Where is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey Results

From Lee and Low Books: Where is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey Results

Lee & Low Books released the first Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS 1.0) in 2015. Before the DBS, people suspected publishing had a diversity problem, but without hard numbers, the extent of that problem was anyone’s guess. Our goal was to survey publishing houses and review journals regarding the racial, gender, sexual orientation, and ability makeup of their employees; establish concrete statistics about the diversity of the publishing workforce; and then build on this information by reissuing the survey every four years. Through these long-term efforts, we would be able to track what progress our industry shows over time in improving representation and inclusion.

Why does diversity in publishing matter? The book industry has the power to shape culture in big and small ways. The people behind the books serve as gatekeepers, who can make a huge difference in determining which stories are amplified and which are shut out. If the people who work in publishing are not a diverse group, how can diverse voices truly be represented in its books?

The results of DBS 1.0 were stark. 79 percent of respondents identified as White. 78 percent were women. 88 percent were straight. 92 percent were non-disabled. At a time when readers of all backgrounds were demanding to see themselves in books, the publishing industry came nowhere near to reflecting the rich diversity of the United States.

The Last Four Years

The numbers provided by DBS 1.0 contributed to a sense of urgency that has resulted in more diverse books being published in the marketplace today—at least on the children’s book side.  It is now 2020, and many powerful cultural events, changes, and movements have taken place in the four years since the first survey.
● Donald Trump was elected President.
● The #MeToo movement spread virally after sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, both featuring POC leads and majority-POC casts, broke major box office records.

Within our industry, too, important conversations have changed the landscape:
Corinne Duyvis coined the term #ownvoices to highlight books where the creator and main character share some form of marginalization.
● Beth Phelan created #DVpit to help diverse creators pitch their work to agents and editors.
● Four educators of color founded #DisruptTexts to question the books commonly taught in high schools.
● Problematic books were canceled, re-illustrated, or rewritten, while The Hate U Give and other diverse titles became New York Timesbestsellers.
Authors of color became more vocal about their place in the industry and their exhaustion with the diversity conversation
Drag Queen Story Hour started in San Francisco.
● The Romance Writers Association was forced to reckon with its own biases.

After all this . . . has the publishing workforce actually become more inclusive?

Diversity Baseline Survey 2019 Results

Methodology and Response Rate

We expanded the DBS 2.0 to include a larger sample set than the original survey, including members of the Association of University Presses (AUP) as well as literary agents. In 2015, there were 3,706 responses to the survey. In 2019, we received 7,893 responses, showing a 112 percent increase in responses from DBS 1.0 to DBS 2.0.

Like the first survey, DBS 2.0 took a year to complete, beginning in January 2019. Reaching out to companies and trying to connect with decision-makers took the most time. Some companies took a lot of convincing; others agreed to participate and then dropped out for myriad reasons. Ultimately, 153 companies participated, including all of the Big Five publishers, eight review journals, forty-seven trade publishers, thirty-five university presses, and sixty-three literary agencies of all sizes from across North America. You can see the full list of participantshere.

The Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS 2.0) was sent to 2,609 reviewer employees, 17,100 trade publishing employees, 1,528 university press employees, and 516 literary agents for a total of 21,753 surveys deployed.  DBS 2.0 had a response rate of 36.2 percent. The survey was sent to both children’s and adult divisions of each company.

The DBS was sent out directly from each participating company’s internal contact person. To ensure the integrity of the data, we worked with a professional survey company called Toluna that administrated and deployed the survey for us. The surveys were completely anonymous, and companies did not have direct access to the results.

All data was analyzed and aggregated by a small team at Boston University consisting of Laura M. Jiménez, PhD (Lead) and Betsy Beckert, a graduate student in the Language and Literacy Department of Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. The team at Boston University ensured the anonymity of individual respondents, and they were the only ones with access to the raw data. Excerpts from Laura Jiménez about the statistics have been included below and are indicated by { }.

Note: DBS 1.0 was deployed in 2015 and released in January 2016. DBS 2.0 followed a similar pattern and was deployed in 2019 and released to the public in January 2020.

Read the full article Where is the Diversity in Publishing?
The 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey Results
on Lee and Low Books.

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