Penguin Random House UK released a statement about their diversity goals. They state (bold in the original):

To better understand how our actions are making a difference in the long term we need to better understand the diversity of the authors we publish and the people we hire, and how this changes over time.

That's why we want both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025. This means we want our new authors and colleagues to reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.

Sounds great, right? But, this is a business. Do readers care about the ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility, and disability of the authors and staff?

Would you buy a book simply because it was written by someone in the proper category? You might, but you wouldn't buy a second by the same author if it wasn't a good read. Diversity is a good thing because it helps you understand more people, and hopefully reach wider audiences. It's not something that magically fixes your business.

So, for boards that don't currently have women, who gets fired? Or do you just add a board member? So, a woman can be proud of being a token? What if you have an all-female board? Do you have to bring on a token man? (Answer, no. The bill doesn't require that.)

The bill's sponsor, California state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) explained her reasoning:"They are operating without the benefit of the experience, perspective, and tools that women bring with them to the boardroom."

Does she think business owners sit around saying, "let's make sure we have blind spots! We don't want this business to succeed!" Of course not. Businesses want to succeed and they want their boards filled with people who will help them do so.

There simply aren't as many women who have achieved C level status as there men. Women work fewer hours than men. That's a huge reason they don't rise as high in the business. Women also prefer flexibility over money and status. That flexibility trade-off has consequences.

Here's the question you should ask: How will this help our business?

Yes, you should consider if publishing books by a broader spectrum of authors bring in readers from other areas, but first and foremost, your job is to publish books that people want to buy. You should have a woman on your board if that woman is the best person.

But, if you're doing it simply to make yourself look good, then it's the wrong decision. 

Lionel Shriver wrote a scathing attack on Penguin's decision. She looked at how they identify race/ethnicity on their website. The options for white people were: 

  • White: British
  • White: Irish
  • White: Gypsy or Irish Traveller
  • White: Other

She points out the obvious conclusion: Skin color matters more than true diversity. She writes:

If your office is chocka with Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, Germans, Danes, Finns, Bosnians, Hungarians, Czechs, Russians, Americans, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis, Argentines, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Romanians who aren't travellers and South African Jews -- I could go on -- together speaking dozens of languages and bringing to their workplace a richly various historical and cultural legacy, the entire workforce could be categorised as 'White: Other'. Your office is not diverse.

When we look at diversity as a skin color only or a sexual orientation thing, only, then we're ignoring true diversity. As an American who lives in Switzerland, I can guarantee my culture is different than the culture in which I live in, but most Swiss share the same skin color I have. A Swiss colleague told me the other night how much he doesn't understand Austrian culture. Same skin color. Same official language, but definitely bringing in different ideas. (Local dialetics are definitely different.)

If Penguin simply said they were going run a campaign to let people of all backgrounds know that their books will be considered on merits, that would be great! If they want to run programs in a variety of schools about how to get a book published, that would awesome!

But, setting a goal to have your publishing company look like Great Britain, and publish books based on those percentages, is nothing more than goal setting. In order to achieve this you'll have to reject writers and employees who would do the best job. This is true for every group. If you want to be truly representative and you already have 4 percent of your writers identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, do you reject the writer who would bring that to 5 percent? Should everyone submit manuscripts in January with the hope that someone who looks like them hasn't already had a manuscript accepted?

Branching out to new markets is smart. Hiring the best board member, regardless of gender, is smart. Setting quotas is not a good business plan. In fact, it's not a business plan at all. 

And, I'm going to submit my novel I wrote at 18 (it's horrifyingly bad) to Penguin. Because I'm pretty sure I'd be the only straight, white (English, Scottish, Norwegian, and Danish ancestry), Mormon, American raised in Southern Utah, glasses-wearing, middle-aged, overweight female suffering from depression (treated), who lives in Switzerland to send them a novel. While I don't live in the UK, I do visit as often as possible. I'm sure I fit some sort of quota.

Also, I'm available to serve on any California boards. 

Published on: Jun 12, 2018