By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Malaviya: ‘A Brilliant, Talented, and Passionate Community’As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, since 2020, Penguin Random House has been “looking both inward and outward,” as we’ve put it, to issue regular updates on its workforce demographics.
These reports are often coupled with accounts of strong gestures in corporate responsibility that reflect the generous volunteerism, engagement, and community spirit of the largest commercial publisher’s employees.
On Thursday (November 2), the company released an update on its United States workforce, producing it as a first-time “US DEI Report” on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Overseeing this effort, of course, is Kim Shariff, PRH’s executive vice-president of strategy in diversity. The report has been communicated to the PRH staff with a note from the company’s worldwide CEO Nihar Malaviya, who spoke with us as our headliner at Frankfurter Buchmesse on October 18 in the Publishing Perspectives Forum. (More is coming on Malaviya’s Executive Talk with us at Frankfurt.)
In his note to the staff about the release of the report, Malaviya writes:
“Our first-ever Penguin Random House US DEI report celebrates the meaningful work all of you have been doing to infuse DEI into the DNA of our company culture. A joint project led by the DEI and corporate communications teams, the report includes divisional and company-wide initiatives, insights and stories from colleagues, and much more.
“I encourage you to take some time to review this wonderfully comprehensive overview—I know you’ll learn something new.
“Every year, we release our company demographics as part of our commitment to transparency and to track our progress as we strive to make our US employee population more representative of society. …
“While our DEI efforts are a perpetual work in progress, moments like these give us an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this dedicated and thoughtful community.”
The Indian-born Malaviya also writes at the outset of the diversity report itself, “As an immigrant, our diversity, equity, and inclusion work is deeply personal for me. But these efforts aren’t just essential for our company culture—they are also integral to our business strategy. We will only continue to grow as a business if we reach new and more diverse audiences of readers.”
And there’s another signal comment here from this man who understands the importance of the United States’ definitional multiculturalism.
He presided over September’s dispatch of PRH’s “Banned Wagon,” an audacious and timely Banned Books Week tour of parts of the American south in which persistent book bannings and other far-right efforts in censorship have been most virulent. The Banned Wagon: A Vehicle for Change made stops in Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans, and Houston, its staff handing out free copies of 10 of the books on the PRH list that have been targeted in far-right efforts to stifle freedom of expression and the freedom to read.
“My goal above all as a leader,” Malaviya writes now, “is to continue our work to create an environment where all employees are empowered to grow, succeed, and speak up. I value being surrounded by a range of views and colleagues with diverse experiences.
“Sometimes that can lend to dissenting ideas and opinions—and that’s how it should be.
“I’m proud to be a part of this brilliant, talented, and passionate community that is always at the forefront of change and growth.”
‘A Range of Views and Colleagues’
The diversity report is, as Malaviya points out, quite comprehensive, and it opens with the ambitious messaging and inclusive tone that a good 21st-century corporate entity musters to describe its efforts in this area and to encourage buy-in from its people: “Our DEI values guide us,” the report explains, “as we continue our efforts to build a more inclusive and equitable culture for our employees, creators, and partners.”
“These efforts aren’t just essential for our company culture—they are also integral to our business strategy. We will only continue to grow as a business if we reach new and more diverse audiences of readers.”Nihar Malaviya, Penguin Random House
There are many useful, focusing iterations of the central intent, as in the line “Creating books for everyone means making space for diverse perspectives and approaches in our workforce and workplace.”
Publishing, particularly in the United States, has been in the past a largely white setting for employment. In terms of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, disability, accessibility, and sexuality, the industry now widely embraces an understanding that its workforce in the aggregate hasn’t kept up well with an evolving understanding of a rich and diverse population–the core of the American experiment.
The US “melting pot” is the book business’ consumer base. Good business as well as good citizenship, in this understanding of the task at hand, relies on a workforce aligned with the true colors of a 246-year-0ld nation still finding its feet amid myriad tensions and divisions.
Here are PRH’s “five priority areas, or pillars”:
- Leadership investment in DEI
- Diversity and representation
- Career growth
- Psychological safety and belonging
- Content and marketplace
And Penguin Random House captures in a single line another iteration of that over-arching goal: “Having a workforce that represents the society we live in is core to our mission to create books for everyone.”
To that end, the report opens its data sequence with a chart breaking out the company’s employees by race and ethnicity in 2022 and 2023 against the same demographics in the United States’ population.
To ‘Represent the Society’
As you can see in the chart above, in terms of race and ethnicity composition benchmarks, the American publishing industry average (based on Lee & Low’s influential survey work), is less diverse than the United States’ population (based on the 2020 Census Report). It’s under-represented by Black employees at 5.3 percent, compared to the population’s 12 percent. It’s under-represented even more in Hispanic employees, at 6.4 percent to the nation’s 18 percent. It does tend to have more Asian representatives on staff at 7.4 percent as compared to the population’s 6 percent. You can, of course, in the graphic above see Penguin Random House’s own statistics alongside the national and industry numbers.
And below, there’s a look at race and ethnicity percentages in PRH’s warehouse and non-warehouse demographics. While the Penguin Random House DEI report is primarily focused on race and ethnicity, it’s also helpful to see in the below chart a representation of female and male presence in the company’s workforce.
