By Leyla Mehmet, Elizabeth Guess, Kathryn Smith and Aimee Whittle
We chatted with Tash Payne (@TashPayneComms on Twitter), Communications Manager and Pride Network Co-Chair at Bloomsbury. Here are the insights she shared with us.
Why did you want to get into publishing, and more specifically join and lead the Pride Network once you had?
When I was younger, I was never happier than when I was reading a book. At university, I developed a passion for editing and proofreading, so initially I wanted to be in editorial. After graduating, I worked at Waterstones and interned at Penguin and Bloomsbury. When I got my first proper job in publishing, it ended up being in marketing and publicity. I loved the creativity and variety of communications. For a few years, I worked outside of publishing, coming back to the industry in January 2022 with a clear mission to help make it more accessible for more people, and more diverse. In my role as Internal Communications Manager at Bloomsbury, I work closely with all the staff networks and the DEI Manager to move towards this goal. I also wanted to make sure I was bringing my full queer self to work and so taking the opportunity to co-chair the Pride Network seemed like a no-brainer!
What does your day-to-day role as the Pride Network Co-Chair for Bloomsbury involve?
As being co-chair is a voluntary role on top of my day job, I have to make sure what I commit to is manageable, which is why it’s brilliant to split the responsibility with my wonderful co-chair Joanna, as well as Cristiana and Ming who run our LGBTQIA+ book club. Currently, we’re doing lots of planning for Pride – we’ve been liaising with editors to ask Bloomsbury authors to do events with us, writing newsletters, preparing office displays and organising social gatherings. We have a network meeting about once a month where we get together for a chat about anything and everything, from Heartstopper to the conversion therapy ban to issues specific to Bloomsbury. Joanna and I chair the meetings and arrange the events, but we also listen to our colleagues’ concerns and help resolve problems if we can.
Could you tell us more about this year’s Bloomsbury Pride celebrations and your involvement in them?
We’ve got an exciting programme of events planned with authors from all corners of Bloomsbury – comedian and non-fiction author Rosie Wilby, queer data professor Kevin Guyan, children’s authors Phil Stamper and Jamar J Perry, and literary fiction writer Lauren John Joseph. They’ll be taking part in virtual events for Bloomsbury staff and contributing to our newsletters, which we’re producing in collaboration with our LGBTQIA+ network in the US. Lots of members of the UK network have never even met in person, so we can’t wait for our Pride Picnic and visit to the new Queer Britain museum. We hope to show through our celebrations that Bloomsbury is a welcoming place for all identities and orientations.
Are there any events/initiatives/schemes you have been a part of during your time in publishing that you would recommend for those who identify as LGBTQIA+?
Two of the big LGBTQIA+ charities in the UK (Stonewall and Mermaids) offer workplace training – I’m attending a training session specifically for LGBTQIA+ network chairs run by Stonewall next month. There’s also a great organisation called Inclusive Employers which is a treasure trove of information, resources and training, covering all aspects of diversity and inclusivity. If you work in publishing, I’d urge you to encourage your company to sign up.
What do you think that organisations in the industry can do more of to be inclusive of those in the LGBTQIA+ community?
One of the best things an organisation can do is support their staff networks in a meaningful way. At Bloomsbury, the Pride Network benefits from the DEI Manager lending support as a full-time member of staff who is focused on diversity and inclusion. We have our own budget to put towards things like Pride and we have monthly meetings with a member of the Executive Board, so we know we are being recognised and heard by senior management. It’s great when senior members of staff engage in what we’re doing, but it would be amazing if someone on the board was LGBTQIA+ themselves. As with so many of publishing’s problems, much will improve when diverse members of staff – who are usually found in junior roles – are given the support they need to progress into senior roles that have real influence over the company’s values and direction.
What book would you recommend reading during Pride Month?
A book I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did is Queer Data by Kevin Guyan. It’s a fascinating exploration of the way data can be used both to validate and invalidate queer identities and experiences. With a particular focus on censuses in England and Scotland, it got me thinking about the void between the way the government views gender identity (usually just “male” or “female”) and the growing visibility of those who don’t feel comfortable with the gender binary.