A report that Penguin Random House released last week on its U.S. workforce demographics shows that 78% of its nonwarehouse employees and 80% of its warehouse employees are white, pointing to the obstacles that publishing must overcome to diversify its workforce. According to the report, Asian Americans make up about 8% of nonwarehouse staff, while Hispanics make up 7% and African Americans 4%. In PRH warehouses, Hispanics make up 11% of staff, Asian Americans 4%, and African Americans 3%. By gender, the nonwarehouse staff is 73% women and warehouse staff is 59% women.

The numbers conform to industry surveys conducted by both Lee & Low and PW. PRH used as a benchmark the Lee & Low 2019 diversity survey, which found that 76% of the industry (including reviewers, publishing employees, and agents) is white. About 80% of respondents to PW’s annual surveys, which are confined to publishing employees only, are white (84% in the most recent survey, last fall; a new PW survey will be sent out soon). As PRH noted in its report, only 60% of the U.S. population is white.

The PRH report shows that the company has improved its diversity efforts over the past four years. In 2016, 79.1% of all new hires were white, compared to 70.9% so far in 2020. In 2016, 3.6% of new hires were African American, 5.2% were Hispanic, and 8.8% were Asian American, in contrast to 2020, when, so far, 6.5% of new hires have been African American, 6.5% have been Hispanic, and 6.5% have been Asian American. (In 2019, 9.5% of new PRH hires were Asian American.)

PRH U.S. CEO Madeline McIntosh said the report shows that despite some progress, much more work needs to be done.“I don’t think any of us is likely to be surprised by the data, which show that our company, like our industry, is far too homogeneous. But seeing what we generally know to be true documented this way is hard: the distance we have to travel to become a truly diverse company feels all the more daunting when you look at the numbers.”

McIntosh emphasized that PRH’s goal is to “reflect the demographics of American society,” but she also acknowledged the difficulty of achieving that goal. The publisher has a “very high retention rate,” she explained, and staff often spend their entire careers at the house, stalling the promotion of new hires. “We can be proud of this low turnover while also understanding that it means our population evolves very gradually, and that means the time horizon for substantially changing our demographics is a long one.”

Two findings of the report touched on topics that have recently drawn increased scrutiny: the concentration of white employees in high executive positions and the ability of BIPOC employees to rise through the publishing ranks.

The report found that just over 90% of what PRH calls “executive teams” are white. The information on upward mobility was more anecdotal. PRH said an examination of data related to promotions “found variations (for all demographic groups) driven by job function and business area. Within individual divisions, the fact that the number of BIPOC employees is small means we could not find evidence of any significant or sustained trends—positive or negative—linking demographics to promotion rates. The main takeaway here is that it is unacceptable for our numbers to be too low to accurately illustrate any trends. The data did not show any significant discrepancies in the attrition/resignation rates of BIPOC employees compared to non-BIPOC employees.”

Steps to improve

The report also outlines PRH’s efforts in recruitment and hiring, which include a hiring manager toolkit designed to help managers prepare job descriptions, identify and remove potential biases, and ensure fair interviews. The company, the report continued, will expand its partnerships with schools and school organizations with significant BIPOC enrollment or membership in order to “broaden our candidate pool.” PRH is also adding a new position for a campus recruiter, who will build relationships with schools with diverse enrollment, including historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities member institutions.

PRH noted in the report that it sees an examination of its recruitment and hiring practices as part of an overall audit of its publishing programs focused on “increasing the number of books we publish by people of color” and “having all employees participate in antiracism training.”

McIntosh said, “The board and I are determined to make incremental progress even in the short term. Working toward greater diversity, and toward a truly inclusive culture, is not something that any individual department, or the board as a whole, can achieve on its own. It’s something we’re all going to have to work on together.”

To help hold PRH accountable about the progress it will make in its diversity efforts, the company will post the report on its website and will update it annually. “Change is overdue,” PRH wrote in the report, “and we, as an industry leader, have a responsibility to make that change happen.”