UK Trade Associations Call for Professional Behavior in a Diverse Industry

In News by Porter Anderson

Vowing to ‘bear witness and support appropriate action,’ the four key trade associations in the UK publishing industry commit to combating misconduct.

Image – iStockphoto: Jaco Blund

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Effecting Change’
Prompted by The Bookseller’s survey on sexual harassment in UK publishing, four major London-based trade industry organizations announced today (November 7) their joint outline of what they see to be the non-negotiable standards of professional behavior in publishing and bookselling.

The Publishers Association, the Society of Authors, the Booksellers Association, and the Association of Authors’ Agents are the four bodies working with each other on the project and their full statement is available here for download in PDF.

“We will bear witness and support appropriate action being taken, regardless of the status or the relative ‘importance’ of the individuals involved.”'Professional Behavior in Bookselling and Publishing'

Published just over a year ago, in November 2017, the survey’s results indicated that “just over half of the 388 respondents to The Bookseller’s survey on sexual harassment within the book industry said they have experienced harassment, with 54 percent of women and 34 percent of men stating that they had suffered abuse. The survey indicated that reporting of the pertinent incidents was low (29.6 percent), and that more than half felt that the situation would have an effect on their professional prospects.

By January of this year, Lizzy Kremer, president of the agents’ association, was taking a leadership role in developing a dialogue with sister organizations, telling The Bookseller’s Lisa Campbell, in part, “It’s not enough for us to tell one another that we all know what good behavior is, and that we won’t tolerate abuse of power: writing down our beliefs and intentions explicitly and sharing that manifesto widely among our whole community of publishers, authors and booksellers gives us an opportunity to think through the challenge of a creating and maintaining a safe workplace for all and of holding one another to account when we fail.

“We all believe in the written word, so let’s write. There is no more powerful way of effecting change in a community of readers.”

That line of thinking now is behind the statement issued by the four organizations, a forceful expression of expectation and requirement in the #MeToo age intended “to signal unwavering determination and commitment to ensuring and maintaining dignity at work for everyone in bookselling and publishing.” Speaking in unity, the organizations of publishers, authors, agents, and booksellers write:

“The commitment issued today distills and unites these diverse voices in a document which addresses freedom of speech, diversity, and inclusion, as a well as sexual and other harassment, discrimination, bullying, and intimidation.

“This commitment signals the major trade organizations working together as an industry to make it a better, safer, and dignified place to work in which no abuse of power will be tolerated.”

Of particularly interest, the groups in their initial joint messaging to the media write that–when they opened talks on the key topic of concern–”it quickly became apparent that as well as sexual harassment being a key and urgent issue to address, there were other universally shared concerns about behavior and conduct within the workplace and within the wider social events and environments which characterize the world of publishing.”

From the new document released simultaneously by the four organizations

Four Key Principles

The document outlining the new shared positions is based on four master principles.

  • “We in the books industry support creative expression and freedom of speech. However, our creative realm is also a professional one and we expect high standards of behavior from everyone we encounter in the course of our work, including colleagues and customers.
  • “We will protect the passion, imagination and creativity of everyone in the books industry. We will celebrate and promote diversity and inclusion so that all voices can be heard.
  • “We will recognize our influence and make a commitment to work together to prevent abuse of power, creating a work environment free of discrimination, harassment including sexual harassment, bullying, and intimidation.
  • “We will ensure that everyone in our industry is treated with dignity and respect so that individuals are supported and able to speak out.”

As the document has moved to the media, it has also been distributed to the four organizations’ memberships.

Called a “commitment,” the document’s formulation of the issues touches on many elements of problematic behavior, recognizable, surely, to industry players in any part of the world.

For example, there’s language specifying that no activity or location is somehow exempt from the requirements of proper conduct by everyone: “Our professional behavior is thoughtful and anticipates consequences – and is required in every environment where people interact for work reasons, including but not limited to: offices, bookshops, parties, committees, lunch meetings, awards ceremonies, rights fairs, festivals and any other venue, formal or informal; as well as online and in all  communications.”

“We will be sensitive to our potential vulnerabilities and differences.”'Professional Behavior in Bookselling and Publishing'

In another instance, an interesting point is made about the practice, found in some workplaces, of expecting employees to use their personal social media accounts for business: “We have a right to retain our privacy, and to feel safe and valued in the working environment. No colleague should feel obliged to use personal social media accounts for work purposes.”

In yet another, workday peer pressure comes into focus this way: “We will be sensitive to our potential vulnerabilities and differences. For example, no one should feel
pressured to drink alcohol within a work environment, even if the work environment is a party.”

Abuse of power comes into play in one section, with guidelines reading, in part, “When we are in a position of greater influence, it is our responsibility to foster a working environment in which everyone in both formal and more relaxed situations is treated with professionalism, integrity and respect.”

