The Major Built-In Bias of the Publishing World
“When I left publishing it was because I had this feeling of not being wanted,” a Black woman and former publishing professional who asked to remain anonymous, tells me. After spending eight years working in education in Florida, she made the decision in 2012 to get a master’s degree in publishing in New York City. In her last and only full-time job in publishing at an art book distributor with a six-person U.S. staff, she had a limited trajectory and was often struggling financially to stay afloat. “I was always going to be that marketing assistant because there was nowhere else to move,” she explains. While half the staff was POC — including her, her boss, and a sales associate — there wasn’t a lot of camaraderie due to everyone being overworked.
Before landing her full-time job, she completed a two-year graduate program — where she was one of three Black people — as well as internships and part-time jobs, plus four years of volunteer work for book-adjacent organizations like the Women’s National Book Association. Her frustration is evident. “None of my efforts turned into jobs or even interviews. I got to know people at certain companies but none of that yielded any fruit,” she says. White classmates with whom she partnered up to review job applications had similar resumes and received callbacks, she notes. A lack of mentorship and encouragement within the paid and unpaid positions she took culminated in the inevitable. Dejected and struggling financially, she ultimately left New York City after almost five years.
Of the progress or perception thereof within publishing on diverse hiring, she says, “I saw no progress in actually making [publishing] houses more diverse. I think that was part of the issue. One of the things I wanted to see was everything moving beyond talking about diversity and actually doing something.”
“At every turn,” Pamela Newkirk writes in her book Diversity, Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business, “purportedly liberal and elite sectors maintain racial custom and tradition in their hiring until they are…