A recent report by the Census Bureau describes an American population that already has changed a great deal, and, by the year 2020, will have changed a great deal more. Hispanics will be the second-largest minority, overtaking African Americans, and the white population will continue to decrease its percentage of the population. Publishing, like every other American business, will be affected by these changes. People, after all, are what markets are made of. And as the demographics shift, as markets shift, businesses that provide entertainment and educational products to the American public may find that the makeup of their workforce does not effectively reflect the market they serve. And that can be more than a public relations disaster; it can be a financial one.
Speaking at the recent AAP annual meeting in Puerto Rico, Harold Hodgkinson, of the Center for Demographic Policy of the Institute for Educational Leadership, characterized the situation this way; “it is an interesting challenge for industries like your own, which is dominated by old, white, rich people, to figure out how to develop new markets." Will an overwhelmingly white publishing industry remain a metaphorical house without doors, attracting neither minority workers to their employ nor minority audiences to their products?
It is clear that certain publishers recognize the growing importance of minority readers. One World at Ballantine, Amistad Press and the New Press, each with significant numbers of minority workers, are committed to finding and publishing to new and often neglected markets. And the best sellerdom of writers like Terry McMillan, Alice Walker and even Cornel West has established that there is indeed a large audience for non-white voices. But how can publishers diversify the ethnic component of their staffs?
Ask most people in the publishing industry about diversity among their employees and you’ll probably get back a one-liner: “Don’t you mean lack of diversity?”
No one PW talked to in the course of preparing this article - from the upper-level executive to the youngest associate editor - disputed the fact that the book publishing industry lacks representative numbers of African American, Asian and Hispanic employees - the three most sizable segments of the U.S. minority population, and that the lack extends to every level of a business that goes right to the heart of American culture. And if the implications of Hodgkinson’s questions are correct, the dearth of minority workers may also, eventually, have an impact on the hallowed bottom line of publishing.
Of course, everyone agrees that there should be more minorities in the business. However, when the question changes as to why this state of affairs exists, and whether or not anything can or should be done about it, the answers are tellingly various. Some feel there are cultural, if not racial, biases at work; others contend that there are indeed racial causes. And still others, pointing to the liberalness of the industry, conclude that it is a mystery why there aren’t more non-white people in publishing.
Lack of Interest?
Publishing is rather a fortunate industry in that it seldom has to recruit people, particularly in New York. Publishers, large and small, are besieged with applications from hundreds of eager would-be editorial assistants, often Ivy League school graduates. Many industry people made the point that minorities in general and blacks in particular just don’t seem interested in the business.
“Qualified minorities are heavily recruited by industries offering salaries that publishers can’t possibly match,” says on publisher. When a publisher does find a qualified minority, goes this line of thought, the person won’t stay put; at the first better offer, he or she is off to the next career opportunity. Other respondents point to the glacial pace of job mobility, or simply to the smaller number of jobs available these days as the larger end of the industry lurches through a downsizing.
“Most editorial assistants,” says one editor, who is white, eventually “go to law school. They don’t become editors. I tell my assistants that it will take a miracle for them to get promoted.” And getting a foot in the publishing door, at least in New York City, often requires financial support from the family while an editorial assistant tries to live on a salary of $18,500. This is a luxury many minority families simply cannot afford.
But in other cases, says Genee Seo, a Korean-American senior editor at HarperCollins, the lack of minorities may be due to cultural reasons. Seo tells PW, “My parents were really trying to get me into something that fell into their definition of what success was - a doctor or a lawyer. My mother saw me as a rebel for even considering publishing.”
Gary Luke, a Chinese-American senior editor at S & S with 15 years in the industry, also noted that he had to convince his parents that “there will be a payoff. They never heard of other [Chinese] people’s children going into publishing.” But he is also quick to point out that “the industry needs people of any color who care about authors and books. There is a natural selection involved in all industries. I don’t think it is the industry that’s excluding minorities. I think it is minorities who have elected not to pursue careers in book publishing.”
