Macmillan Establishes Committee to Improve Inclusion

In late June, Macmillan announced the creation of the Trade Management Committee, which will “set the goals and objectives for the publishers, divisions, and departments that comprise U.S. Trade and Shared Services.” However, the question remains whether this committee and other steps taken by the publisher will result in real change or are a temporary measure to placate criticism.

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In late June, Macmillan announced the creation of the Trade Management Committee, which will “set the goals and objectives for the publishers, divisions, and departments that comprise U.S. Trade and Shared Services.” However, the question remains whether this committee and other steps taken by the publisher will result in real change or are a temporary measure to placate criticism.

In the statement announcing the new committee, President Don Weisberg and Chief Operating Officer Andrew Weber noted that Macmillan needs “more diversity in the titles we publish, more committed positioning and marketing of these titles, more hiring and promotion of diverse staff, more inclusivity in the decision-making process, and more open dialogue throughout the organization.”

In a letter accompanying the announcement CEO John Sargent explained: “The committee will form a different and more inclusive management team, representing a wider range of experiences. This will be an exercise in changing power dynamics, and in making sure we have diverse perspectives in the decision-making process.”

The new committee will be composed of 13 people from a mix of departments including human resources, publishing, and operations: Guy Browning, Malati Chavali, Erin Coffey, Sonali Goel, Jenn Gonzalez, Helaine Ohl, Leslie Padgett, Dan Schwartz, Natasha Taylor, Jon Yaged, Don Weisberg, Andrew Weber, and the yet-to-be-named new head of Diversity and Inclusion. Several staff members were promoted along with the news.

 

CRITICS RESPOND

The committee is part of several new initiatives by the publisher in the wake of the controversy of Flatiron Books’ (a division of Macmillan) publication of American Dirt earlier this year, when Latinx authors across the United States pushed back against the book for its inaccurate and harmful portrayal of the Mexican immigrant experience. Author David Bowles, along with other Latinx writers and community leaders, founded the activist group #DignidadLiteraria in response to the book, “to combat the invisibility of Latinx authors, editors, and executives in the U.S. publishing industry and the dearth of Latinx literature on the shelves of America’s bookstores and libraries.”

“The problem is clearly under-representation,” Bowles told LJ. “Demographics have changed but publishing didn’t change at the same time.” Publishers have known about this since the 1980s but the problem persists, he says.

“The intellectual artistic literate mindset is shaped by books that are published, books [that]…erase or criminally underrepresent the identities of these groups in our society,” Bowles said.

Publishers have been giving lip service to diversity but have not made the real, sometimes painful, changes to make publishing more inclusive of authors of color, Bowles noted. Real changes will include “bringing people of color into editorial roles” that will change the books acquired and “actively recruit writers of color.” Moreover, those in charge need to realize that they are part of the larger problem and recognize the white privilege inherent within the publishing industry.

Bowles and his fellow members of #DignidadLiteraria have met with Flatiron Books and Macmillan to press for substantive changes. They have also called upon the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other politicians to put additional pressure on publishing houses. Earlier in June, the Caucus released a press statement about its “profound disappointment and collective outrage” about the lack of diversity in the U.S. publishing world.

Since February’s initial meeting, #DignidadLiteraria has repeatedly called on Flatiron to account for how it is reviewing its practices. In a communication to Bowles, Flatiron reported that it has “undertaken an expansion of its publishing program to include approximately five additional titles per year by Latinx and/or BIPOC voices.” Other steps include reviewing promotional and marketing budgets for Latinx authors with books already planned for publication, hosting events to introduce Latinx agents to editors, and mentorship programs for Latinx authors outside of New York.

Macmillan has also undertaken other steps, including hiring sensitivity/authenticity readers; redesigning leadership programs with attention paid to hiring practices and inherent biases; career development; developing feedback systems between readers and marketing, and more.

When asked about new committee’s action, Bowles said it is “a good step” with some promising people on the committee. However, it cannot be the only response, and that continued pressure from within and outside of Macmillan has to continue. Bowles also pointed out the addition of five BIPOC authors per year out of the approximately 40 books published annually by Flatiron is not enough, given that Flatiron’s titles are only a fraction of the thousands published annually by Macmillan as a whole.

Although it is early to know the exact impact that the committee will have on libraries, Bowles said, “my feeling is that [the committee] will be more responsive to stakeholders, including libraries. School libraries are a huge target market for publishers.”

Ultimately, Bowles concluded:We know while this is a victory, it is still a minor victory.... We can’t let up on it. Internal groups of editors of color [have to keep] putting pressure. We can’t stop what we are doing because it is just as easy [in] a few months or a few years to quietly dismantle it.”

Macmillan was not available for comment for this article.

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