How Can The Australian Publishing Industry Become Less White?

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The Australian Publishers Association and Melbourne University recently released a study about diversity and inclusion in the Aussie publishing industry. And to no one’s surprise, it’s pretty dire. 

What Did The Report Find?

The report surveyed 989 publishing professionals, which is estimated to be around one-quarter of the Australian publishing workforce. The survey included questions about cultural backgrounds, and each respondent could choose up to two. 

Fewer than 1% of the survey respondents were First Nations, which means they’re underrepresented since they make up 3.2% of the general Australian population. Same with the 10.5% who identified with a European culture other than British, compared to the estimated 18% in the general population, and 8.5% who chose Asian, compared to 17% in general. 

But that’s not for lack of talent, according to Dr Radhiah Chowdhury, whose 2020 report “It’s Hard To Be What You Can’t See” is mentioned as a source of inspiration for this demographic survey.  

“We have enormous amounts of talent. It is the lack of will to make space for them,” Dr Chowdhury told Junkee.

A simple solution to this problem might be to make room for people of colour and people from diverse backgrounds. But for systemic change to actually happen, Dr Chowdhury said that there needs to be a major shakeup from the top.

Why The Solution Is Complicated

“The analogy that comes to mind is, you know, the Grimm’s fairy tales version of Cinderella,” said Dr Chowdhury.

“People who are not the mainstream are like carving off parts of their feet to fit into this glass slipper that is not built for them. And in the end, the prince is gonna pick the pretty girl with the small feet anyway.”

Fellowships and internships have been developed in the last past few years as a way to bring more people of colour into the industry. But after her research report in 2020, Dr Chowdhury has mixed feelings about it. “Entry level people are not the answer. You need people in middle and upper management for the entry level people to, you know, aspire to be and look to for support.”

As of March this year, Chowdhury chose to leave the industry altogether.

“If you are the publicly squeaking wheel, which is what I ended up becoming for, you know, two years. I didn’t intend to be like the flagship for representative publishing, but here we are.

If I knew the solution, I think I wouldn’t have left. “

Why It’s Bigger Than The Publishing Industry

This issue is, of course, not limited to the publishing industry. 

“Being a person of colour in this country means that you are always a little bit suspicious. You’re always a little bit pragmatic, let’s say, about what the reality of change really is,” said Chowdhury.

“Particularly when change requires people who have been historically in power giving up at least a portion of that power. This is a broad-strokes Australian problem. It’s not a publishing problem specifically.”