A Hostile Climate
Lack of money, career gridlock, cultural difference and personal inclination all contribute to the problem, but many editors - most minorities as well as some white editors - are quick to point out that they feel most large trade publishers are often simply inhospitable to anyone who doesn’t fit the stereotypical publishing background: white, privileged, with the cultural enthusiasms, tastes and habits of social interaction associated with an Ivy League background. Most publishers interviewed for this article reject the notion that the publishing industry is guilty of racist hiring practices, reasoning that the industry is too politically liberal for that charge to stand. “It’s about talent and talent only,” says one executive. “There are no color or creed distinctions. You don't hire people by the pound.”
Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of African American editors PW spoke with point to what they describe as a “hostile climate for minorities” in the industry that prevents minorities from feeling welcome. This criticism ranges from outrage (“The industry is segregated. You see law firms and banks integrating, but no black book editors? It has to be by design. It's a closed industry”) to wry lamentation (It’s the whitest industry in America. City Ballet has more black dancers than most trade houses have black editors).
One African American editor says that “there’s a set of assumptions about blacks, and a tendency to underestimate black employees. Many white editorial workers have not had exposure to the full range of African Americans.” Another editor tells PW that “it’s difficult to establish your credibility” and describes a mindset she calls “cultural chauvinism,” noting that some white editors “feel entitled to remain ignorant” of topics and subjects outside their own background. One African American editor, describing conditions at a large trade house, complains that often “marketing didn’t trust the [black] market, and I had the added burden of having to educate colleagues above and below about black history. Marketing departments “don’t believe that black people read books, and successful black books are made to seem as somehow not black.”
And while that same editor acknowledges that problems with marketing have improved, she also points out that “what has not improved is hiring practices. I don’t see the evidence of any effort. We’re marginalized. Id didn’t even know the house had an affirmative action office. The biases are subtle and insidious, and wear you down over time.”
Hispanics are 9.7% of the U.S. population, and double that in New York City, but they are virtually invisible in New York City publishing operations. Nicholas Kanellos, publishers of Arte Publico press based in Houston, one of the largest nonprofit Hispanic literary publishers in the U.S., tells PW, “There is clearly a problem. It’s a general insensitivity, a lack of knowledge of Hispanic culture and an ignorance of Hispanic literacy in mainstream publishing.” Kernels also complains that unpublished New York Puerto Rican writers must come to him for a fair reading because of a lack of knowledgeable editors at large houses.
“I’ve never received a call from any New York publishing house looking to recruit anyone,” says Kanellos. “I’ve had people who worked here at Arte Publico move to New York looking for editorial work and never find anything.”
Sheila Anderson, a production coordinator at W.H. Freeman and president of the Bookbinders Guild, is an African American with 10 years of experience on the production side. She points to a “fair” number of black women in managerial positions in production but notes a reluctance among printers to hire black sales reps, a job her colleagues over the years have often suggested would suit her talents. She considered the move until one printing sales manager told her, in a moment of startling candor, “I would have a hard time selling you to the plant.”
Juanita James, an African American senior v-p at BOMC, believes that “people will stay if they are challenged and feel they are making progress. If they move on, it’s usually not just money; when people are alone they represent more and mistakes are magnified.”
Racial bias, say some black professionals, hovers ominously over other areas of the business. Some professionals complained that white literary agents of black writers get advances far higher than black agents are able to secure for what they considered to be inferior books. “Literary agents assume that black editors can’t get the money that white editors can, and editors become successful because agents like them.”
