It is now Black History Month in the UK and it is getting more obvious each year that not enough progress is being made to dismantle racial inequalities. This is particularly clear within the publishing industry. As part of SYP North’s Summer Festival, which took place virtually between 28th – 30th September, Delayna Spencer and Mandy Goon held an honest and thought-provoking live Q&A on Diversity in Publishing. It was a much-needed conversation and one that is not given enough exposure.
Delayna, who is a senior commissioning editor and responsible for recruitment at SAGE publishing, spoke frankly to Mandy about her experience of institutional racism, white privilege and prejudice within the industry. Delayna is the only commissioning editor of colour within her department at SAGE and she is making it her mission to focus on marginalised voices in education and academia.
Within the talk she discussed how she co-created BAME and LGBTQIA+ networks due to a clear lack of intersectionality within diversity discussions and safe spaces for marginalised groups. She also examined the problematic nature of entry-level recruitment initiatives to increase diversity, specifically for People of Colour (POC), due to a high turnover rate.
In some ways the pandemic can be seen as a catalyst for putting “diversity and inclusion” at the forefront of people’s minds. Delayna has found that due to this and the murder of George Floyd people are listening to her and others a lot more. However, the top levels of many publishing houses are still dominated by white, middle class, cis-gendered men.
Those at the top fail to see the need for organisational change. Delayna stated that from her experience it is incredibly difficult to convince them that it is necessary as they do not see the problem in the first place. She poignantly questioned whether diversity initiatives would have been as prioritised if the pandemic hadn’t shed a spotlight onto the murder of George Floyd (or if in fact his murder had not happened).
There is still a long way to go and it is clear from Delayna’s words that there is a need for radical change. She confessed to feeling ‘tired all the time’ by this constant battle for change. Although the problem is deeply rooted within the industry, Delayna acknowledged her responsibility to help those who are less represented. It is work she feels compelled to carry out.
She stated that her recruitment focus was on a willingness to learn and transferable skills rather than education or industry experience. She also provided a positive vision for the future: greater opportunity for POC to enter the industry at higher levels, an increase in regional diversity and more respect given to those in entry level roles.
Her work is inspiring and commendable. We need real change to happen now. However, her talk brought two questions to mind:
Why should the responsibility to initiate change fall on those who belong to underrepresented groups? Why not those who have been in control and aware of the problem for so many years?
The lack of diversity within publishing is still glaringly and worryingly obvious. I hope that the industry can listen to people like Delayna and go through a process of ‘unlearning’ and structural change in order to genuinely become more diverse. It seems the industry is still desperately trying to hit “diversity and inclusion” targets whilst failing to understand the entrenched prejudice that still exists.