Publishing Lacks Black Representation, Survey Shows

A recent diversity survey by Lee & Low Books reveals racial disparities within the publishing industry.

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It’s been two weeks since the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck in Minnesota for almost nine minutes. The death has since sparked worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, calls to defund police, and online discussions surrounding white privilege and anti-Blackness. Racism doesn’t solely exist within the police force though, and this week those in publishing examined the racial disparities existing in their own industry. 

Four days ago, Lee & Low Books posted data for Black representation in the publishing industry. It’s since circulated on social media.

lee and low survey

via Lee and Low Books

The statistics include data reported by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, as well as the Diversity Baseline Survey 2.0 conducted by Lee & Low Books. The 2019 study concluded that Black people made up 5% of authors, 4% of literary agents, 1% of editorial, 4% of marketing and publicity, 3% of sales, and 4% of reviewers.

In their caption, Lee & Low urged those in publishing to acknowledge the anti-Blackness within the industry. 

The publishing industry continues to uphold a system of institutional racism that oppresses, tokenizes, and shuts out Black people, who make up more than 13% of the US population but only 5% of the publishing workforce (and just 1% of Editorial!). Our industry has denied Black readers the opportunity to see themselves in books, and has put Black people at risk by continually centering White voices.

Lee & Low Books is a multicultural children’s book publisher, as well as a minority-owned company. Since 1991, their mission has been “to publish contemporary diverse stories that all children could enjoy.” In particular, they have pledged to work with unpublished authors and illustrators of color.

The first Diversity Baseline survey Lee & Low released was in 2015.

diversity in publishing stats 2015

via Lee & Low Books

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.

Four years later, and the numbers haven’t much improved. In 2015, 79% of the industry was white. In 2019, that number only dropped three percent.

“In other words, the field is just as White today as it was four years ago.”

The 2019 survey also concluded that 74% of the industry were Cis women, 81% were straight, and 89% were non-disabled. However, there have been some improvements, as small as they may be. All of the Big Five Publishers participated in the 2019 survey, where only three did in 2015. Additionally, Lee & Low said the number of Black interns was “encouraging” and a sign that “publishing is trying to reach out to diverse populations.”

Diversity in Publishing 2019

via Lee & Low Books

Regardless of these small successes, it’s clear that the publishing industry as a whole needs to do better. We need diverse voices not just within the books we read, but in the industry that markets, edits, reviews, and represents these books. Lee & Low Books hopes that, four years from now, their survey might show very different results.

The world is a diverse one. Publishing needs to accurately reflect the world as it is, from the books we publish to the people working in every facet of this business. A lot has happened in four years, and not all of it for the better. Four years from now, what will the next baseline survey show us? And what will those numbers tell us about ourselves?

Featured image via Kime J. Sims