‘Not Interested in Tokens’
“If you go by editorial, obviously diversity is not happening,” says Errol McDonald, v-p and executive editor of Pantheon, who questions whether an overemphasis on the numbers of minorities visible around the office might degenerate into tokenism or ineffectual political correctedness. “Editorial is only one part. Diversity should be obtained in marketing, sales and promotion as well.” However, McDonald has his own ideas about publishing and ethnic diversity. “Let’s face it,” he says, “the business has a background of gentility. If you come from a certain background, people don’t want to see their kids take a job with little upward mobility, a limited pay range and no future guarantees. I’m not interested in tokens. Even if you get the mix of people you want, it doesn’t mean those people will end up publishing what you imagine them to be publishing. I’m more interested in entrepreneurs, in someone setting up an independent black business. You can have all the internships you want, but what’s the point if the jobs don’t go anywhere?”
McDonald is clear on another point: “The business of publishing is not to reflect some vision of American democracy, it’s to clock dollars. A publisher says, ‘Why should I hire these minorities when I already have all these white people losing me money?’ In fact, I’m glad it’s not something that publishers are focusing on. Because if they did and diversity didn’t work right away, publishing people would always say, ‘Forget it, it doesn’t work.’”
Despite his apparent skepticism towards what might be called head-count diversity, he adds, “Sure you should try to recruit young people. But you can’t legislate presence. The chances are against you in publishing. America doesn’t afford the kind of diversity we’re talking about in any arena. It’s not whether minorities are here, it’s whether they’re interested in being here.”
The Corporate Challenge
Minority executives point to another problem at the higher echelons of management: a commitment to diversity from those in corporate administration is not always seen as a plus for one’s career. “I’ve always been committed to having a diverse staff, a healthy mix of people brings great dynamics and stimulate innovation,” says one black senior v-p. “Yet my colleagues who do not are not held accountable for it.” Black supervisors, the executive noted, have a double burden: “If you hire an African American, you are both under a microscope. If the individual fails, there’s an assumption that the person was hired for their race.”
Publishers acknowledge some of these questions and say they are trying to address them with varying degrees of success. Tom McCormack, CEO and chairman of St. Martin’s Press, says, “I think we’re more active than most industries in trying to get qualified minorities. I just don’t see publishers rejecting minorities based on race.
“The patterns of employment go up and down,” McCormack continues. “A while ago we had very many Asian Indian editorial employees. Now there are many fewer Asians at the company - for no particular reason. We try to make an extra effort to recruit minorities. But many companies are under legal mandates to integrate, and the kind of qualified minority candidate that we would be interested in gets a lot of attention from other industries.”
Ben Roter, senior vice-president of human resources for Simon & Schuster, tells PW, “You have to approach recruiting on two levels. One is the university level, best represented by the program at Howard University. We want a real-time, proactive relationship as job openings here become available. The Atlanta University minority careers fair is another program we have used with some success. Long term recruiting,” says Roter, “begins in high schools. Annually we bring in six or seven minority students from the Englewood [N.J.] High School. You can’t just start at the university level,” he says, and, as importantly, “you must also be proactive in management training.” Roter explains that “it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s absolutely critical to the business. Just look at the demographics of the marketplace.”
Charles Hayward, president of Little, Brown admits that publishing attracts “a certain background, but I believe there’s less of that going on than there used to be. You try to create as broad and diverse an editorial group as you can. I definitely think it’s a problem for the industry. We have a responsibility, but our options are limited.” In the last year, says Hayward, Little, Brown has established a diversity task force comprised of employees from departments across the company.
Judy Kennedy, senior v-p and chief administrative officer at Little, Brown oversees the recruiting programs and notes that “we have not been as successful as we need and want to be. But we do believe that if we can get kids aware of publishing at an early age we can make a difference.” Little, Brown is part of the Boston Private Industry Council, a program that links a number of high schools and businesses. The company maintains two paid intern programs aimed at high schools and at college juniors and seniors, and both, said Kennedy, focus on minority students.
Yet despite the more than 300 applications Kennedy receives for the college internships, it is still “hard to get minorities and even harder to recruit them for real jobs. We hope to get some help from the task force.”
