International Women’s Day: PublisHer Issues a Diversity Toolkit

In News by Porter Anderson

The PublisHer network of women in world publishing has created a detailed, actionable outline for assessing and developing an approach to diversity in the business.

Ana Maria Cabanellas, president of Argentina’s Grupo Editorial Claridad: ‘Even in those countries that are more inclusive, women do not have equality with men.’ Image: Grupo Claridad

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

Introducing a Detailed Action Plan
This month, as many Publishing Perspectives readers will know, the PublisHer international network of women in the book business will reach the second anniversary of its founding, once more without a chance to celebrate because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

PublisHer was created at London Book Fair 2019 by the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, now the president of the International Publishers Association (IPA).

Its output and participation steadily growing since then, the program has chosen today (February 8), International Women’s Day, to release a practical and extensively detailed Diversity and Inclusion Diagnostic Toolkit (PDF). Its also available for download here, alongside the organization’s policy guidelines on diversity and inclusion.

The 19-page toolkit is something that many in world publishing will want to examine. And, as PublisHer board member and previous IPA president Ana Maria Cabanellas says, “It’s our job, as members of PublisHer, to spread its contents and work so that it becomes useful for the industry as a whole.”

The closest such effort to so detailed and actionable an approach we’ve seen is the 10-point action plan and its associated process developed by the United Kingdom’s Publishers Association. As we reported last month, the UK association is firmly in the vanguard in international publishing on tackling since 2017 the industry’s shortcomings in diversity and inclusivity, not least because it has created and promulgated an actual pathway to evaluation and change for publishers, with goals and reporting procedures in place and being quantified to measure success.

One encouraging factor showing up in two years of assessments so far: more than half of executive leadership and senior management roles in British publishing today are held by women.

Bodour Al Qasimi: ‘A Publishing-Specific Support Resource’

In her introduction to the toolkit, Bodour outlines how the document has been based on a comprehensive survey and interviews with women in the business. “We have heard first-hand,” she says, “how hard it can be to elicit a sustained organizational commitment to prioritizing and improving diversity and inclusion with many organizations not aware of how to get started and how far they have to go.”

Bodour Al Qasimi

And this, of course, is what’s seen in many publishing markets of the world in which—without the leadership of a publishers’ association like that in the United Kingdom—publishing houses are left to their own devices to try to move forward in diversity and inclusivity. The result at this point often seems to be a formation of staff advisory committees and allocations of scholarship grants for university students who may one day consider entry-level positions.

Such efforts, many of them well intended, may not be moving the needle much, not least because they lack a framework in which to perform companies’ and employees’ self-evaluations, make goal assessments, created staged target structures, and implement actionable steps with reviews at each stage.

Much, then, can remain in the realm of earnest desires to do more and better, an institutional analog to the “unconscious bias” that frequently prevails among leadership and employees.

Bodour calls the PublisHer toolkit document “a publishing-specific support resource to help companies evolve into consciously diverse and inclusive workplaces.” It’s to be refined and contextualized, she adds, as PublisHer itself grows and more assessment of the issues can be made.

The diagnostic toolkit includes instructions and guidance on such points as:

  • Conducting a baseline assessment and taking action
  • Embedding diversity and inclusion as organizational values
  • Securing senior leadership commitment and accountability
  • Engaging diverse stakeholders
  • Putting policies and processes into place
  • Attracting and hiring diverse talent
  • Building an inclusive workplace and retaining diverse talent
  • Cultivating an inclusive workplace
  • Offering diverse and inclusive compensation and benefits
  • Embracing workplace flexibility for a “new normal”
  • Ensuring equitable development
  • Creating an action plan

In short, PublisHer’s new diagnostic toolkit lays out clear, progressive steps to be explored. But it doesn’t overlook the context. “Diversity and inclusion have long been issues in publishing with the industry long known as a ‘gentleman’s profession,'” reads the opening text.

“In fact, women were not recognized or encouraged to be publishers in many countries until the late 19th century. Some iconic female writers, such as the Brontë sisters and Mary Ann Evans, adopted male pseudonyms to avoid detection in an industry long considered an old boy’s network.” That article goes on to point out that even where quantitative equality may be obvious (the American and UK publishing workforces are surveyed to be nearly 80-percent female), “deep-seated inequity is still reflected in lack of progress on issues of pay, benefits, and other qualitative aspects of employment.”

Today, Bodour points out, the coronavirus pandemic actually gives publishers a chance to stop and reset: “Publishers are rethinking business strategies to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we believe diversity and inclusion needs to be at the top of the agenda.

PublisHer’s Ana Maria Cabanellas

As the new PublisHer Diversity and Inclusion Diagnostic Toolkit is released today, Publishing Perspectives has interviewed Ana Maria Cabanellas, a member of the PublisHer board and a pioneer in international publishing: She is Bodour’s predecessor as the first and only other female president of the International Publishers Association.