As many of our readers know from our coverage of the Lee & Low surveys (here and here), publishing is an industry in the States with a non-warehouse editorial workforce that in 2015 came in at some 78 percent women and in 2019 at 74 percent female. (Lee & Low’s surveys are performed at four-year intervals.) “These numbers,” the 2019 Lee & Low study’s writers wrote, “may help explain why some feel that book publishing caters more to female readers.”
Analysis and Goals
There’s a gratifying level of detail offered in the Penguin Random House 32-page diversity report, echoing, examining, and reflecting on the task at hand for the report’s assessment.
In editorial BIPOC representation, below—BIPOC meaning Black, Indigenous, and people of color—the 2022 and 2023 bars actually do look quite a bit better than the overall industry numbers in which a scant 1 percent, for example, register Black, only 2 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, and so on. “As you can see by our data,” the company writes, “we’re continually striving to make progress in this area while recognizing that certain demographics need additional focus.”
The following chart, then, carries a parallel assessment in marketing and publicity.
And the following chart is interesting for its look at what the company describes as “the racial makeup of our population at different career levels, with our 2022 data included for comparison. While our entry-level population continues to racially diversify,” PRH’s team writes, “there has also been a notable increase in diversity of our company leadership, specifically within our executive teams–the leaders that report directly to the US board.”
A Tough Challenge, a Long-Term Response
Like many other industries, what publishing runs into even in the best-intended efforts such as this one, is an obvious but daunting fact: A fine staff of talented people—however configured they happen to be along lines of diversity and representation—can’t simply be shuffled and reshuffled to create the desired reflection of a society in which they work. More directly put, a company can’t dismiss staffers and bring in employees who check additional boxes.
The going, then, is slow. The main channel is through new hires.
And this can be a frustrating reality of adjustment when issues of desired diversity and immediately available talent, skill, and experience might seem to be mismatched. Even if there’s a clear path toward the hire of a new employee, in other words, is that new hire ready, waiting, and findable?
That’s why the six-year comparative graphic on 2018 to 2023 new hires at PRH (excluding warehouse hires) is so instructive, as you see below. It’s not what may be wanted but it’s admirable for the company’s forthright honesty in reporting so clearly on areas in which there’s much room for improvement.
The company’s discussion on the above graphic is frank and telling: “We have seen a net increase in overall racial diversity in our new hires since 2019. However, since 2020, the percentage of new hires in the white demographic has stayed fairly flat. Additionally, there have been various fluctuations within the multiple BIPOC new hire demographic categories over the past three years including a notable steady decrease in the percentage of Black new hires.” That decrease in Black new hires being referenced, as you can see, moves from the 2020 high of 14.38 percent of new hires to 13.7 percent in 2021, 9.76 percent in 2022, and 5.72 percent in 2023.
“As a result,” the company writes, “we are redoubling our efforts and placing additional focus where necessary—through tailored recruitment and outreach—in pursuit of our goal of having our new hire demographics match US Census working-age demographics by 2024.”
No one can say that any of this is easy. This is the largest national division of the world’s largest trade publisher and its makeup and these efforts to adjust that makeup are echoed in descriptions here of training programs taken by 96 percent of the workforce in video modules, with 91 percent of the workforce engaging in “equity in action” conversations with their teams, and more. (On this, see page 18 of the new report.)
Penguin Random House, in the view of many in the industry, is to be congratulated for its efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion and especially in its willingness to provide this level of transparency. There are much smaller companies doing much less to share their status and efforts in DEI issues.
If the new document overall is a bit on the cheerleading side, this is a result of the corporate-responsiblity context, information for a workforce that deserves credit and encouragement for taking seriously and prioritizing, along with management, a complicated, often emotionally and politically charged condition of the society and industry in which they’re all operating. Not easy.
As Malaviya writes, issues in diversity are deeply personal for him. Indeed, they land hard for many of us. For myriad reasons, people in all walks of life take these issues personally and the sheer sensitivity and empathy required to fuel such projects means hard work, at times exhausting, even exasperating.
A bottom line for the industry at large—not just in the United States on which this report if focused but in the world publishing industry—is that Penguin Random House is showing the leadership that the largest companies in many industries need to show. It’s organizing its own efforts, educating and listening to its own people, tracking the impact its efforts are having, and exposing these aspects of its status and work to the international and national book business. That takes courage, dedication, and commitment.
The diversity report can be accessed through Penguin Random House’s “social impact” site.
Our 75th Frankfurt coverage from our Frankfurt Book Fair Magazine, which was available throughout the trade show in print, now is available for your free download.
The magazine features interviews with fellows and grant-program recipients from international publishing markets, as well as details on programming from our Publishing Perspectives Forum at Frankfurt, including our Executive Talks with Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Nihar Malaviya and Nanmeebooks’ Kim Chongsatitwana; highlights of key events at the 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse; and coverage of Frankfurt’s upcoming guest of honor programs (Italy, the Philippines, the Czech Republic) and this year’s Guest of Honor Slovenia.
There’s also news of literary agents and agencies; award-winning books from guest of honor markets; focus articles on artificial intelligence, sustainability; and a forthcoming effort to get more Korean literature into world markets; as well as 75th-anniversary “Frankfurt Moments.”