The industry has some experience with structured recruitment programs like COPE, the Coalition of Publishers for Employment, partially funded by government and industry in the 1970’s, which focused primarily on design and production. However, as Adrienne Ingrum, publisher of Longmeadow Press, sees it, “The industry doesn’t really reach out to anybody. Publishing doesn’t really recruit anyone - regardless of race. I don’t necessarily believe in specific ethnic recruiting, but I do believe publishers should support university publishing programs like Howard University’s.” Ingrum emphasizes that publishers need to hold their personnel departments accountable. “If you’re not seeing an array of candidates you need to ask why,” she adds.
Asking the Right Questions
“You have to remember that it’s difficult to attract minorities if the company doesn’t have many minorities,” says Dundee Holt, v-p marketing at McGraw Hill. Holt, who is African American, has been in the industry 14 years and is currently a member of the AAP’s Managing Diversity committee. He says that in 1982 fewer than 2% of college sales reps were minorities, and “even today you only have one or two minority reps on a sales staff of over 150. When I began at McGraw-Hill, there were four minority sales reps out of a staff of 170. Now there are 15, so we’ve made some improvement. Now keeping these people is the next step.”
First, Holt explains, he changed the way the company advertised its job openings in the black media: “The ad copy was asking the wrong question; ‘Have you thought about publishing as a career?’’ Well, the answer is usually no. We changed the question to emphasize personal qualities - analytical thinking, independence - and the response was tremendous. Later the company went back to the old ad format and the response dropped off again.
“I approach it as business,” Holt continues. “You can’t just say it’s the right thing to do.” Adds Holt: “I’m the only black marketing v-p in college publishing, which is sad, but when I travel around to campuses where multiculturalism is a big issue, it makes McGraw-Hill look very progressive.”
A Place Where it Works
The New Press is only two years old but it may turn out to be a model for the future of minority hiring in the publishing industry. A recent group picture of the New Press staff would suggest almost any workplace but a publishing house. The unusually diverse staff at the young nonprofit house dovetails nicely with a publishing list that focuses on minority issues, women and social analysis in general. The New Press has clearly made a commitment to practice what it publishes. Diane Wachtell, associate director, cofounder (with Andre Schiffrin) of the New Press (and this year’s Tony Godwin Award winner) tells PW that “it is more difficult to recruit senior minority people. We could just go on as usual, then give up after a while, like everybody else. But diversity is important and has had a major impact on everything here, from the smallest details of office life to the important decisions about where to publish.”
Everyone, says Wachtell, evaluates manuscripts, “and it has a direct effect on our books and on our audiences. If we weren’t committed to this, we would have different books and a credibility problem with our audiences. It’s exciting and vibrant, and, yes, it’s difficult, but I wouldn’t want to change back to the old way.”
What is most telling is that the New Press, despite its commitment to diversity, faces the same problems attracting minorities that are encountered by other publishers - low salaries, lack of mobility and retention rate. And with smaller financial resources than a large commercial house, the problems are compounded. Although the press receives a significant amount of funding from foundations, Wachtell has been unable to secure grant money for the New Press's diversity programs. "I've been able to raise money for some pretty esoteric things," she says, but money for these programs has been inexplicably hard to come by. “Foundations talk about the issue, but they don't provide the dollars."
The New Press has developed an intern program that rotates six interns every three months. They are paid a daily stipend and can make extra money doing a variety of editorial jobs as they become available. The program features regular lunchtime informal seminars that bring in industry professionals to share their specific areas of expertise. Says Wachtell, "Since we began we've had over 40 interns, most of them people of color, college students and recent graduates, and 30%-40% have gone on to continue working in publishing. There is a high level of commitment to publishing. In five years we think we'll have sent more than 100 people through our program."
Wachtell also speaks of plans to "bring in people from museums, libraries and archives. We want to raise the visibility of publishing as a viable career, and encourage them to carry the word on a publishing career to the people they know."
