The Writer: Sharmaine Lovegrove
Date first published: 17 January 2019
As a young woman my hobby was reading, and it never occurred to me that I might be excluded from the process of creating books. My childhood was filled with stories about and by people from across the globe and my experiences of the world felt richer because I knew that my future contained untapped experiences that would be mine for the taking.
Working in a bookshop in south-west London from the age of 16 further instilled my commitment to books. I met some inspirational people who confirmed my belief that reading made you empathic and creative. I have carried these ideas throughout my life. It is only recently that they have been sullied by the empirical evidence that while books should be read by everyone, only a few have the privilege of creating them.
This week’s report by the Publishers Association is the most comprehensive survey ever conducted of the UK publishing workforce. It found, I was startled to learn, that while the numbers of women in senior leadership roles, LGBT and disabled staff were all high, black and minority ethnic (BAME) people occupied a mere 11.6% of publishing roles. BAME people make up 14.2% of the UK’s population and 40.2% of the population in London, where the biggest publishing houses are based. The industry has failed to represent the working population of the capital, and continues to fail to connect with regions outside London. The report shows we have a passionate industry full of people who are having to move away from their homes across the country in order to work in books – but we’ve also neglected to include the local population.
In some ways I am unsurprised by the results. As a middle-class, educated Londoner hailing from the Windrush generation, I struggled to gain a footing in the publishing industry, despite solid academic credentials and work experience in some of London’s best bookshops. Instead, I moved to Berlin and opened a bookshop and then a creative consultancy there. I have consistently worked better, harder and smarter in order to land my current role as publisher of my imprint Dialogue Books in the Little, Brown division of Hachette UK.
Understanding the challenges that people from minorities have faced in the industry, Dialogue is entirely dedicated to publishing people from LGBTQI+, disability, working-class and BAME backgrounds.
Part of my job is to co-chair Changing the Story, our diversity and inclusion initiative to combat inequality. We have a range of outreach programmes that connect with local communities in London and across the country and we aim to empower all our employees to make positive, inclusive decisions. Our Fresh Chapters scheme – a year-long paid internship for BAME individuals to work across all areas of the business – has actively increased the number of people from BAME backgrounds working in full-time roles in the company within just two years.
But the Publishers Association report is a vital resource, as it shows us the current rate of change. Hopefully it will encourage everyone to do more to ensure that we are an industry for all.