Diversity: A(nother) call to action

Photo of Anyka Davis.

Anyka Davis, currently Inside Sales Coordinator at Penguin Random House Canada, is a graduate of Centennial College’s publishing program and was a publicity intern at PRHC before joining their sales department as Sales Coordinator. She spends most of her free time reading as many diverse books as she can get her hands on. 

Anyka Davis will be speaking at Tech Forum 2018 in a session called Building In-House Momentum for Diverse Books.

According to the 2016 Statistics Canada census results, immigrants make up 21.9% of the population, the highest share in 85 years, with the prediction that that share will grow to 30% by 2036. Canada’s visible minority population jumped up to 22.3%, and is predicted to grow to one third of Canada’s total population by 2036. Moreover, the Indigenous population grew by 45%. This is just a small part of the bigger picture about diversity, but it’s safe to say that Canada is growing more and more multicultural with every passing year.

It’s now clearer than ever that the Canadian publishing industry has to shift in order to reflect Canada’s changing cultural landscape. We need to publish more diverse books, and while it’s true that we’ve gotten better, there’s still more work to be done. We can’t pat ourselves on the back because we now publish more diverse books than we did 10 years ago.

While it’s great that we have amazing diverse books coming out, we have to look at how we then surface these books to more diverse audiences. At the moment, we tend to apply the same techniques that we use to target a mainstream, predominately white audience, thinking that they also target a more diverse audience. While this does sometimes work, often it doesn't.

How do we support diverse books?

How do we ensure that they reach diverse audiences who might have a special interest in them? A major part of that is rethinking how we as an industry operate: How do we acquire books? How do we think about our marketing campaigns? How do we tell our customers about the shift in consumer profiles? How should we change to meet the demands of underserved, emerging, and diverse markets?

We need to change the way we think about our books, and how we spread that message. We need to build buzz and support within our companies and use that productive energy to push our books to new heights. We need more cohesive plans that combine the skills of all departments. More importantly, we need to start having frank and open conversations about the books that we publish, and those conversations need to happen on a larger, company-wide scale.

What are the roadblocks?

A year ago when a colleague proposed a diversity initiative that would answer some of the above questions, the questions I've been asking myself since I first started working in publishing, I didn’t hesitate to get involved. And as I got more involved with this initiative, I began to see the roadblocks that lay ahead.

Most of them were fairly easy to overcome. For example: data collection and resource management. However, there was one that proved to be a significant hurdle: getting company-wide support.

It’s difficult to change the status quo, but we were determined. Countless meetings, numerous sleepless nights drafting documents and proposals about how this initiative would work and how people would be involved, and innumerable organizational strategy sessions later, the initiative has launched, and it's now gathering support across all departments. This initiative may still be taking off, but with time and patience, it will establish itself within the company.

It's essential that companies are united in their approach to diversity, to their diverse authors and books. That unity might not happen overnight, but it can start now, and it can grow. All it needs is someone to plant the seed — someone who is passionate, vocal, energetic, and eager for change. Sure, change cannot happen with just one person, but it only takes one to create the spark.

If you'd like to hear more from Anyka Davis and the panel about building in-house momentum for diverse books, register for Tech Forum, March 23, 2018 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for our mailing list to get all of the conference updates.