And as we begin our conversation, Cabanellas–since 1979 the president of Buenos Aires’ Grupo Editorial Claridad–tells us wryly, “In my company until four years ago, we were all women, except my brother, who is my partner, and the people at the warehouse. I was not very inclusive.”

A leader in developing Argentine children’s literature in particular, Cabanellas has been named by the Buenos Aires Book Fair as one of the 50 most influential people in Spanish-language publishing.

Her posts in the publishing community have included vice-president of the Reprographic Rights Administration Center of Argentina, as well as chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFFRO).

Today, Cabanellas is not only on the PublisHer board but is also a former member of the International Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish committee, which awards the organization’s annual Prix Voltaire.

We begin by asking Cabanellas about her experience at the helm of the International Publishers Association from 2004 to 2008 and her views on the newly installed leadership team now in place, with Bodour as president and Brazil’s Karine Pansa as vice-president.

Ana Maria Cabanellas: I’m really very happy to see two such wonderful women as Bodour Al Qasimi and Karine Pansa guiding IPA. This is a great change, as is the number of women who are on the executive committee and other committees, a welcome change.

When I arrived on the IPA executive committee in 1996, there was only one other woman, and after some time she left the organization, and no other women came to the board.

For a very long time, I was the only woman on the board. This was not so easy to change since the publishers’ associations are the ones that choose who will represent them at IPA.

Publishing Perspectives: How did your tenure as president go? Were there difficulties you found in your role as a first woman president of the organization, or did you find a lot of support?

AMC: During my period as vice-president and president, I had a lot of support from the members and especially from members of the executive committee.

In my life, I’ve never thought that being a woman was something different from being a man. It was part of my education. The same thing happens when we speak of big or small publishing companies. The idea is to work in the same way that a big company will work.

“Even in those cases where women have the top jobs, there are issues of lower pay, fewer benefits and recognition, and in some cases harassment. “Ana Maria Cabanellas, Grupo Editorial Claridad

Still, even thinking this way as I did, I was astonished when I was invited to be a candidate for the presidency. I was able to succeed because I had the support of many of the big associations and my vice-presidents were always very helpful.

During that time, the biggest difficulties were around copyright, since more and more people were trying to interpret free access to content as content free of charge. IPA had to work constantly with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), because this was the beginning of the copyright issues we are still discussing, and of the Marrakesh Treaty. There were also many problems around the freedom to publish, and that was the reason to set up the Freedom to Publish Prize, today known as the Prix Voltaire.

PP: As a board member now of PublisHer, how do you feel about the outlook for women in world publishing in 2021?

AMC: As you know, when you walk the aisles at Frankfurt Book Fair and at all the book fairs, women are in the majority. This is great, but when you look at the boards of the publishers’ associations there are not so many women.

Having two women at the head of the publishing industry is very promising. Nevertheless, I think that going from working in a publishing company to having a view and interest from a political and economic point of view of the industry, national and international, is very different. And many of us don’t realize the importance and influence of this factor in our day-to-day work.

I do think that slowly we’re changing and being more involved in the industry as a publicly recognized fact, and this change is being acknowledged by the associations.

PublisHer is very important for women. It will open the minds of publishers in every aspect, in their jobs, showing them the possibilities they have and what can be done to face governments when they go against publishing’s interests.

PP: Where do you see the most likely challenges ahead for women in publishing, on this International Women’s Day?

In the new PublisHer Diversity and Inclusivity Toolkit, a baseline assessment is recommended to determine what level of maturity a giving publishing company has in terms of its approach to diversity and inclusivity. Image: PublisHer

AMC: The challenges are different in every country, as are the possibilities. But even in those countries that are more inclusive, women don’t have equality with men. When you look at the most important companies you do not see many women in the top jobs, except when they are the owners of the company. And even in those cases where women have the top jobs, there are issues of lower pay, fewer benefits and recognition, and in some cases harassment. Diversity, inclusion, recognition, and respect are still challenges we have ahead of us.

PP: And lastly, what do you see as the best use of the new diversity and inclusivity toolkit being released today?

AMC: The PublisHer toolkit is a wonderful and complete approach to diversity and inclusion for the publishing industry. It’s designed to provide a simple framework for publishing firms to take action. Both large and small publishers can use it to work out where they need to improve on diversity and inclusion, draw up appropriate action plans, and get the support of management to turn things around and keep tabs on the progress they make.

It tackles three core diversity and inclusivity transformation goals, within which there are nine organizational sub-objectives, and a process to develop an action plan.

The toolkit has been launched on International Women’s Day with good reason. And it’s our job, as members of PublisHer, to spread its contents and work so that it becomes useful for the industry as a whole.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the PublisHer movement is here. More from us on women in publishing is here, more on Bodour Al Qasimi is here.

And  more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.