More than ever before, media companies are facing pressure to increase diversity among their staff, and publishing houses are no exception. Employment in the U.S. publishing industry has changed in the last 20 years, with the number of people working in the field hovering around the 750 thousand mark, down from over one million in 2001. However, something which remains unchanged is the presence of underrepresented groups in the publishing workforce.
Movements like Black Lives Matter have shone a light on the disparities not only among employees but also the books which make it onto store shelves and the kinds of individuals featuring on the front covers of major magazines. Furthermore, diversity data released in industry and company reports affirm the need for diversity in news if audiences are to be given unbiased and balanced information. Given that the news and publishing industries often intersect, change is needed in both to ensure increased variety and diversity in the content delivered to audiences across the country.
How diverse is the U.S. publishing industry?
Looking at the publishing industry workforce by ethnicity reveals that over 70 percent of all employees are White, and representation of all other ethnic groups is below ten percent. Meanwhile, the year 2020 saw a surge in engagement with the Black Lives Matter movement and increased interest in publications written by, for, and about Black audience. With data showing that just five percent of the U.S. publishing workforce is Black, expectations for better representation are high.
The share of LGBTQ+ employees is also low, with a breakdown of the publishing industry by sexual orientation showing that straight people account for more than 80 percent of the workforce. Individuals who identified as bi or pansexual made up ten percent of publishing employees, the same share as gay and lesbian adults combined. The low percentage of underrepresented groups is problematic not only because audiences want to see more of people like themselves in the content they read, but because diversifying board members could impact what is released to the public for sale.
How can diversity in publishing be improved?
Increasing representation in the publishing industry in the United States requires companies to focus their efforts on creating a more diverse workforce. A report investigating employment in publishing revealed that interns were by far the most diverse group in the business, suggesting that steps are being taken to offer opportunities to those who have thus far struggled to make their mark in the field. Whilst the study showed that more than 70 percent of executives, literary agents, book reviewers, and editorial, marketing, and sales staff were White, the same was true for just over 50 percent of interns. Additionally, interns were more likely to have a self-reported disability or be LGBTQ+.
On the surface this is good news for publishing, but for diversity across the entire industry to improve, these entry-level staff members cannot be merely a temporary feature but must be promoted and become part of the full-time workforce. Major companies will likely be held most accountable when it comes to paving the way for change, but although attempts have been made, progress is slow. As an example, just 6.5 percent of newly-hired employees at Penguin Random House in 2020 were Black, Asian, or Hispanic respectively, only a marginal difference from previous years dating back to 2016.
The future of publishing must be diverse, inclusive, and more representative of the U.S. population if it is to appease readers calling for change and positively impact the industry. For this to happen, companies must openly advocate for and show solidarity with underrepresented groups, not only through mission statements and improving inclusion in advertising but by actively hiring more diverse employees and supporting them with the challenges they face.
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