February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Book Publishing—from Executives to Reviewers—Is White and Female, Survey Finds

Nearly 80 percent of publishing and review journal staff is white, according to the 2015 “Diversity Baseline Survey,” which found that the book industry is also primarily female (78.2 percent).

Released today, the survey results, while not unexpected, add another dimension to the ongoing discussion about diversity in children’s books.

Spearheaded by Jason Low, publisher of Lee & Low Books, the survey was sent to 11,713 publishing employees by 34 participating publishers, which included Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, and other major houses, according to today’s blog post on the Lee & Low site. The one-page questionnaire asked employees to anonymously provide their racial identity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status.

Eight publications, from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly to The Horn Book and School Library Journal, administered the survey to 1,524 review journal employees. Total survey results reflect a 25.8 percent response rate, Low reported in the post.

Just under 80 percent of publishing staff and review journal staff self-identify as white, according to the survey, followed by Asians/Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders at 7.2 percent and Hispanics/Latinos/Mexicans (5.5 percent). Black/African Americans comprise 3.5 percent of publishing employees, and biracial/multiracial people, 2.7 percent, Native Americans, 0.5 percent, and Middle Easterners, 0.8 percent.

“While all racial/ethnic minorities are underrepresented when compared to the general US population, the numbers show that some groups, such as Black/African Americans, are more severely underrepresented,” writes Low. “This mirrors trends among children’s book authors. In 2014, just 2 percent of the books tracked by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center were by black authors. Latinos were similarly underrepresented in both places.”

The survey infographic is reproduced below with permission of Lee & Low.

For a complete list of participating publishers and review journals, see “Behind the Scenes of Publishing’s First Diversity Baseline Survey.”

Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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  1. Why do we always have to worry about race, gender, orientation when lets just do a good job and enjoy it.!

    • Kathy,
      Those who have long been underrepresented and misrepresented (stereotyped, dehumanized, erased, lied about) understand that “a good job” in literary production and distribution means seeing all cultural production as inherently related to issues of real power and cultural visibility. When children of color in the U.S. do not see themselves, their families, their neighborhoods (because the U.S. is highly segregated) in the literature of their society, it tells them that they don’t matter, that their stories are not interesting or valuable. That they are not beautiful. That their struggles have nothing to teach other people.

      Also, if we truly want to help children become “global citizens,” as those in American education culture often do, we also need to think about literature in terms of the fact that people “of color” are the majority on the planet, and that much of the riches of the so-called Western/Northern world was extracted through colonialism and slavery from the global South and from lands where people had been living continuously for thousands of years. Colonialism redrew boundaries to suit the colonizing economy and when those regions achieved political independence, civil wars and militarization often ensued because of the creation of a collaborator class that gained power under the colonizers. Colonizers imposed extractive mono-economies on regions, destroying indigenous ways of life and their sustainable economies. Every American librarian needs to grasp this at a deep level and let this guide their important work for readers, of all ages. Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy and of civilizations in general–what is in them is important. It is history. Lee & Low Books and others are doing critical work. Please reconsider your position and join the movement for a literature that actually reflects our world and includes everyone fairly. Exclusionary practices, whether unconscious or not, need to be identified, analyzed, dismantled, and transformed. Respectfully, Sun Yung Shin, author and public school English teacher

      • Leah Delia Larson says:

        Thank you for illuminating the historical processes that have contributed to the mis/under-representation of people of color in literature. As educators and librarians who assign and promote reading to our students and patrons, as people in publishing who are the gatekeepers of the books available for reading, we need to think beyond our own experiences. We all need diverse books, and those of us with power need to get on board. Well said!


    • Totally agree! We need to stop looking at what is different about everyone and start looking at who is most qualified and who is the best candidate for the job. We should not be hiring anyone based on their profile, people who work the hardest, are best qualified and the best candidate should get the job. Otherwise you ARE discriminating on people based on their color, religion, etc. It would not be fair to not give the job to the best candidate just because they are a women or white. That is racism and we are trying to eliminate discrimination of any kind based on differences.

  2. I think it’s easier to say ‘why question it, let’s just make good books’ when your work statistically is the book that will land on bookshelves. It’s harder to say that when you have grown up with little to no books that reflect you or your culture. It’s important that children and all readers have access to diverse books that encompass who we are as a nation and as an ever changing society. 2% is not diversity and is simply not acceptable in 2016.

  3. ChristieK says:

    From the stats perspective, the number that jumps out to me is the low response rate, 25.8. This means the real data may be far more drastic than is represented here. What would the numbers look like with a 100% response rate and those non-reporting were of this majority? Even more dismal.
    But we all have a responsibility: Children need to have access to the broadest range of books and the way to make that happen within the publishing AND school/library setting.

    • Kathy Ishizuka Kathy Ishizuka says:

      The 25.8 response rate is actually a bit high for an online survey, as Jason Low indicates in the blog post announcing the results. Indeed, Christie, one can only wonder about the actual picture if a greater percentage had responded. The post also speculates about the potential effect of self-selection in this survey.