As the truly disturbing revelations of sexual harassment in the film, media, and publishing industries have been breaking over the past few months, we have been talking and writing and wondering about how to create safe, diverse, and equitable workplaces—workplaces where sexual harassment and discrimination are not tolerated, and where everyone is held accountable for their actions.
When the Weinstein, Rose, and Lauer media powerhouses fell so quickly and so permanently, I was sure that the book publishing industry would also have its day of reckoning. After all, for decades, many in the industry have experienced the nightmare of sexual harassment and discrimination without a safe outlet for protection or support.
I also thought that, finally, the gross inequities in pay that still exist for women, the imbalance in the share of management positions held by men, and the profound lack of diversity within publishing houses and in what is being published would be widely and publicly acknowledged as publishing’s culture problem. I thought that serious efforts would be made, by people in the positions to do so, to take the critical steps needed to change the culture of our industry by promoting equality as well as humanity in its own ranks.
The silence on these issues from publishers has, for the most part, been deafening. But I am not without hope. While frustrating, it is a reminder that change does not come easily or swiftly, and that there is still a lot of work to be done. And that those of us in the trenches are the ones who have to do it. Women have always been on the forefront of social and cultural change, and they have been fighting for equality in publishing for a very long time, including during a very active period in the 1970s when women were striking and attempting to unionize in the face of gross inequalities in the workplace.
Throughout my career, and especially with my volunteer work as the president of the Women’s National Book Association, a 100-year-old organization founded on the belief in the power of books to facilitate change and promote social justice, I have witnessed the capacity of collaboration and community to open minds and facilitate change. I believe now, more than ever, in the importance of books in teaching compassion, humanity, and understanding, and I want books to be brought to life in fair, equitable, and safe workplaces that set an example for the rest of the world.
Organizations like We Need Diverse Books, the newly formed People of Color in Publishing, and Vida, a nonprofit group that has brought close scrutiny to which books are being reviewed and by whom in major literary publications, are working hard to focus the attention of the publishing industry on the critical issues of diversity, equality, and the need for a cultural shift in the publishing workplace. They are organized and their voices are being heard.
I believe that members of the publishing community have a responsibility to continue to push the industry to better reflect who they are and the values that they hold. I am only one person, and I don’t have all of the answers, but I do believe that we have strength in numbers and that being organized allows us to push doors open even farther. Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace are a collective problem, and we need the strength of all of us to fight against it.
So, my advice to those in the industry? Don’t let your weariness keep you down: participate, speak up, speak out, support, and volunteer. Use your knowledge and talents to move these conversations and cultural shifts forward. In the words of Angela Davis, “Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’ ”
Jane Kinney-Denning is the executive director of Pace University’s publishing program and president of the Women’s National Book Association.