start with building an understanding of the industry picture in your country. I think for a lot of associations that is going to be around data and aggregation and also playing a role in showcasing what members are doing. And, of course, it should all be member driven and if you have a few businesses that will really champion it and get involved at the start that will help massively.

 

MK : Let’s discuss the outcomes of the 5 year D&I program: what were the 3 successes? Where did the program fall short?  

DC : I would say the successes were:

  • The establishment and development of the survey itself which has enabled us to paint a much clearer picture of the industry and where efforts need to be focused.
  • The role the survey played in encouraging more publishers to collect this data and benchmark their companies, as well as develop their D&I strategies.
  • The establishment of the Publishing Assistant Apprenticeship.

In terms of falling short, we deliberately started quite small. I think in retrospect, perhaps we should have got individual companies to sign up or pledge to use the plan. This kind of happened naturally in that companies do reference following it, but perhaps a sign-up mechanism like we used for our sustainability initiative Publishing Declares might have been helpful. I also think more monitoring mechanisms for different elements of the pledge might have been useful, but that would have been a lot of additional resource so it is perhaps something to think about in the next iteration.

 

MK : Can we zoom in on the latest survey. What were the key findings? You set targets: which were met and where did the UK publishers fall short? Which lessons can be drawn here?

DC : The latest survey showed that there has been an increase in the diversity of the workforce, but that there are still areas which need to be improved on.

Key findings were: 

  • Over half of those in executive leadership and senior management positions are female (52% and 56% respectively). 63% of survey respondents were female. 
  • Representation of people from ethnic minority groups (excluding white minorities) has increased to 15%, achieving the Publishers Association’s target set for 2022.
  • LGB+ representation continues to increase further with 13% of respondents either identifying as lesbian, gay, or bi, or preferring to self-describe their sexual orientation, a figure which has grown each year since 2017 (5%).
  • 1% of respondents identify as trans which is in line with the UK population according to Government Equalities Office estimates.
  • The representation of people with a disability has increased over the years from 2% in 2017 to 13% in 2021.
  • Socio-economic background continues to represent major barriers to inclusion, with around two thirds (67%) of respondents being from professional backgrounds.
  • The two targets we set around women in senior leadership and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff were met, but we absolutely can’t afford to be complacent about this.

 

MK : How easy (difficult) was it to conduct these annual surveys? Was it costly? Any advice for IPA members that want to conduct surveys?

DC : It took time to build up. We quickly found out that we needed some external support and you also really need member buy-in. For us, it worked to have a model where those companies collecting data shared it with us, and then the others who didn’t sent out a survey we had developed on our behalf. That structure isn’t ideal but it does make it easier for members – you can’t really ask those already running surveys to run another separate one. It hasn’t been especially costly and there are lots of providers out there who can assist for a range of budgets.

Response rates across companies are variable, but I do think generally staff do see the value of taking part and that awareness and understanding has grown.

 

MK : What are the key recommendation going forward on D&I? Will you launch another 5 year strat initiative? What will be new and what remain the same?

DC: We are in the process of reviewing and updating the plan at the moment. We do intend to launch a revised strategy, as much has moved on in the last 5 years – both in terms of what our members are doing and in terms of best practice.

We’re hoping to have a slightly more open process in terms of industry input to and consultation on the plan. It’s too early to say what will be new and what will stay the same, but we anticipate that the focus on data will remain and evolve. We also remain very conscious of the fact that many members have their own policies and plans in this area as well as hugely differing resources – we can’t be too prescriptive, because we need to take as many organisations as we can with us.

Intersectionality is much more at the forefront of the D&I conversation than it was 5 years ago so that will come into play. Granularity of data will be important. We’ll also look again at the targets, but this might take slightly longer as we’re keen to see and refer to the latest data from the UK census. It is anticipated that the latest census results will show that the UK population has become more diverse by a number of metrics, so that will need to be taken into account in terms of any targets we do set.

Our focus has mainly been on workforce but we are starting to consider other areas. Last year we published guidance for publishers who want to collect data about the protected characteristics of authors, and we’ll have to consider if this is an area where we can continue to play a role longer term.

 

MK : It is great to have D&I data at a national level, as we now have from the UK and US and a small number of western countries. How can we elevate this to have international data? Can the PA play a role here as a catalyst for an international survey? What advice do you have for the IPA here?  

DC : The idea of international data is really appealing, but we do think practically it may be challenging due to the different legal considerations in different countries around data collection. We know that this is something our members who are part of global businesses grapple with, because what is legal in terms of data collection in one country might not be in another. We’d be more than happy to feed in our experiences and it might be that some of the publishers who’ve experienced the complexities of this at an international level might also be able to contribute. We definitely support the idea of IPA looking into this further. It would be interesting to see if other industries have managed to collect/aggregate at an international level.

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