It’s no secret that lots of women work in publishing. But just how many more women work in publishing than men? In PW’s recent Salary Survey (Aug. 2) one statistic stuck out: 85% of publishing employees with less than three years of experience are women. So, while everyone knows there are more women than men working in this field, that statistic raises the question: is an almost all-female publishing industry bad for business? Does it matter?

Jason Pinter, a former editor at St. Martin’s Press (as well as Random House and Warner Books) and now an agent at the Waxman Agency, is one of the few people who’s publicly aired his opinion that it probably does matter. In a piece for the Huffington Post that ran in April, Pinter railed against the notion that men don’t read and wondered out loud if part of the problem has to do with so few men working in the business.

Pinter said that after he wrote the HuffPo item he was inundated with e-mails from librarians and teachers about societal issues with getting boys to read, and many thought curriculums were weighted toward girls. So do women and girls, who buy the most books, read more because people like them are acquiring and marketing their books?

Although Pinter reiterated to PW that he’s worked with “a lot of brilliant women in editorial” and readily acknowledged that they can and do publish books that interest men, he couldn’t help wondering if an industry so weighted toward the female side wouldn’t produce a different set of books than one a bit more diverse. “I hope it doesn’t get worse—if 85% [of the industry is female]—it’s hard to think that acquisitions aren’t in some way affected by that.”

Stuart Applebaum, spokesperson for Random House, said that the publisher doesn’t dwell much on the gender makeup of the industry. “This is not an issue of concern or even much contemplation for us,” he said via e-mail. He then cautioned against drawing too many sweeping conclusions from survey results and added, “more than 50% of Random House, Inc., U.S. officers and department heads are women, and we couldn’t be happier about that.”

Others don’t see a problem with an industry that’s dominated by women. Retha Powers, assistant director of the publishing certificate program at CUNY (an undergraduate program), said she doesn’t think that 85% statistic is worrisome, noting that men and women will likely both struggle with getting men and boys to read. “I don’t think there’s potential for overlooking male readers because there’s always a focus on trying to get that elusive 18–35 male reader,” she said.

David Unger, who heads CUNY’s program, said he’s been noticing a few more men enrolling in the courses. He said that in the summer of 2009 only two of 12 students were men, but in the spring of 2010 three of eight students who did publishing internships were men. Unger said he thinks the numbers “ebb and flow” and that, possibly, as the job market tightens, and positions in fields like finance and technology become harder to get, more men may consider publishing.

Almost all those interviewed acknowledged that publishing does have hurdles to overcome in attracting men. The main impediment for attracting men, many think, is the low pay of publishing jobs, especially entry-level ones.

Lindy Hess, director of the graduate Columbia Publishing Course, said that publishing, like teaching, has been a field that’s traditionally been “more open” to women. Hess said she also assumes that there are more female English majors out there—which may be because women like to read more than men—and that’s reflected in the industry.

At Columbia, the program has been 80% women and 20% men for the past four to five years. Asked if she felt women might not publish as well to men or boys, Hess echoed Powers’s sentiment, saying that finding books for boys “has been a concern of men and women in children’s literature for the past 10 years.” And when it comes to adult titles, Hess said it’s not about a male or female perspective. “Is there a man or a woman who would not have published Jonathan Franzen? I think great literature transcends gender in terms of editors.”

George Gibson, president of Bloomsbury USA, was taken aback by the statistic, but thought it was an interesting phenomenon if not a pressing issue. While he thought women can most certainly publish books for men, and do so well, he does think a largely female industry is something to think about. “Women and men see the world differently and therefore I think it would be healthier to have more men in the business.”

The other issue about women making up the majority of the publishing labor force is that, by default, it brings down the pay scale. As our salary survey indicated, women make on average $64,600 compared to men, $105,130. That gap, the largest one our survey has ever recorded, doesn’t help improve the industry’s image as a notoriously low-paying one.

Dr. Mary Gatta, a professor in the department of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University, said something else may be at play in discouraging men from coming into publishing. Although Gatta has not studied publishing, she said there’s a term in sociology for a field being dominated by one sex: gendering. When a field is “gendered” it becomes associated with the dominant sex in the occupation and, often, the other sex inadvertently stays away.

Gatta said people tend to think a field like nursing, which employs far more women than men, requires someone who’s caring, and a caring nature is stereotypically associated with women. The assumption then becomes, wrongly, Gatta said, that “women are naturally more caring, so women make better nurses.” Could a similar thing be happening in publishing? “Often when a field is considered a ‘female job’ it doesn’t get on the radar screens [of men],” Gatta added. So the stereotype—that women are better at and more interested in reading—could certainly be, in Gatta’s terminology, a “huge barrier” in getting men to even consider a career in books.

Survey Responses by Gender

Total Responses:1,584
70% Female 30% Male
Under 3 Years Experience: 164
85% Female 15% Male
3 to 6 Years Experience: 388
82% Female 18% Male