Some Improvement Seen
Despite their often gloomy descriptions of the workplace, most (although not all) of the minority professionals interviewed also note that they are still quite happy to be in publishing. And many of them conclude very pointed critiques of the industry with an acknowledgment that there have been some improvements in certain areas. Several black editors even ponder whether minority editors themselves were doing enough to address the problem.
"Where does this leave multiculturalism?" asks one black editor. "Publishers want to sell it, but they don't want to reflect it."
Perhaps that is still the key. Publishers do want to sell multiculturalism into the marketplace because demographics are demanding that materials reflect and relate to such an ethic. But it is clear that in order to sell it profitably, they will need the expertise, the cultural insight and the credibility that only a diverse workforce can bring to the table.
Publishing Organizations and Diversity
By: Tania Padgett
Three publishing organizations - the AAP, Black Women in Publishing and PEN American Center - are actively involved in addressing the need for ethnic diversity in the industry. Five years ago, the AAP organized a Managing Diversity committee. “It is easy to bring minorities into book publishing, but difficult to sustain them,” says committee director Roberta Plultzik. The AAP currently underwrites scholarships for book publishing programs and sponsors minority seminars, most recently a joint effort with Howard University.
The AAP also tries to track minorities among its 200 members. A 1991 survey of 29 AAP members found that out of a total of 69,550 employees, 9.3% were African Americans, and 20.8% could be considered minorities. The bulk of these minority positions, however, were in clerical categories.
Toni Banks, an account executive at McGraw Hill, is not surprised by that fact. Banks, who is also the spokesperson for Black Women in Publishing, an organization dedicated to diversifying the industry, says that indeed some firms are employing more minorities these days, but “we are not in the areas where we are in control of what gets published.” Banks, who also sits on AAP’s diversity committee, said that BWIP provides networking opportunities and seminars. Its most recent program, “Launching and Running an Independent Press,” was held at NYU.
Steven Friedman, the communications director of the PEN American Center, has organized the Open Book Society to address minority hiring in book publishing, chaired by author Walter Mosley. The committee sponsored a publishing day for minorities, and this past March drew more than 100 minority students to a panel of minority professionals who discussed their experiences in book publishing.
The Role of Publishing Courses
By: Tania Padgett
Five major book publishing programs offer some of the best routes for minorities seeking entry in the industry - yet even some of these have few minorities.
One of the programs most vigilant about attracting minorities is, of course, the Howard University Book Publishing Institute in Washington D.C. The Institute, which has a predominantly black student body, has graduated more than 200 students since its inception 10 years ago. Assistant director Bill Mayo says many of the students who graduate the two-month summer program have found jobs at houses like Simon & Schuster, John Wiley and HarperCollins. But he still has reservations: “The numbers of minorities is still small. We can give people the grounding, but there is no mentoring network, and the only way through the maze of large publishing companies - and this is fore everybody - is to have a mentor.”
The number of minorities in the Radcliffe Publishing course (in Cambridge, Mass.) has grown in the last seven years. Lindy Hess, director of the 40-year-old program, says it had one African American in its 1987 class of 80 students: more recently, 19% of its 1993 graduating class of 90 were minorities. Hess credits the increase to her contacts with university minority counselors and to recruiting heavily at black colleges.
Albert Greco, director of the graduate publishing program at the Gallatin Division of New York University, does not believe the industry is hostile to minorities. The Gallatin program's annual graduating class is about 25, of which one-quarter to one-third are minorities.
Minority numbers at both the Stanford Publishing Course and the University of Denver Publishing Institute are small. In 1992 Stanford gave out four minority fellowships and last year it awarded five. However, says Jennifer Watanabe, course manager, some minorities attend without scholarships. The University of Denver Publishing Institute reported that only 3% of its most recent graduating class of 90 were minorities. Elisabeth Geiser, founder of the program, tells PW, "It's not that an effort is not made. Each year 50 of our graduates go to different colleges to recruit. I've gone to historically black colleges with scholarships in my back pocket, and I still had a sparse turnout."