Lessons about Diversity Equity and Inclusion from the BISG Town Hall

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By Natasha Wolfe and @RachelComerford 

This past October, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) hosted a Town Hall focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the publishing industry. BISG works to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry. Their broad membership includes trade, education, professional and scholarly publishers, as well as distributors, wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, service providers and libraries. Opening remarks were delivered by Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of the American Library Association. 

BISG DI.pngThe tone of the meeting was constructive, and focused on solutions to better support diversity and equity in the publishing industry. As Kelvin Watson, Director of Broward County Libraries Division, said during the Town Hall, “Let’s not commiserate about this. Let’s solve it.” Tracie Hall, the discussion’s moderator, challenged BISG to "diversify the ranks of trade, education, professional, and scholarly publishers, as well as those of distributors, wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and library leaders." 

Recruitment was an important topic of conversation throughout the meeting. The team had a few suggestions including establishing better recruitment practices. Suggestions included  revising job descriptions for inclusivity, raising entry level salaries to support living in cities like New York, and training managers in interview techniques that prevent unconscious bias. Furthermore, by expanding recruitment locations to include remote locations and broadening the onboarding requirements to include the potential for hiring people without a publishing background, a more diverse workforce can be cultivated.

Ellen Bush, Chair of the Association of University Presses’ Equity (AUP), noted that numerous workplace studies suggest that as employees rank increases, the proportion of minorities in those roles decreases. The panelists noted that by waiting for these same entry levels to move up to the senior leadership levels it will take decades before companies will have diverse leadership teams. Companies can better support BIPOC employees by helping them to move up the chain when new opportunities arise. She noted that when mid-level managers leave, the position is often shifted to a more junior level, which does not allow for promotion from within the publishing ranks. 

Bush also noted that we need to create more opportunities for feedback and to be open to constructive criticism from the BIPOC community. “In traditional hierarchies of organizational power, the people in charge are not the ones who get to define what’s equitable. Those with institutional power must be accountable to those who have been traditionally excluded from that power.” She reminded us all that “Trust must be earned everyday. It can break; it can be repaired; but it must always be earned.”

The panel suggested that diversity programs that get results are the ones that forgo control tactics and frame efforts more positively. April Powers, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), supported this with data from the Harvard Business Review that identified percent change over five years in representation among managers. For example, programs focusing on recruitment of minorities out of college saw a 7.7% increase in representation of black male managers and an 8.9% increase in black female managers.

There was a shared frustration reported across attendees that too often, inclusivity policies and measurements are kept private and not released to employees or the community. Many attendees noted that companies are hesitant to do this because it can reveal alarming shortcomings; however these revelations can catapult companies toward accountability in their commitment to make improvements and give visibility to how they change over time. Understanding where you are as an organization is key to identifying the changes that need to be made, and finding appropriate solutions. Many attendees and presenters discussed the importance of working with other organizations so the entire industry can benefit.

Angela Bole, CEO of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), acknowledged that addressing DEI shortcomings can be scary, and spoke to some common roadblocks that companies and individuals experience when talking about these issues. She mentioned that often, a person will ask themselves if they are really the right person to tackle these issues and they will experience a kind of imposter syndrome. Bole reminded attendees that the responsibility lives with all of us. There are many existing resources, documentation and tools to help any employee get started. See below for just a handful.

Ultimately, the meeting reinforced that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity need to be normalized in the workplace. To do that, there should be standards applied across all areas of business. Some recommendations include using pronouns with our names in Zoom meetings, making meetings and documentation accessible, embracing gender neutrality, and remembering and implementing the art of translation.

At Macmillan Learning/BFW High School, our goal is to include diverse voices in all that we do. We believe that the best companies reflect the incredible diversity in viewpoints, backgrounds, and identities of the world in their staffs, and are committed to inclusive hiring across departments and levels. By embracing these values we are better equipped to show students and instructors that we strive to produce culturally responsive pedagogy and want to ensure everyone is respected and included. 

For the presentations, chat transcript, and a recording from the BISG presentation, check out https://bisg.org/page/DiversityEquityInclusion. A summary is posted here: https://bisg.org/news/news.asp?id=535098.

Other helpful resources for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from the town hall are below.

BIPOC: What does it mean and where does it come from?


Frida Polli’s service offering


5 Free Tools to Write Better Job Descriptions


Conscious Style Guide, the first website devoted to conscious language.



Tools for Diversifying Your Staff and Sources


The Editors of Color site also has a "Database of Diverse Databases" page they're developing: https://editorsofcolor.com/diverse-databases/

New Resource to Combat Racial Bias Now Available for Scholarly Publishing Professionals: The Antiracism Toolkit for Allies


The Word, A Storytelling Sanctuary


The Diversity Executive Leadership Academy


Diversity Training University International- Talent Management, Training Services, & Organizational Consulting


The BIPOC Bookshelf- THE BOOKSHELF is a free database uplifting fiction & select nonfiction books/titles by BIPOC & underrepresented authors.


Inkcluded-  An inclusive literary community championing diversity in publishing.


Reach out infoinkluded@gmail.com

Minorities in Publishing (podcast)- #Podcast by @jbakernyc featuring underrepresented folks in #publishing.



https://synd.io/ and what they’re doing (Big Data approach to pay equity analysis)




The Festival of Literary Diversity https://thefoldcanada.org/