Women in publishing: Our trials and tribulations

Last night, I attended Women Working in Publishing: Past, Present and Future led by the SYP London team (inc me!). It was SUCH an inspiring event and brought to light issues faced across all areas of the business, all ages and types of woman. I decided to do a bit of a round-up of some of the conversations, as well as commenting myself on a couple of the issues addressed, which I believe to be highly appropriate in 2019. The speakers included Sophie Christopher, Senior Publicity Manager for Transworld and co-founder of The Flip; Saskia Bewley, Diversity and Inclusivity Manager for Hachette; Grace McCrum, Rights Manager at Hodder and co-chair of The Gender Balance Network at Hachette; and Florence Rees, Literary Agent at A. M. Heath and co-founder of Conduit.

The conversation looked at topics including how their careers have been affected through being a woman in the industry, how we can include men in the conversation and the most professional ways to tell them when they are wrong and what we and companies can do to continue to improve the lives of women working in publishing. Hint: open a creche!

So, as women, we have it tough – who knew? From being disregarded by men, being told our passion is ‘too much’ and that we’re being ‘hysterical’, we are not the lucky ones. But we can be powerful and we can push back. For me personally, I have only faced issues when it has come to knowing what I want and being told what I want. As a woman, I have been told that I must want to be a journalist, despite preferring marketing because I like to read and write. This led to me being pushed around in an organisation while men in similar positions got to go where they chose and have a say. Men underestimate me because I’m short and have bright hair, which can be a positive when I prove them wrong but a negative when my opinion doesn’t get listened to.

Including men in the conversation is important; they make up half of the population and a larger percentage of senior level publishing roles. This means that, whether we like it or not, we need their buy in and support. The ladies last night mentioned the ways that we speak to men and how we must tell them that they’re wrong, but not in a way that will make them less likely to support us in the future. We need to be willing to hear them out, so long as they listen to us in return. If you are a man wanting to support female-led initiatives, start by listening.

As for how companies can improve women’s working lives in the future, the main point from last night was improvements in childcare. Maternity leave should be seen as a positive for both the woman and the company; paternity leave should be taken just as seriously and for God’s sake, where are the creches? If women had a secure place for their child while at work, their lives would be so much easier. Naturally, flexible working has come in as one solution, focusing on output and not time at the desk, but there is still a long way to go and I agree.

So, what’s next aside from every company having a creche? Well, there needs to be focus on making the industry as inclusive as possible from assistant level to director level. Yes this means hiring more men in junior roles, but it also means promoting more women to senior positions, and providing them with the support to do the job while taking care of their family. As well as this, companies need to reduce the onus on women not taking initiative. We keep being told we need to ‘be more confident’ and ask for pay rises when we’re wondering why companies can’t realise how good a job we are doing and offer it to us? If this part doesn’t improve, the publishing industry will keep losing incredibly talented individuals to other media and entertainment companies who pay more and offer much better benefits.

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