PublisHer Opens a Korean Chapter at Seoul’s Book Fair

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

PublisHer’s Bodour Al Qasimi leads the opening of a Korean chapter in Seoul, advancing women ‘without having to change who we are.’

A panel discussion at the opening of the South Korean chapter of PublisHer during the 2023 Seoul International Book Fair. Image: Nabs Ahmedi

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

Toward ‘an Inclusive System Free of Biases’
During the Seoul International Book Fair—which closed on Sunday (June 18)—the international network for professional women in book publishing, PublisHer, gained its newest chapter.

Bodour Al Qasimi, the founder of PublisHer, CEO of the Kalimat Group, and president of the American University in Sharjah, announced the new chapter’s formation, saying, “Female publishers are far too often kept out of senior management and leadership positions in a sector that typically employs more women than men.

“This system didn’t make sense to me when I began my career in publishing more than a decade ago, and it still doesn’t.

“Last year, when we launched the PublisHer chapter in Brazil, our colleague Flavia Brevin said she’d never had a female boss in her entire career. The shocking thing is that even in 2023, these stories are not the exception. That’s the reason I started PublisHer.”

In statistics provided by PublisHer for this report, the South Korean publishing industry is seen to run true to form, with the 2022 K-Book Trends assessment indicating a number of helpful points.

The South Korean publishing industry in 2022, per the K-Book Trends report, had some 185,000 employees, including book publishing, newspapers and printing. Some 65,000 employees were working in print- and digital-format publishing houses, magazine publishers, and bookstores, in figures from 2020.

“The general book publishing sector,” per the report’s analysis, “is composed of 4,175 males and 5,356 females as regular workers, and 162 males and 152 females as non-regular workers.

“Regular workers were the majority, and females accounted for a slightly bigger proportion than males with 56 percent, while males [accounted for] 44 percent.

“Meanwhile, the educational publishing sector [was] composed of 7,472 males and 6,900 females as regular workers, and 415 males and 448 females as non-regular workers, showing a similar trend as the general book publishing sector. Regular workers accounted for the majority, with males at 52 percent, slightly more than females, at 48 percent.”

As PublisHer’s media messaging is putting it, the establishment of PublisHer in South Korea is “part of a strategy to amplify the voices of female publishers in the region as they seek to redress gender imbalances, scrutinize current publishing culture, and expose unconscious biases, discrimination, and systemic resistance to change.”

Al Qasimi: ‘We Want What You Are’

Audience members for two panels presented by PublisHer at its announcement of a new South Korean chapter during the 2023 Seoul International Book Fair on the Sharjah Guest of Honor stand. At center, from left, are Ahmed Al Ameri, CEO of Sharjah book authority; PublisHer founder and Sharjah Book Authority chair Bodour Al Qasimi; and Sharjah’s Sheikh Fahim Al Qasimi. Sharjah Book Authority’s fairs director is in the foreground, Khoula Al Mijaini. Image Nabs Ahmedi

As you’ll recall, Al Qasimi inaugurated PublisHer during London Book Fair in 2019. While the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic delayed some of the following gatherings that had been hoped for—as it delayed so many of world publishing’s physical-setting events—Al Qasimi and her associates have continued to expand the reach and presence of the network with events in venues including Nairobi, Amman, Frankfurt, Kuala Lumpur, and São Paulo.

Bodour Al Qasimi

At Bologna Children’s Book Fair in March, the program staged its first stand on the exhibitors’ floor of a major international trade show, a spacious pavilion with a full round of programming and presentations coinciding with International Women’s Day. In that instance, the program had sponsorship from sources including Elena Pasoli‘s fair, Jacks ThomasBologna Book Plus, and Canada’s Kids Can Press,  and hosted by that publishing house’s president and publisher at the time, Lisa Lyons Johnston.

With support from the International Publishers Association (IPA), the Association of American Publishers (AAP), Copyright Clearance Center, and others, the movement has grown and developed, maintaining a site here.

“Female publishers are far too often kept out of senior management and leadership positions in a sector that typically employs more women than men.”Bodour Al Qasimi, PublisHer

At Seoul—where Sharjah was guest of honor for the 65th edition of the fair—Al Qasimi, chair of the Sharjah Book Authority, invited female publishing professionals to join the movement to create “an inclusive system that’s free of biases and that promotes equal opportunities for publishers based on their skills, qualifications, and merit.”

Her kickoff keynote included a reference to a Fast Company article from May, New Research Reveals That the 30 Critiques Holding Women Back From Leadership That Most Men Will Never Hear by Amy Diehl, Leanne M. Dzubinski, and Amber L. Stephenson.

As Al Qasimi recounted it, one of the article’s insights was that the only way for women to advance in their workplaces is to change the culture from “We want what you are not” to “We want what you are.” PublisHer, she said, will continue to work to create a workplace culture in which women can advance “without having to change who we are or neglect our needs to please an outdated system.”

The PublisHer presentation in Seoul included discussions between leading Korean women publishers, authors, and book critics on two topics: The Present and Future Status of Female Publishers in South Korea and How the Diversity in Human Beings Can Be Pursued in Literature and Illustrated Books. Ultimately, the movement’s work is meant to “brainstorm creative, viable solutions to achieve the optimal 50-50 female-male ratio in publishing’s leadership positions.”

On the Guest of Honor Sharjah stand at Seoul International Book Fair, PublisHer founder Bodour Al Qasimi opens a South Korean chapter of the network. Al Qasimi is at the left center, and with her is Beatrice YongIn Lin, a Seoul-based specialist in digital content. Image: Nabs Ahmedi


More from Publishing Perspectives on the PublisHer program is here, more on women in publishing is here, more on International Women’s Day is here, and more of our coverage of international book fairs and trade shows is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

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 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 an arts critic (Fellow, 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.