There are three points of support defined as listening when a colleague says they find something “racist, sexist, threatening, or uncomfortable”; speaking up “if we experience unwanted behavior”; and being allies acting to “empower those who have experienced such behavior.”

There also are useful definitions of what constitutes wrongful behavior. Bullying, for example, is defined as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behavior, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.”

Discrimination is defined as “‘the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.”

And harassment is specified to be “‘unwanted conduct … which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.”

‘We Will Bear Witness’

Because it signals an end to “turning a blind eye,” perhaps the core line of the entire document lies in its demand for a commitment to saying what needs saying, supporting what needs doing:

“We will bear witness and support appropriate action being taken, regardless of the status or the relative ‘importance’ of the individuals involved.”

All four associations have committed to encourage their members and others in the industry to familiarize themselves with the new guidelines and act on them. The organizations are using social media to promote the document along with newsletters, events, and messaging in committees and councils.

And in support of the issuance of the new guidelines, voices are on-record from each of the organizations. These statements make it clear that the memberships of the four organizations are receiving unequivocal expressions of expectation from their leaders.

Publishers: ‘Surfacing These Issues’

Emma House

Emma House, deputy CEO with the Publishers Association, is quoted, saying, “A document like this can’t ever be the whole answer, but we hope that it will be an important part of surfacing these issues, encouraging conversations, and helping people feel confident that their industry is one that takes their dignity at work very seriously.

“Our intention is that the commitment is meaningful, helpful, and makes people feel seen and supported. We also hope that businesses will use it alongside any existing policies they have or to help develop these if they don’t have them.

“We want to thank everyone who has fed into the process of developing the commitment, commented and shared their experiences.”

Booksellers: ‘We Are Speaking With One Voice’

Meryl Halls

At the Booksellers Association, the managing director Meryl Halls says, “Bookselling and publishing expect and demand high standards of professional, respectful behavior from everyone encountered in the course of work, including colleagues, customers, and other industry professionals. This is the first time the BA has worked with this number of other representative groups on the production of a joint commitment of this nature, and we are proud to issue this in unison.

“This affects all of us and we are speaking with one voice supporting dignity at work. The commitment exhorts people to support one another and take action by listening up; speaking up; and standing up.

“We come together representing very diverse memberships and unfortunately, as trade associations rather than merely employers, we are not able to implement a trade complaints and enforcement procedure. But we know that words matter and this commitment matters. We hope to inspire colleagues to be more aware, more sensitive to others, and to behave appropriately.  It is particularly important that it has been created jointly and endorsed by all of us, representing staff of all levels from across the industry.”

Authors: ‘Empowered To Speak Up’

Nicola Solomon

The Society of Authors’ chief Nicola Solomon, in her comment, says, “Any statement worth making should be about more than words alone, so we intend the publication of this industry commitment not to be an end point but a milestone in ongoing cross-sector culture change.

“If we can share, repeat, and embed these core values, I hope we can ensure not only that everyone we work with is clear on appropriate behavior, but also that we can foster working environments where anyone, regardless of role, is treated with dignity and empowered to speak up when they feel the commitment is not being honored. 

“At the Society of Authors, we’re taking today’s publication as an opportunity to refresh and clarify our own guidelines and policies for staff, members, and all our partners when working with us. These also go live today, explicitly embedding the principles of the industry commitment into our daily interactions.”

Agents: ‘To Take Responsibility’

Lizzy Kremer

It’s appropriate that Kremer of the Association of Authors’ Agents–having been outspoken in her concern at the time of the survey’s findings–now have the most extensive comment on the release of the new document, saying, “Working together as trade associations and colleagues over the last several months to write down our ideals and aims, we have provoked discussion of what ‘professional behavior’ means to us across every echelon of the business we love.

“I am excited that we can now open up our conversation to the whole industry. We invite all of our colleagues to join with us in our commitment to articulating, creating, and protecting a professional environment of which we can feel proud, and in which we can all work safely and with dignity.

“As readers and writers, we hold the value of text and of language in high esteem and can do better than to simply assume that we all agree on the most important issues, such as the vital importance of creating workplaces free of harassment and discrimination. It is only fitting that an industry fueled and inspired by the written word should have taken exceptional steps to collaborate on a written commitment.

“In a business which can often seem to have relatively horizontal hierarchies, and in which we enjoy plenty of informal contact, it is easy to overlook the situations in which we have more power than the colleagues with whom we are working. The commitment urges us each to take responsibility for preventing any abuse of power, whether that be through careful monitoring of our own actions, or watchful protection of those colleagues with less influence than us.

“As well as reminding us of our individual and corporate responsibility in every workplace, whether that be office, festival, party or rights fair; those who endorse the commitment will be pledging their support to any colleague who feels that they have been subject to inappropriate behavior.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on diversity in the industry is here and on the UK market is here.

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.