Hosted by Abda Khan with Hannah Chukwu, Penguin Uk, Pooja Aggarwal, Bloomsbury Publishing and Farhana Shaikh, Dahlia Books, the ‘Women of Colour in Publishing’ conference was part of the DESlblitz literature festival created to support authors and creative writers with a south asian background. The festival celebrates the work of established writers and provides opportunities for new voices to be more widely heard. This panel discussion aims to further explore the issues raised in the industry report ‘Rethinking Diversity in Publishing’ that was launched as part of the industries Rethinking Diversity Week in June 2020. 

It was the first time I had become aware of my race and the first time I knew I was different

Hannah Chukwu about her time at Oxford

Throughout the event, these women all discussed the reality of what life in an industry dominated by white, middle class individuals was like and the harsh truth of why it is so difficult for not only women of colour, but those who fall into the working class category to make it in the publishing industry. With the entirety of the British Publishing market being very London centric, it is evident that this plays a large factor on who is able to afford to live and work in this environment as it appears that this industry wishes to attract only certain candidates from certain universities and not others. 

It’s not about missing out on sales or audiences, but about missing out on making real, effective change.

Pooja Aggarwal

An evident topic throughout the event was that of diversity, inequality and inclusion and whether this is now seen as a trend in the industry or if the publishing houses actually care about these issues and believe that they are crucial topics that needs to be discussed. However, Hannah Chukwu believes that these topics do appear to be current trends as they give the publishing house a good reputation as a forward thinking and positive change company, when in reality these books are the ones taking in the money right now. Although it is not what is desired, Pooja Aggarwal still believes that this can be seen as a small step in the right direction as books by people of colour are being published and brought to a predominately white audience and therefore spreading the message that needs to be shared. This progression allows the representation of different societies and people of colour now more than ever.

It is clear from these women and their experiences in the publishing world that publishers undervalue the potential of Black, Asian and minority ethic audiences both economically and culturally as they down play both the impact that these individuals could have and the contributions that they could make. Although it is slowly getting better these changes are extremely difficult to make as one has to question how things have always been done, question themselves, the environment that they are in and wonder how to bring people on this new journey with them. However, these women remain positive as they welcome this current ‘trend’ and hope that it allows more people of colour to see they have a place in the industry of Publishing.