At Frankfurt’s ‘The Markets’: Why Aren’t There More Women Executives in Publishing?

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

From France and India, two female executives and two distinctive perspectives. Our interviews today—and a panel at The Markets on October 10—explore the challenges of women in executive positions in world publishing.

At Frankfurt Book Fair’s Publishers Rights Corner 2016. Image: Frankfurter Buchmesse, Alexander Heimann

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
A Markets Focus: Women in Publishing

Now one of the most anticipated events of Frankfurt Book Fair each year, The Markets conference’s theme this year on October 10 is “Change: A 360-Degree View.” Here is the program (PDF).) Led by Frankfurter Buchmesse’s Katja Böhne and a keynote address from literary agent Andrew Wylie (USA) on publishing’s internationalist imperative, the day also features:

  • Zen Buddhist author Haemin Sunim (South Korea)
  • Nielsen managing director Andre Breedt (UK)
  • Orion Publishing Group managing director Katie Espiner (UK)
  • Éditions Grasset chief editor for international literature Jean Mattern (France)
  • HarperCollins India CEO Ananth Padmanabhan
  • PTS Media Group managing director Arief Hakim (Malaysia)

The conference hears from several important world market areas again this year—Guest of Honor France, plus Southeast Asia, India, the UK, and the USA—it also considers another “territory” of discussion and ideas, if you will, one we don’t always discuss as easily as business issues: gender in the world publishing industry.

And where all the dynamics of the day’s presentations come together is in a closing blue-ribbon panel of executives in publishing who are women: “Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women in Publishing.”

And they’re going to talk about just that: the issues and implications that swirl around the fact that in international publishing, although the main part of the workforce might be female, the executive suites are rarely led by women.

On the panel:

  • Tracey Armstrong, president and CEO of Copyright Clearance Center (USA)
  • Sophie de Closets, CEO of Hachette Livre’s Fayard (France)
  • Arpita Das, CEO and owner of Yoda Press (India)
  • Xandra Ramos-Padilla, managing director of the National Book Store and CEO of Anvil Publishing (the Philippines)
  • Vicky Williams, group people director of Emerald Group and CEO of Research Media (UK)

IPR License’s head of business development, Jane Tappuni, will moderate this discussion, which will ask how–when both the industry and consumer base in much of world publishing is dominated by women–the C-level jobs are overwhelmingly held by men.

A notable exception to the rule in the Big Five, Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy will be speaking alongside Albin Michel’s Guillaume Dervieux on October 11 at Frankfurt’s CEO Talk.

‘Where the Real Power Lies’

In talking during the last week with two of The Markets’ women-in-publishing panelists, Publishing Perspectives has examined the question of why more women don’t hold executive positions in publishing today.

Arpita Das

The comments of Arpita Das, founding CEO and owner of Yoda Press, and of Sophie de Closets, since 2014 the CEO of Hachette Livres’ Fayard, bring us two insightful and distinctive viewpoints on a set of issues vexing many in the business today.

“In an ecosystem where the editorial is so driven by women,” Das says, “it should be taken as a point of strength that as those women are evolving in their careers, they’re noticing gaps” in content potential “that men have missed, simply because of their experiences. And intelligent leaders would take that on board and build on that instead of shutting us down.”

And “Obviously, women being in charge is such a good thing,” says de Closets. “But the next step is going to be having different kinds of people in publishing who publish different kinds of books for different people, and I think that’s the next challenge we’re looking to.”

Those “different kinds of people,” she says, include men, and “I’m having trouble finding men who want to work in publishing.”

As widely reported studies and surveys have revealed, the general trend sees few corner offices going to women in publishing.

Sophie de Closets

Things came into new focus in 2015, the year on which data was based for a compelling report from the American multicultural publisher Lee & Low Books, covered by Publishing Perspectives. That study’s findings included a confirmation that some 78 percent of the US workforce in publishing is women, while just 59 percent of executive corps is female.

Also in 2015, Felicity Wood and Sarah Shaffi at The Bookseller in London would look at the UK market in which, they wrote, “none of the big corporate publishers is run by a female chief executive.” Some of the data points they cited about the UK’s publishing scene at the time: four women were on HarperCollins UK’s executive board; five core divisions at Penguin Random House UK were run by women; six female division heads were in place at Hachette UK; and 80 percent of Pan MacMillan’s staff were female.

By May of this year, Danuta Kean at The Guardian was writing of how, “Women such as Random House’s Gail Rebuck, Penguin’s Helen Fraser, Macmillan’s Annette Thomas and Little, Brown’s Ursula Mackenzie–who had all embodied the ideal that women publishers faced no glass ceiling–have in the last five years all been replaced by men…Look at the magical ‘C-circle’ of group chief executive, group chief operating officer, and group chief finance officer–where the real power lies–and women are notably absent.”

The underlying issues, however, can be not only emotionally charged, of course, but also more layered and nuanced than might be evident at first glance. “It’s complicated,” as de Closets says.

These and more observations will be part of the mix on October 10 at Frankfurt’s Business Club for The Markets 2017, presented by Frankfurt Book Fair and Publishing Perspectives.

Again, the links to today’s interviews:


Your membership in Frankfurt Book Fair’s Business Club includes a seat at The Markets. A 20-percent discounted early bird rate for the Business Club continues to August 31.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.