Diversity in UK book publishing from the Publishers Association

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As the London Book Fair welcomes colleagues from other markets, a fresh look at the inclusion of the UK book industry.

At the London Book Fair 2019, the show’s newest in-person staging. Image: LBF

By Porter Anderson, Editor | @Porter_Anderson

Lotinga: “Absolutely no room for complacency”

JThe Association of UK Publishers – arguably the world leader in diversity, inclusion and equity – released an update of its survey work, shortly before the first edition of the London Book Fair to be held in person since 2019.

Released a week ago today (April 1), the new “Survey on the diversity of [UK] Publishing Workforce” for 2021 of the association brought together 14,089 employees from 60 companies. Several front-line observations are offered by the association’s CEO, Stephen Lotinga, and his team.

And particularly as international trade visitors arrive in the UK for the London Book Fair – just as the BBC reports that a record 4.9 million people have the coronavirus COVID-19 in the UK, nothing minus – the results of the association’s new survey should be of interest to anyone watching as this market has come together to try and change their stance on these crucial issues.

Who works today in global publishing and its national markets? How easily do these people reflect the populations of the markets they serve?

First, these key findings, as interpreted by the Publishers Association:

  • More than half of people in managerial and executive roles in the UK publishing industry are women
  • British publishing executives are 52% women in the results collected by this survey
  • Women hold 56% of UK publishing leadership positions in survey results
  • Overall, 63% of survey respondents were women
  • The presence of people from minority ethnic groups – excluding white minorities – has increased to 15%, a number that meets the Association of Publishers’ target in this category for 2022
  • LGB+ representation continues to rise, with 13% of respondents identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual, or preferring to describe their sexual orientation, a figure that has been rising every year since 2017
  • One per cent of respondents identify in the survey responses as transgender, which matches the UK population as estimated by the British Government Equalities Office
  • The representation of people with disabilities in the UK publishing industry has increased over the years, from 2% in 2017 to 13% in 2021.
  • Socio-economic background continues to be major barriers to inclusion, with around two-thirds, 67%, of respondents from professional backgrounds
  • Those with a private education, at 19%, and those “with a degree”, at 83%, continue, as the association’s interpretation recognizes, “to be overrepresented in the labor force compared to population”.
Stephen Lotinga

Stephen Lotinga

In a comment made on the release of the new survey data, Lotinga is quoted, saying: “It is heartening to see that progress is being made in several areas. There are certainly some things to be welcomed and, importantly, some potential signs that the work publishers have done to improve staff diversity, inclusion and belonging is starting to help move the dial.

“However, there is absolutely no room for complacency. In many areas, the pace of change is not enough. Socio-economic background continues to be a major barrier to inclusion in our industry, as it is in many others. The lack of regional diversity remains glaring.

“Much remains to be done and the Publishers Association [is] work with publishers and partners to plan the next phase of our inclusivity work and share information about it later in the year.

Taking these factors into account, it is useful to look at data on the entire population. Unfortunately, the latest census data for the UK is from 2011. The association notes that a new census was taken in 2021 and therefore expects to have an update on these factors later this year.

According to this 2011 census, however, in England and Wales:

  • 86.0% belonged to white ethnic groups
  • 7.5% belonged to Asian ethnic groups
  • 3.3% belonged to black ethnic groups
  • 2.2% said they were of mixed ethnicity
  • One percent belonged to other ethnic groups

In Lotinga’s introductory comments for the report itself, he notes that the association’s “action plan” is coming to the end of its initial duration of investigative activity. “We are working with our members and industry partners to adjust our strategy to reflect changing conversations, publisher activity and best practices in this area,” he writes.

In other key survey findings, 93% of survey respondents (over 87% in 2020) identified their national identity as at least one of the following:

  • English
  • Welsh
  • Scottish
  • Northern Irish
  • British

One in six identified their national identity as being other than British or one of the ‘nations of origin’.

Homework and Women’s Leadership

Among the most interesting data from the survey in the COVID-19 era is the fact that in the 2020 survey, 89% of respondents said they had the option of working from home after the first lockdown, whereas before that only 40% could work from home. . In 2021, the Johnson government first lifted most spread mitigation efforts in July, then asked citizens to work from home when possible in December, creating a somewhat less clear picture, but with “nearly two-fifths of respondents (38%) work from home around five days a week.

When it comes to gender issues, the World Bank considers 47% of the UK workforce to be female, while 63% in UK publishing are female.

One of the most impressive elements of the analysis of the UK publishing sector is a finding that runs counter to the situation in many other markets: women continue to occupy more than 50% UK leadership positions and management positions, which meets the Publishers Association target of at least 50%.

Women in leadership positions in the UK, according to the ‘UK Publishing Workforce 2021’ report. Image: Publishers Association

More details can be obtained in a download (PDF) of the 30-page report here.

And what’s important for trade visitors to the London Book Fair to keep in mind is that UK industry may not have all the answers or progress it wants when it comes to diversity, equity or inclusiveness, but it has probably taken a more candid, persistent and structured approach – including repeated surveys and assessments – than other book markets around the world.

It is an example to examine and a path to follow.

For your review, here is our report of last year’s investigative work in which the progress of women in leadership positions became clearly evident.


To read more about Publishing Perspectives on issues of diversity and inclusivity in publishing, click here, and to find out more about the UK market, click here.

To learn more about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international book publishing, click here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident member of Trends Research & Advisory, and was named International Business Journalist of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is editor of Publishing Perspectives. He was previously associate editor of The FutureBook at The Bookseller in London. Anderson was a senior producer and anchor for CNN.com, CNN International and CNN USA for more than a decade. As an art critic (National Critics Institute), he has collaborated 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 is now owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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