UK Publishers Association Study: Women Hold 55 Percent of Top Roles

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In its third annual survey of  the book business’ workforce, the UK Publishers Association reports strong results on women in leadership positions.

London commuters walk to work on London Bridge, Tower Bridge in the background. Image – iStockphoto: Daisy Daisy

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

Thirteen Percent of Respondents Identify as BAME
Described as its most comprehensive look at the UK publishing market’s workforce, the third consecutive annual study from the Publishers Association may have a surprise for some who are concerned that women in the business don’t have enough representation in leadership positions.

The 2019 survey’s responses from a total 12,702 employees indicate that 55 percent of the British industry’s senior leadership and executive-level roles were held by women. In dividing up those two categories, women held 53 percent of the executive roles and 55 percent of senior leadership roles.

The industry, thus, holds almost perfect gender parity in these upper strata of job positions, and where it’s imbalanced, it’s in favor of women, not men.

In fact, this is a success cinched three years ahead of its predicted time frame. The association had established a five-year target, looking to see “at least 50 percent of leadership and executive level roles occupied by women by 2022 across the industry.” Three years early, then, in 2019, that goal was achieved.

There were slight adjustments between 2018 and 2019, as is to be expected in any industry. While the executive positions moved up from 48 to 53 percent in 2019, the senior management position percentages actually fell slightly, from 56 percent in 2018 to 55 percent in 2019. These figures are based on survey response from 57 organizations, representing a 21.3 percent increase in reporting entities over 2018.

Another heartening result is that the industry may well have sharply more inclusivity in terms of sexuality than the general population. One in 10 respondents in the 2019 study identified as LGB+. The 10.3 percent of the workforce that represents compares strongly to current such figures on the UK population overall (2.0 percent) and London (2.7 percent), based on Office of National Statistics

The balance of respondents identifying as heterosexual or straight came in at 85.7 percent, with 4.0 percent of respondents saying that they preferred not to answer.

Stephen Lotinga

In his statement about the release, the association’s CEO Stephen Lotinga is quoted, saying, “This year’s survey provides us with the most comprehensive data on diversity and inclusion in UK publishing that has ever been gathered. It’s encouraging that so many in the industry are now taking part, indicating a growing culture of sharing workforce information for the benefit of the industry as a whole.

“Once again, while the survey data shows positive areas, it also highlights those where we need to improve in order to make publishing as inclusive as possible and to ensure that the industry attracts and retains diverse talent.

“There’s a huge amount of valuable work going on across publishing to drive change. I’m particularly encouraged by the new publishing assistant apprenticeship which has created an additional route into the industry with a great deal of potential.”

In terms of Lotinga’s mention of areas in which more work is needed, the study’s breadth provides a lot of talking points. The association offices have selected these high points to stress in media messaging:

  • Thirteen percent of respondents identified as BAME—black, Asian, and minority-ethnic—which is higher than last year (11.6 percent) but has not yet reached the 15-percent target
  • Six percent of respondents identified as having a disability or impairment, with the majority of respondents (75.7 percent) either being open (33.7 percent) or partially open (42.0 percent) about it at work
  • One in four of respondents (25.5 percent) have caring responsibilities
  • More than a quarter of respondents grew up in southeast England (26.1 percent), with a further 13.9 percent growing up in the eastern part of England, and 11.2 percent growing up in London. Northeast England had the lowest representation of all the English regions, with just 1.2 percent of respondents
  • Eight percent of respondents attended an independent or fee-paying school, which is almost three times higher than the UK average
  • There’s a lack of representation (0.0 percent, just one respondent) of those aged under 18 and low representation of those aged over 55 (8.1 percent), considering that by 2020, one-third of the workforce is expected to be older than 50

The fact that UK publishing is heavily concentrated in London–much as the United States’ industry is concentrated in New York, the Egyptian industry is concentrated in Cairo, the Japanese industry is concentrated in Tokyo, and so on–generates more to consider than the issues the business has grappled with of geographical opportunity and inclusivity.

Not for nothing did Hachette UK announce in November its plan to open a new office in February, anchored by the Hachette Children’s Group with picture book publisher Emma Layfield placed there to scout for strong authors and illustrators in the area. That’s the first of what Hachette UK CEO David Shelley has said should be a series of such regional installations. At the time of his autumn announcement, Shelley said that “establishing new publishing centers in other areas of the country is a significant priority for us.”

But the London-centric feature also sets up some interesting points of research in the area of ethnic diversity, as well.

Image: UK Publishing Industry Diversity and Inclusion Survey 2019, Publishers Association

For example, the 2019 study shows the industry with 85.8 percent of respondents identified themselves as white. And while the association notes that this is aligned with figures on the population of the UK overall (86 percent white), it’s a significantly higher proportion than is found overall in the London population, which is estimated to have a 59.8-percent white population.

‘Leading the Way in the Creative Industries’

The annual workforce study is part of the association’s 2017 commitment to a 10-point action plan in industry diversity. Many Publishing Perspectives readers will remember the inception of this plan, which the membership of the organization registered its collective belief that undertaking a self-examination and response program in diversity and inclusion was and is “socially and morally the right thing to do.”

It perhaps goes without saying that it would behoove publishers’ associations in other markets of the world to undertake similar efforts.

Regional representation in the 2019 survey. Image: UK Publishing Industry Diversity and Inclusion Survey 2019, Publishers Association

While market conditions and any number of factors vary substantially from one international region to another, the need for clear, research-oriented, fact-based assessment and evaluation of where things stand is the place for any nation’s book business to get started.

The British book business–even while it’s arguably under the most extensive range of uncertainties of any world market as Brexit grinds forward–has continued to lead the world industry in facing issues and dilemmas in diversity and inclusivity. The principles and tools they’re using to move their work forward are well worth the attention of other markets’ players who a concerned about what’s “socially and morally” right.

The survey work is done for the association by EA Inclusion. Ben Runcorn, who is the commercial and marketing manager with EA, is quoted in the announcement of the new statistics, praising the association’s forthright tackling of these challenges.

“The Publishers Association’s annual diversity workforce monitoring survey is leading the way in the creative industries,” Runcorn says.  “This work has gone from strength to strength, with participation increasing substantially from last year, both in terms of the number of organizations and individuals taking part.”

The Publishers Association’s report runs to 115 pages. It’s available here in PDF.


More from Publishing Perspectives on issues of diversity and inclusivity in publishing is here, and more 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 co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. 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.

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