Today is International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women around the world. We thought it would be an excellent time to take a look at the achievements of women in publishing, and investigate how far we’ve come and how far we have to go in terms of equality in the publishing industry.
One thing to note before we dive in: most of these numbers are from 2019. It will be interesting to see how these numbers compare after the Covid-19 pandemic is over, as studies have shown that significantly more women have lost their jobs or have chosen to step back from their professional life during the pandemic.
Overall, cis women continue to dominate the publishing industry. According to the Lee & Low Books Diversity in Publishing survey, cis women make up 74% of the industry overall, and 60% of executives.
However, all five CEOs of the Big Five publishing houses are men, and when you add in the other top publishing houses, you end up with one female CEO out of twelve (these include Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, Hachette, MacMillan, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House Canada, Simon and Schuster Canada, HarperCollins Canada, Harlequin, Wiley, Scholastic, House of Anansi).
Gender inequality can also be seen financially. According to the 2019 Publisher’s Weekly Salary Survey, men in publishing continue to out-earn their female counterparts.
When it comes to the books that made it onto our shelves in the past year, 18 of the New York Times 40 bestselling books of the year were written by women, 15 of the 21 bestselling books according to Cosmopolitan were written by women, and 10 of the top 20 books sold Amazon in 2020 were written by women.
When discussing equality in the industry however, you can’t only talk about gender. Race, Orientation, and Disability must also be discussed, and if you’ve been paying attention to any discussion surrounding publishing as of late, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the industry is very white, straight, and able-bodied.
The bestseller lists tend to sway that as well (only 10 authors of colour are included in that New York Times list). However, out of the nineteen major literary prizes, which are traditionally awarded to white male authors, fourteen were awarded to books written by women, and eleven were awarded to books written by BIPOC authors.
Progress is being made. In 2018, women in publishing out-earned men overall for the first time ever. And while the executive positions held in publishing are overwhelmingly white, those newer to the industry are starting to sway non-white. In fact, according to the the 2019 diversity survey, almost 50% of interns were non-white, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. The more diverse voices we have in the publishing industry, the more diverse stories that will be put out into the world, which is always a good thing.
I didn’t find any mention in the studies of numbers for self-published authors, which will, given how diverse we are, would skew those pie charts right off the wall.
Yes, the numbers for women in traditional publishing are atrocious, which is why so many of us, having been burned by, or never got past the white hetro male gatekeepers.
Given the state of the trad pub model, which at its basic is a wholesale one and was never going to be able to compete with the retail-rich self-pub in the long run, (even before 2020) I’d advise women to get off the sinking ship and let the band play on in splendid isolation. 🙂