As shown by Canada’s famous literary exports, Margaret Atwood and Nobel Prize–winner Alice Munro; our children’s publishers (almost all headed by women); and the 85% of my colleagues here at Kids Can Press who are female, Canadian publishing is a women’s world. Since there are so many of us, I believe we have both an opportunity and a real obligation to capitalize on that preponderance.
Canadians pride ourselves on our diversity, but Canadian publishers and their leading women can do more to support groups that remain unseen and unheard at the tables of power—including other women. I’ve come to see that kind of support manifest itself in three ways: by reaching out, reaching up, and reaching back. These three r’s haven’t eliminated systemic bias, bad actors, or a pernicious pay gap—yet. But they can contribute to ensuring that more voices are heard in more places and on more pages.
I’ve learned that by reaching out beyond my comfort zone, wonderful things can happen. When a woman I admire asked me if I would be interested in joining the Emmy Noether Council at the world-renowned Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, my gut reaction was to say no. I’d successfully avoided taking physics in high school. But this wasn’t about physics, or at least not just about that.
The Perimeter Institute is seeking to create scientific breakthroughs that can transform the future, and they understand the odds of doing that are low when half the human race is sorely absent from the blackboard. Perimeter aims to effect real change in the underrepresentation of women in theoretical physics, to wit: “Curiosity doesn’t have a gender.” So, I joined the all-women council, which, among many initiatives, encourages girls and young women to pursue careers in physics and math. Being at this table has inspired me to use my position to kick-start Kids Can Press’s growing list of STEM-related nonfiction titles and to tell more women’s stories.
I also learned to reach up. I have put my hand up often over the years to participate in initiatives to help propel the advancement of women. Despite our efforts, we’re simply not gaining enough ground, particularly in equal representation—across all industries. The statistics remain dismal. For example, as of this year women hold less than 20% of positions on Canadian corporate boards, according to Statistics Canada. We need to be in the room, on the panel, and in the boardroom if we are going to effect change in a meaningful way.
Given that, I’ve recently decided to decline invitations to sit on panels unless there is at least one other women on the dais. Having an all-male and all-white panel 10 years ago was a parking offense; today, it’s a capital offense. This is especially important in your own company, no matter how junior you are or how awkward you feel—take a stand and be the change you seek.
Finally, I learned to reach back. I’ve been formally and informally mentoring young women for years. Mentoring is one thing, sponsoring is better, so I am upping my game: sponsoring is actively promoting your mentee for fast tracks and plum assignments, nominating them for awards, and pushing them to apply for positions they think are beyond their reach.
This year, I will be reaching back with my granddaughter, Adelaide, in mind. She was born a year ago, on October 11, the International Day of the Girl. I took this as a sign that I can help “sponsor” Adelaide’s entire generation of girls. With that in mind, Kids Can Press will be hosting former prime minister Kim Campbell in November for a discussion about the growing role of and need for women in politics. This event, part of the International Women’s Forum World Leadership Conference in Toronto, offers a sneak preview of a book on the subject that we are publishing next spring.
For me, the power of diversity is one of publishing’s greatest forces for change; that power is reflected in our publishing lists, in a growing but not yet sufficient way. Canada’s women-led publishers are in a unique position to influence the ideals of diversity and inclusion—in their companies and in their books.
I believe the more we reach up, reach out, and reach back, the more profound our impact will be.