In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, many religion and spirituality publishers publicly stepped-up commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workforce and in their book acquisitions and marketing. Since then, however, the impact of the Covid pandemic, plus economic upheavals that prompted layoffs, hiring freezes, and other cost controls have challenged these commitments—according to PW's conversations with executives at half a dozen executives.
When asked for an update on their DEI efforts, no publishers shared statistics. However, executives contacted by PW at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, InterVarsity Press, Eerdmans, Loyola, New World Library, and Paulist Press each spoke of their determination to push ahead. Several acknowledged that hiring efforts have stalled in this economic climate, but efforts to broaden acquisitions from people of color are moving forward with workarounds such as new partnerships and strategies to reach more BIPOC editors, writers, and readers.
Mark Schoenwald, president and CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing and HarperCollins Focus, said, "We want to remain relevant in today’s conversations, which includes being more reflective of the world in which we live." He added that despite the current economic downturn, HCCP, "continues to recruit, publish and promote diverse authors and subjects as a long-term strategy" across all their publishing teams. He highlighted 20 BIPOC authors recently published or signed for trade, fiction, and children's titles and cited a new 10-year agreement between Harper Collins and the Martin Luther King, Jr. estate granting an exclusive license to publish new and previously published material from the estate's archives. (HCCP parent company, HarperCollins, is cutting 5% of its North American workforce to reduce expenses in a move due to be completed by May 31).
In advance of its annual leadership conference set for May 8, ECPA's committee on DEI efforts will discuss whether they will publicly share any findings from their recently completed DEI baseline survey of ECPA's member publishers in the U.S., which they plan to repeat in two years. Terumi Echols, president and CEO of InterVarsity Press, said she hopes the survey could become a metric for measuring progress. But, she said, "It is also a matter of time. We are doing this for the long haul. Everyone understands the necessity and the importance of this."
Echols pointed out that a great deal still can be accomplished within economic constraints. IVP's plans for opening the doors to new BIPOC employees and authors and expanding marketing to African American and Spanish-language audiences won't be enough, Echols said, without simultaneously addressing how everyone works together within the company. "I really want people to understand we all have gifts and these gifts are across the spectrum. We need to open our minds to all the creativity across the spectrum. DEI is about bringing our whole selves to work, to allow creativity and imagination and opportunities to become much broader, to cultivate a sense of belonging."
Since October 2020, Helen Lee, IVP director of product innovation, helped initiate three podcasts featuring BIPOC authors, Every Voice Now, The Disrupters, and Get in The Word with Truth's Table. Lee, who is also a member of the ECPA's DEI committee, observed: "It is going to take time, intentionality, and not a small amount of growing pains in this area until consistent and lasting change occurs in our publishing houses. Right now, the systems and structures in the Christian publishing industry are still largely established and maintained by majority-white leadership in most of our institutions. Even if younger and more diverse staff are willing to voice their opinions about their challenges, until the power dynamics begin to shift and more staff of color step into executive and managerial leadership, change will be slow. Time will reveal the organizations for whom pursuing diversity, equity, and inclusion is a true conviction, and those for whom it is just a passing fad."
Eerdman's president and publisher Anita Eerdmans told PW, “We continue to actively pursue authors that represent diversity of all kinds, and I’m pleased with some of our success there, though we acknowledge that we (all) have a long way to go in that regard."
At New World Library, editorial director Georgia Hughes said they have broadened their author ranks. Their fall 2022 list of 14 titles included three books by BIPOC authors and, "in the last three years the numbers of proposals we have from people of color have risen dramatically." She continues to work with Pub West and the Publishing Professionals Network, "to build diversity and understand the concerns of underrepresented groups." Even so, NWL has not added any new hires and, she said, "I don’t see that we will in the foreseeable future, as we have not had any openings at the company for many years."
Paulist Press is also focusing on broadening book acquisitions and marketing to Black Catholic organizations such as the Knights of St. Peter Claver, the largest African American lay association in the U.S., seeking advice and offering review copies of titles, according to president and publisher Rev. Mark-David Janus. The company does have openings—created during the Covid pandemic when many senior staffers chose to retire — but not the cash to fill them all yet, Janus said. The Catholic house is also challenged by its as location "35 miles from New York City in Northern Bergen County, which is as Caucasian as you can get," he said.
Chicago-based Loyola Press president and publisher Joellyn Cicciarelli said the Catholic press has an advantage of a large and diverse pool of workers for many departments, particularly for their Spanish-language books and catechetical materials. She also notes that diversity and inclusion goes beyond race and ethnicity and Loyola publishes and produces more titles each year to serve individuals with disabilities. For example, she said, a new series, the Adaptive Finding God Spanish lesson cards for faith formation, is being developed in consultation with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.
Jevon Bolden, an activist for agents and authors of color, praises religion publishers' DEI intentions, then prods them for progress.