Does having an accent hinder progression within the publishing industry?
by Naomi Churn
A recent study investigating ‘accentism’ within the publishing industry has revealed that 67.2% of respondents feel their accent has made colleagues act differently towards them. A third say their accent has negatively impacted their career.
The survey and accompanying Regional Accents Report was published by Bath Spa University students Lily Filipe and Courtney Jeffries in association with James Spackman, The Book Pitch Doctor, founder of The Spare Room Project and co-founder of The bks Agency. The study aimed to uncover employees’ experiences of having an accent in the professional publishing workplace, and the barriers they may have come up against because of it. The project defines ‘accentism’ as “unfair behaviour based on an individual’s accent or language use.”
Out of a pool of 353 respondents, 57.9% identified themselves as having a UK regional accent and 23.2% as having an international accent, defined in the study as any accent from outside the UK. The data was largely gathered from professionals currently working in the industry, but some students and publishing hopefuls did share their experiences.
Crucial findings state that more than a third (37%) of respondents felt that their accent has impeded their career progression. Around 67% feel their accent has affected people’s behaviour towards them, whether that behaviour be purposefully misunderstanding them, making unfounded assumptions about their capabilities or partaking in undue teasing. Nearly 57% of participants have felt obliged to alter or mask their accent in order to fit in or seem more employable.
Most telling is that 88.1% of participants said that there needs to be “better representation of different backgrounds and more open attitudes to accents in the workplace.” It is the latest indicator to shed light on the fact that the publishing industry is too inaccessible and that representation within the industry suffers because of it.
What are the implications of this study for the publishing industry? Report authors, Filipe and Jeffried said: “the Regional Accents Report suggests that accentism is an issue within the publishing industry. The report aims to raise awareness of this issue across the industry and, in turn, begin to shed light on the different ways accentism can begin to be tackled.”
Spackman added that “we’re all prey to unconscious bias, so it’s incredibly important that we chase down every factor that could be holding the industry back by limiting, even subtly, talented people’s progression.”
The hope is that the Regional Accent Report will prompt a wider investigation into ‘accentism’ within the book industry and start conversations about what industry professionals can do to combat it. You can read the full report here.
Hachette Announces Opening of Regional Offices
By Naomi Churn
UK ‘big 5’ publisher Hachette is leading the charge to open routes out of London for publishing professionals, with the announcement that the first of its regional offices has opened for business. The company is aiming to open all five of its new UK hubs over the next three months.
The first to open its doors was the Manchester office on 19 July, with Bristol set to follow later in the month, Newcastle in August and then Edinburgh and Sheffield in September. This new move for the business will see nearly sixty London-based staff relocate out of the capital, while plans are in place for at least one hundred more relocations by 2022.
Connecting with Local Talent
Relocating existing staff is not Hachette’s only goal: the publisher has stated its aim to connect with local talent and has already begun to recruit locally to this end. Emma Layfield, Picture Book Development Director, North, at Hachette Children’s Group (HGC) and new lead for the team working out of the Manchester office, has already made moves to engage with the local literary community. She relocated in January 2020, and has since co-founded the Children’s Book North network, which aims to link up children’s book creators and publishing professionals, organised HCG’s inaugural online Picture Book Open Day and partnered with Manchester-based writing development organisation, Commonword, with the hope of discovering more Black, Asian and minority ethnic authors.
Good News for Publishing Hopefuls
Good news also abounds for publishing hopefuls as Hachette’s new regional bases will open up more opportunities for those based outside of London. Two of the company’s recent hires from their publishing traineeship scheme are set to start their roles out of the regional hubs. Tierney Witty, brand-new member of the Orion team, is starting his job at the Manchester office, while Nuha Zulkernain will take up her position with Hodder & Stoughton in Edinburgh.
Next to join the fold will be the Bristol office later in July, headed up by Nick Davies, Managing Director at John Murray Press and a member of the Hachette board. Speaking about the wave of openings, Davies said:
“This first phase is about staff relocating, embedding the offices in their new communities and getting closer to local readers, writers and booksellers. But it’s the second phase, where we look to grow these offices by hiring from more diverse talent pools across the country, that’s the really exciting, game-changing moment.”
David Shelley, CEO of Hachette UK, said of the project: “I hope it will be a transformative venture for our publishing and widen our horizons in all sorts of exciting new ways.”
The lack of diversity and the London-centric nature of publishing have been increasingly at the forefront of discussions around much-needed change within the industry in recent years. Whether other publishers will take Hachette’s cue and follow suit with moves out of London remains to be seen, but, for now, the UK’s second-largest publisher is certainly leading the way.