Keynote Speech by Crystal Mahey-Morgan on Inclusivity in Publishing

By Crystal Mahey-Morgan on January 1, 2017 in Articles

Crystal Mahey-Morgan Keynote: London Bookfair and Publishers Association Inclusivity Conference

Everyone who thinks they we’re here for a day to talk about diversity in publishing is wrong. We’re here to talk about humanity. We’re here to talk about the responsibility we have as an industry to contribute to cultural awareness and understanding of all people.
For so long the conversation around the lack of diversity in publishing hasn’t gone anywhere because we’ve got too caught up in the pc box ticking of it all and forgotten the real reason why we need more inclusivity.
We need more inclusivity because when there is a lack of understanding of people different to us it leads to hate.
We need more inclusivity because when young children don’t see themselves represented in certain spaces it leads to self-doubt.
We need more inclusivity because books lead to empathy and without empathy there is no humanity.
We also need to stop believing that the entry level schemes are something to be proud of because we all know it’s the board rooms where the decisions are made.
If you want to talk to me about a scheme where are the schemes to ensure the boardrooms are more diverse?
Where are the schemes working alongside the entry level ones to find senior people from diverse background from other industries and entice them into our boardrooms if we don’t have the talent to promote from within right now.
But wait. Let’s think about that for a minute.
If you bring a new person say from a non-traditional publishing background sideways into a boardroom, would that mean an existing member would have to step aside?
Would that be a step too far? Do we really want change or do we just want to talk about it?
Let’s not be naive enough to think that in a few years those entry level candidates from backgrounds outside of the traditional publishing type will be promoted to a decision making role.
Making the whole conversation about entry level ignores the very real glass ceilings that we’re not even acknowledging exist right now yet alone addressing.
If you want real change, forget the schemes, the publishing industry needs to unlearn and retrain the way it thinks so that the subconscious bias’ and ingrained notion of hire in your own image can truly be eradicated.
 Because let’s be honest, on the whole everyone in publishing pretty much looks the same.
It’s hard to break through the glass ceilings and move beyond the schemes because despite people’s good intentions – and I truly believe that people do have good intentions – but despite this, the rhetoric never really move into the reality.
Let’s not confuse the conferences, the panel discussions, the articles and hashtags for action because they’re not, they’re merely conversation.
Everyone who is here today, is here because they care and want to see and contribute to a more diverse industry. You’ve all paid £100 or so and are spending your day investing in this.
But how many of you have purchased the key note author, Robyn Travis’ book before you came? [Only 1 hand goes up]
Spending £100 and a day with like-minded people talking about diversity is the rhetoric. Spending £10 on a book by possibly the only Black British Male debut novelist of 2016, and taking the time to read it, and discuss it on social media (whether you loved or hated it) is reality.
My reason for asking that question today was to demonstrate that sometimes  we all get so caught up in the big grand gestures which make us feel good, that it’s easy to forget the small quiet ones that really contribute to making a difference.
And while we’re talking about Robyn Travis’ Mama Can’t Raise No Man, let’s talk about the exciting possibilities of what the future of publishing can look like.
Robyn’s debut novel launched to a sold out hackney empire which has a capacity of 1300 and it re-invented what a book launch can look like both in terms of the evening which was a mix of live entertainment across music, poetry and comedy and the audience which was 95% working class/BAME.
The success of the launch however wasn’t just around attendance but also in proving the commercial viability of content such as Robyn’s. Not only was it a sold out show but one where people paid between £7.50 – £10 to attend and then bought a £10 book on top of that.
In fact demand has been so high that just a month after publications we need to reprint
Given we’re so often told that certain types of books are not commercially viable, it’s important to take note when we see evidence to suggest otherwise.
Important for two reasons.
Firstly to ensure authors don’t miss out on sharing their stories because of a perceived lack of audience when actually they have the potential to make just as much money as any other book and as Robyn’s book has shown, there is a real demand.
Secondly, it’s important that we are not ignoring audiences. Robyn’s key note highlighted the negative effects for a young person who is not able to see and hear themselves in books.
The other important point here is one I made at the beginning and how we have a responsibility as an industry to publish a wide variety of books for a wide variety of audiences. As people invested in this industry we must ensure that we’re contributing to the empathy in the world.
I read a review about Robyn’s book on good reads recently which I think sums this up and I just want to share a part of it with you:
I found myself laughing throughout the book but I also found myself for once siding with the young black man. That’s the beauty of this book. The author gave me insight into different worlds.
And I’m sure everyone will agree that this is the beauty of all well written books and why it’s so important that what we publish it truly representative of the world we live in.
I left mainstream publishing to be able to publish authors I felt were under-represented for audiences who I felt were being ignored.
But I still feel so invested in the publishing industry as a whole getting this right and doing better around inclusivity and representation.
We must all be invested in it because it’s about more than books, it’s about humanity and empathy and in the new days of Trump we have to fight harder than ever to foster equality and understanding for all. And what better way to do that than through books.
And with that in mind, I’m going to end today’s key note with an idea for the industry to think about. One which in some capacity they may be able to find a way to action so we can finally begin to work towards a solution.
I challenge every Literary agent, publishing house and book retailer within the industry to adopt a form of the Rooney Rule for every job they recruit for over the next year no matter what position or level from entry right through to the very top.
For those that don’t know The Rooney Rule is something that exists in American football where every team has to ensure they interview a selection of ‘minority’ candidates candidates when recruiting for a head coach. It was something that came about specifically to tackle the kinds of problems around inclusivity that we are trying to address in publishing. In their case, much like our senior positions or those in certain departments such as editorial, it manifested in a lack of head coaches from minority ethnic background.
The Rooney Rule doesn’t mean you have to hire a candidate from a minority ethnic background, there are no quotas in place at all when it comes to the actual hiring. It’s just an obligation to interview from a wider pool which includes candidates not currently being represented in certain positions.
Interestingly since adopted it’s been proven that when you are forced to interview from a greater pool, the natural outcome is that you will end up hiring from a greater pool and as a result have an organically more diverse workforce but most importantly one where everyone is hired on merit. Believe me no one wants tokenism less that the under-represented.
Just imagine what the publishing industry would like like after a year of every literary agent, publisher and retailer committing to adopting some form of the Rooney Rule for every job they recruit for at every level?
We all know that a more diverse workforce right up to decision makers will inevitably lead to more diverse and rich content output and a wider audiences being served.
SO why don’t we not imagine. Why don’t we just try it and see what happens after a year?
I can hear the HR departments reaction now, what a complete headache this would be! How and where would they find the candidates to interview? The truth is other industries have struggled with this and they have found a way to move closer to a solution so while it may be difficult it’s not impossible.
Perhaps a step too far? But let me ask again. Do we really want change or do we just want to talk about it?
Crystal Mahey-Morgan began her career as a freelance journalist at the age of 16 writing for publications such as the Guardian and The Face Magazine. At the age of 19 Mahey-Morgan became Marketing Manager for Raindance Film festival and after Graduating from SOAS University she embarked on a career within Publishing, firstly working as Literary Assistant at Peter, Fraser and Dunlop (PFD), then joining Random House in 2009. Her most recent role at Penguin Random House was Online/Digital Account Manager where she was responsible for managing digital retailer relationships with the likes of Apple and Google. Mahey-Morgan resigned from Penguin Random House at the end of 2014 to realise a long held vision of bringing fresh voices and new stories to market in pioneering ways.
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